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Where EAST meets the Northwest

SHAMANIC HEALING. The Horse Boy, a documentary about a Texas couple travelling with their son, who is autistic and has an affinity for horses, to Mongolia — the one place in the world where horses and shamanic healing intersect — is screening Wednesday, October 20 at Portland’s Whitsell Auditorium. Producer and author Rupert Isaacson will be in attendance at the screening and question-and-answer session that follows. (Photo courtesy of Zeitgeist Films)

From The Asian Reporter, V20, #26 (October 18, 2010), page 13.

Miracle in Mongolia

The Horse Boy

Directed by Michel Orion Scott

Produced by Rupert Isaacson

Distributed by Zeitgeist Films

Screening Wednesday, October 20 at Portland’s Whitsell Auditorium

By Josephine Bridges

The Asian Reporter

If you think a trip to grandma’s with the kids in the back seat feels like an eternity, consider two days in the mountains of Mongolia on horseback with an autistic boy. Should you prefer the observation of such a journey to participation in it, The Horse Boy will unsettle and charm and ultimately amaze you, and you’ll never look at those trips to grandma’s quite the same way again.

Rupert Isaacson, author of the international bestseller, The Horse Boy, will be in attendance at the Northwest Film Center’s Whitsell Auditorium on Wednesday, October 20 to present a screening of the documentary of the same name. You’ll have a chance to see a terrific film and to ask the author and filmmaker questions afterward. He’ll also sign copies of his book.

The Horse Boy is the story of a quest for help not just for a boy suffering from autism, but for his family. Not all people with autism suffer, at least not any more than the rest of us, as the wonderful Temple Grandin, Ph.D., a professor of animal science, makes clear. Rowan Isaacson, however, is filmed in such distress that the filmgoer, like the boy’s parents, aches for him and yearns to see his anguish eased.

Rowan hasn’t responded to any of the traditional therapies his parents have tried, but his love for and rapport with animals — especially his relationship with the neighbor’s horse, Betsy — are an inspiration. His father, a former horse trainer who also spent years working with the Kalahari Bushmen of Botswana and learning about the importance of shamans in their lives, wonders if there is "a place on earth that combined this kind of shamanic healing with horses." It turns out the place where horseback riding originated is also the one place on earth where shamanism is the state religion: Mongolia.

There are a number of remarkable things about this documentary, but first among them is the spirit of candor with which Rupert Isaacson and his wife, Kristin Neff, reveal themselves to the camera on a journey with as many tough moments as transcendent ones. A number of Mongolian shamans also consented to be filmed engaging in deeply personal — and one assumes, usually private — ceremonies. Even the goats, horses, and reindeer in The Horse Boy seem at ease with the proceedings.

While the journey is riddled with difficulty, extraordinary things happen from the very outset. When Rowan calls tour guide Tulga’s son, Tomoo, his "Mongolian brother" — an unprecedented bond — Tulga decides to bring his boy along. This is only the beginning.

In the aftermath of the family’s pilgrimage to Mongolia, Rupert Isaacson is careful to clarify exactly what has changed: "Did Rowan get cured of his autism? No, Rowan is still autistic. Did Rowan get healed of the dysfunctions that went along with his autism, the physical and emotional incontinence, the inconsolable tantrums, the isolation from his peers? Yes."

The healing needn’t stop with Rowan or his family, but can extend to the whole society in which we live. "I really hope that as people learn more about autism, they will see autism as a form of diversity," says anthropologist Roy Richard Grinker, Ph.D. Have a look at The Horse Boy. See if you don’t agree that we are fortunate indeed to count Rowan Isaacson among us.

The Horse Boy screens October 20 at 7:00pm at the Northwest Film Center’s Whitsell Auditorium, located at 1219 S.W. Park Avenue in Portland. For more information, call (503) 221-1156 or visit <>. To learn more, visit <>.