Feel Good Sunday: How a father, son and horse tackled autism

By Katie Hankinson as published on/in the Post Independent

“It felt like the gates of heaven opening up to us, honestly,”

Rupert Isaacson, front, explains the Horse Boy method during a demonstration at the Carbondale rodeo grounds as helpers Zoe Hanlon and Mel Wiley watch.
Rupert Isaacson, front, explains the Horse Boy method during a demonstration at the Carbondale rodeo grounds as helpers Zoe Hanlon and Mel Wiley watch.

When Rupert Isaacson’s son, Rowan, was diagnosed with autism in 2004 at the age of 4, he and his now-ex-wife, Kristin, were convinced by doctors their son would lack skills in school and society, including a relationship with them as parents.

Eleven years later, Rowan is able to read, write and do basic algebra. He is interested in opening a zoo for “endangerous” (his word) animals — endangered and dangerous. Most important of all, though, he is able to maintain friendships with people of all ages, especially his parents, despite what Rupert’s family was told that day in 2004. The source of this miraculous change? A horse.

The organization he founded to share the success, Horse Boy, has spread to 11 countries and will start this summer in Carbondale CO, with valley publicist Sheryl Barto operating the practice out of her home.

“My son’s diagnosis was presented to us like a catastrophe,” said Isaacson, who lives in Austin, Texas. “They told us, ‘You can say goodbye to all these dreams,’ and it felt like an emotional baseball bat. But there’s always that part of me asking, ‘What’s the other 50 percent of the story?’

In 2004, after his diagnosis, Rowan slipped through a hole in a fence into a neighbor’s yard where horses were grazing. Isaacson ran after him, fearing his son would be trampled. He slowly made his way toward Rowan in order to remove him from any danger.

But as Isaacson approached, he noticed that the alpha mare, a sweet horse named Betsy, nudged the other horses away from Rowan and leaned down closer to the boy, half closing her eyes and ‘licking and chewing,’ which Isaacson, a longtime horse trainer, describes as “an act of submission, like a dog showing its belly.”

After several visits with Betsy, Rowan eventually insisted on being lifted onto her back. Soon, Isaacson and Rowan began to ride together. For the next four years, Isaacson and Rowan lived in the saddle together, learning not just the alphabet and how to do basic math, but about the door that autism had opened for the father and son.

“It felt like the gates of heaven opening up to us, honestly,” Isaacson said, describing how it felt to see Rowan’s behavioral changes before and after riding with him. “We had a completely different child.”

A trip to Mongolia, where horses and healing are intertwined, thousands of hours spent in the saddle learning and living together, and a miracle later, Horse Boy, an organization founded by Isaacson in 2007, was brought into existence. It has a simple mission: “bring the healing effects of horses, nature and supportive community to autism families free of charge.”…(CONTINUED)

Click (HERE) to read the rest of the story and to comment directly at the Post Independent


  1. Beautiful story! I have Aspergers syndrome but, since my teen years, I have learned that it doesn’t have to be a hindrance. If anything, I have prospered. I took horseback riding lessons during my early teen years and I believe that has benefited me tremendously. I overcame the severe low self-esteem that I had during puberty and I’m now much more outgoing. Although I haven’t been able to take riding lessons for a number of years, I love to be around horses any chance I get. I swear that these beautiful animals have a way of making even some of the most insecure people hatch from their cocoons and paving the way for them to become confident and successful.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. We, humans are so very blessed with the presence of all animals but…ah, horses. Once they are in your heart they are there for life. It is heart opening, mystical and, at the same time, so very down to earth :)! I’ve been privileged to have Aspergers and autistic teens interact with my horses, on a small scale. It is breathtaking! This post was wonderful! Thank you!


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