When a psychology professor and a human-rights activist/journalist have an autistic son, their lives become incredibly difficult. Among other things, little Rowan never learns bowel control, and like many autistic children, he is prone to screaming, inconsolable tantrums.
But his parents live in rural Texas, and they discover when Rupert is 2 years old that horseback riding calms him. Some San Bushman healers also seem to help him.
So they make a trip to a land of horses and resurgent shamanism: Mongolia. That is the premise of The Horse Boy, a documentary film now out on DVD, as well as the book of the same title.
See it for the shamanism, at least, even if you know no autistic children.
(Actually, I have horse and donkey-owning friends whose autistic son also improves when riding, but they have not taken him to Mongolian shamans. Perhaps they wonder if they should.)
Mongolian shamanism was officially suppressed when the country was Communist. Even as Rowan’s parents seek the shamans’ help, I could not help but wonder if their coming halfway around the world was also validating the shamans, from the latter’s point of view.
No camera can capture the essence of shamanism, but it is still good to see how the externals are managed. And the final two-day ride to the reindeer people’s shaman is just gorgeous footage.
One shaman lays part of the problem on a relative of Rowan’s mother, a relative whom she admits was mentally ill. That is a hard description of reality for the psychology professor to hear, you might suspect. Our society does not normally blame any problems on dead ancestors. (I want to come back to this topic in a future post.)
Yet Rowan’s degree of improvement at the end is undeniable.