The film The Horse Boy is about the journey and risks the family of four-year-old Rowan take in an effort to not necessarily cure, but improve upon his autism. Autism is a mysterious disorder in which the person lacks social skills but often possesses a very specific talent. In Rowan’s case, he has a special connection with animals. The constant tantrums that Rowan would have (except for when he was on a horse) lead his father to experiment with a journey to Mongolia, where shamanism and horses could be combined. Their first experience with the shamans was encouraging, as Rowan developed an interest in interacting with another little boy, something he had never done before. The shamans all agreed that the spirit of his mother’s manic mother was affecting the little boy. As their journey continued through the hills, Rowan’s progress was up and down, typical of autism. At the last shamanistic ritual the family participated in, high in the hills and reindeer herds of Mongolia, Rowan’s parents were told his autism would improve. Sure enough, his tantrums subsided and his social skills improved. His autism did not disappear, but there was significant change.
The healers in Rowan’s case were the shamans of Mongolia. Mongolia happens to be a country where shamanism is the national religion. Rituals involving much chanting, drums, whipping, trance and movement were used to drive away the negative spirit of Rowan’s manic grandmother. The specifics of shamanism and the ritual vary by location, and the most well-known shamans are highly respected. The rituals performed by the shamans required Rowan to at least be present, even if he wasn’t paying attention. Some rituals also involved physical contact such as holding him and gesturing with another hand over his body. An interesting point to consider about this relationship is that if Rowan were to have been into a society that practices shamanism, his condition may have resulted in being a shaman himself.
In rural Mongolia, people are few and far between. There are no hospitals nestled in the vast fields. So, the body is understood largely in terms of traditional (folk) medicine, with illnesses such as Rowan’s being credited to things such as spirits and bad energy. Whether Rowan’s improvement was the result of the shamans or being pushed to his limits on the journey cannot be proven, but the methods of shamanism serve its people well.