The documentary film The Horse Boy tells the story of a boy with autism and his parent’s journey to heal their son. At the start of the film we are introduced to Rupert Iaacson and Kristen Neff, but the story does not really start until they have their son, Rowen. Early in life Rowen displays social deficits and tantrum behavior, and not long after that is diagnosed with high functioning autism. You then see how difficult it is to work with and raise a child with autism. At moments, Rowen would be fine playing with his animal figurines, and minutes later he could be starting a tantrum that may last up to four hours. The reality that Rowen may have to be taken care of and never be fully toilet trained was a harsh one that had to be face. With that in mind, Rupert became determined to heal his son, and he was willing to do anything.
We then see Rupert float between the three sectors of healthcare, which include popular, professional, and folk. At first the popular sector led him to the professional sector. He experimented with aspects of diet and health with Rowen, used medications such as valtrex (which is for Herpes), and tried to make a super drink that he hoped would help Rowen with his externalizing symptoms. However, nothing seemed to really work. That is until he first saw Rowen around a horse, it seemed that Rowen was most content, most free when he was on a horse and near animals. To Rupert, this was a sign. He then took a turn into the folk sector, and after doing a little research decided to embark on a journey to Mongolia. This journey would take Rupert, Kristen, and Rowen on a pilgrimage across Mongolia on horseback, and they would ride from one Shaman healer to the next with the hopes of healing Rowen. The end goal? – To make it to the Reindeer people in the North, where it is said the shaman healers are the most skilled and powerful.
Within Mongolia, the shaman healers are more connected to the spiritual world than the average person. In essence they have something different about them, and that allows them to have the ability to heal people of illnesses of the mind – which are said to be connected to spirits. The shamans are a part of the folk sector because they are sacred to Mongolian culture, and not what one in the West would commonly consider medicine. However, for Rupert – who had run out of ideas on how to heal Rowen – the shamans seemed like a wonderful, and adventurous idea. The healing took a holistic approach, which involved the whole family and an extended feeling of community from the people they met in Mongolia. The system is somewhat hierarchical in the sense that who the great healers are is common knowledge among the Mongolians. For example, the reindeer people are know to have the strongest shamanic healing power. The process of shaman healing is not something one can rush. First the shaman must see if he will be able to heal the ailment and second the timing of the ritual is key. For Rowen, 9 PM was his time, and the shaman set out to release the bad spirits that Rowen was carrying with him. After the ritual, the shaman promised that Rowen would begin to shows signs nearly immediately, and the healing process would fully take around three years. Rowen’s parents were skeptical at first, and then filled with amazement when they saw Rowen improve before their eyes. Did the shamans heal Rowen by releasing the energy of the bad spirits from him? Or did the journey to Mongolia, and his exposure to an extreme environment and new situations help start the healing process? Perhaps, it was a little bit of both.