Welcome to Horse Boy Method – the only Equine Therapy that really works for the brain and nervous system. Devised by both adult autists themselves and neuro-scientists from in both Europe and the USA. The Method now serves tens of thousands of families in more than 20 countries. It is the cutting edge in Equine Therapy for not just autism but for ADD, ADHD, anxiety, PTSD, depression, borderline and most other neuro-sensory diagnoses.

As Dr. Robert Naviaux, founder of the Mitochondrial and Metabolic Disease Center (MMDC) - University of California:

“You’ve hit on a hugely successful way of helping to turn off this danger/stress signal. ... and allay anxiety at a cellular level.” 

And as Dr. Temple Grandin adds: 

“Horse Boy and Movement method provide many new insights into how helping individuals with autism using horses, movement, and immersion in the natural world; novel teaching techniques using play equipment, a car ride, even time on a couch can be done anywhere by anyone and they work!”

To read the full quotes of Drs. Naviaux and Grandin in relation to Horse Boy's work check out The Science of Learning

So what is the Method? 

Horse Boy Method is a simple 6 stage process backed up by  8 guidelines to ensure that its application is effective.

The 6 Stages:

  • Setting up the right natural environment (no bad sensory triggers) and the right human environment(trust, tribe) – we always work with as many family members as possible, not just the affected child.
  • Working directly on sensory issues body to body on the horse to calm anxiety
  • Riding with the child to create the rhythms that aid communication (leading a horse destroys these rhythms – the horse must be ridden or driven in long lines for create them)
  • Perspective-Taking and Rule-Based Games on horseback to re-pattern the brain
  • Academics on horseback (yes you can teach the whole national curriculum up there)
  • Self Advocacy: When the child is ready we get them to teach us about what interests them – helping them find their voice, and begin to think about livelihood, job and future

The Science Behind the Method:

In 2011, two German sports doctors examining Horse Boy Method concluded that the rhythms created by riding with the child as opposed to leading the horse were filling the child with the trust/communication hormone oxytocin and counteracting the anxiety hormone cortisol (which shuts down communication), thereby promoting the child’s ability to learn. To read their conclusion, click here.

Between 2011 and 2013 educational psychologists at the University of Texas found that the Method positively impacted children with autism's sensory processing and cognitive awareness (a child's ability to understand the world around them) which in turn led to decreased anxiety. The method was also found to significantly improve the relationship dynamics of the affected family. Their study was published in 2013 - click here to read it.

Between 2012 and 2014  Laurence Schneider, a neuro-scientist from the Institute Pierre et Marie Curie in Paris (Frances leading brain institute), was resident at the main Horse Boy Center in Texas and concluded that Horse Boy Method also acted on the cerebellum and pre-frontal cortex, making kids better able to reason and regulate their emotions through enhanced Neuro Trophic Effect. Put simply, the way the children were being moved in the saddle was causing their brains to produce more neurons and to operate more functionally. 

Starting in 2015 Horse Boy Method is part of a PhD program on Occupational Therapy at the University of Belmont in Nashville. Also in 2015 the existing University of Texas study is being expanded to include larger data sets, with more studies to be published in 2016 and 2017.

In 2016 Dr. Robert Naviaux, director of the Mitochondrial Institute at the University of California San Diego, and one of the worlds leading neuro-scientists, concluded that Horse Boy Method and Movement Method effectively shut down the cell danger response in the brain and helped brains back to normalized function. 

In 2017 two studies - one from the University of Groningen in the Netherlands and another from the University of Osnabrueck in Germany, assessed the effectiveness of Horse Boy Method and Movement Method respectively and concluded, that both Methods massively enhanced learning in a number of case studies, often from vary "hard to reach" children and adolescents. You can read the abstracts of these studies here.

Additional studies have been conducted at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden, and (an ongoing four-year study) at the Open University of the Netherlands. Queens College in New York is now beginning an on site Movement Method program. Our relationship with Osnabrueck University continues to provide the academic lesson plans used in the Methods. More studies will follow.  

The Story:

Horse Boy Method did not begin with nero-scientists and educational psychologists, but by chance in 2004 when Rupert Isaacson, Horse Boy’s founder, simply noticed that his autistic son Rowan did better – tantrummed less and was more engaged – in the woods behind their house than inside, and that the various ABA and other therapists he had engaged tended to fail when confining Rowan to rooms and chairs.

Following advice from renowned autist Dr. Temple Grandin, who told Rupert to: "follow the child, work outside away from bad sensory triggers, and to let him move, move, move, because most autists are primarily kinetic learners" - Rupert implemented this counsel and the Method evolved from there. 

The child needed to move, so Rupert moved with him.

One day Rowan ran through the fence onto their neighbor’s property and threw himself on the ground under the hooves of the neighbor’s mare Betsy. At first Rupert thought his son would be injured or worse, but while creeping slowly up to the fence to remove his son from danger he noticed that the mare and Rowan were clearly communicating – the mare bending her head to his child and licking and chewing the lips – an acceptance/submission gesture that Rupert, a long term horse trainer himself, immediately recognized.

It still didn’t occur to Rupert to put the then non-verbal Rowan on a horse, having no background in therapeutic riding, but Rowan wanted to keep going back to Betsy and indicating with his body that he wanted ‘up’. Rupert, knowing the old mare was quiet, placed his son on her back while she grazed, keeping a hand on him to keep him safe and noticed that when he did so, Rowan’s ‘stimming’ (rocking, flapping, repetitive noises) stopped – he had a different child. 

Rupert then decided to try riding with Rowan in a Western saddle and that day got his first expressive language. He noticed that the more he worked in a rhythm, especially a rhythmic collected canter, the more speech he got.

For the next two and a half years Rupert and Rowan literally lived in the saddle together – Rowan learned to speak, read, do math up there. Suddenly autism was an adventure, not a cage. In 2007, father and son even rode across Mongolia together, producing the book and film, The Horse Boy, and its sequel The Long Ride Home, and in 2008 opened the New Trails Center near Austin Texas to serve other families.

Learn the Method

In 2010 Rupert and Horse Boy co-director Iliane Lorenz began to systemize the method and teach others how to do it. Today Horse Boy Method Practitioners can be found in 20 countries and rising. Horse Boy Method works, is easy to implement and the need for it is urgent with 1 in 58 children over the age of 8 being diagnosed on the autistic spectrum.

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We do not believe autism is a problem to be fixed. We believe it is a viable way of going through life and know many successful adult autists. Join us on the adventure.