The Horse Boy Foundation is the brainchild of Rupert Isaacson, and grew out of his experience with his son Rowan’s autism.
In April 2004 Rupert’s son Rowan was diagnosed with autism. At first Rowan seemed unreachable. However, whenever his dad took him into the woods behind their house his tantrums and stimming would relax. Contact with nature seemed to calm Rowan’s dysfunctions.
One day, Rowan ran away from his dad and got through the fence into their neighbour’s property and in among his horse herd.
Rupert, a lifelong horseman and former professional horse trainer, had been keeping his son away from horses, thinking him unsafe around them.
However, that day he witnessed something extraordinary.
Instead of trampling this squirming, babbling little child lying on his back among their hooves, the horses backed off gently.
Then the boss of the herd, a mare called Betsy, came over and began to lower her head in front of Rowan, to lick and chew with her lips. This is the sign of equine submission.
Rupert had never seen a horse voluntarily make this submission gesture to a human being before. Clearly something was passing between the horse and the little boy.
So Rupert talked to his neighbor Stafford, who owned Besty, and got the key to his saddle room. For three years father and son rode every day through the woods and fields of central Texas and - first through Betsy, then spontaneously - Rowan began to talk, to engage with his environment and other people.
In 2007 Rowan, his dad, mother – Kristin Neff, a psychology professor at the University of Texas – took a journey across Mongolia on horseback, going from traditional healer to traditional healer, shaman to shaman, looking for healing.
They went out with a child still tantrumming, still not toilet trained, and cut off from other children. They came back with a child no longer tantrumming, toilet trained and able to make friends.
Rupert wrote a book about his family’s adventure, and also produced a film which documented the trip. Both are titled The Horse Boy.
After returning from Mongolia, the Isaacson family started the Horse Boy Foundation to help bring families and their children into contact with horses and nature.