The Horse Boy

Movie review by
Lisa A. Goldstein, Common Sense Media
The Horse Boy Movie Poster Image
True story about quest for autism cure; better for parents.
  • NR
  • 2009
  • 93 minutes

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Kids say

age 16+
Based on 2 reviews

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

This film shows kids what it's like to live with someone with autism and familiarizes them with the condition's challenges. Themes include: stepping outside one's comfort zone; taking risks; the importance of tolerance and love; and the value of animals.

Positive Role Models & Representations

These parents will do anything to help their child with autism, including travel to an unfamiliar country to undergo unusual treatment. Though they question their decision, especially when the process is difficult, they persevere, and ultimately see results and learn to love their son for who he is. The parents eventually go on to found The Horse Boy Foundation, which makes horses and nature available to other children, autistic and typical, who might otherwise not have access to them.


Adults are whipped by a shaman and told they can't scream or make any sounds. During a breakfast, the choices are the lung, liver, and heart of an animal. Animal carcasses are visible in one scene.


The mother is told that she has to wash the area where her son came out. When she does this, she faces away from the camera and her behind is blurred.


The father has a tendency to swear whenever his son -- who isn't toilet-trained -- has an accident. He says "Jesus Christ" a couple of times, "butt-f--ker," "f--ked up," "motherf----r of a poo," "and s--ting his pants" to express his frustration.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Shaman smokes cigarette.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that this no-holds barred documentary, which shows what life is like for a boy who has autism, includes some heavy topics best for adults and mature teens. The movie includes lots of discussion about the parents' concerns and frustrations in dealing with their autistic child, which younger kids won't relate to and may find upsetting. One scene includes a shaman whipping the parents as part of the healing process, and another shows the mother washing her vagina (which is blurred) as part of the ritual. A decent portion of the film is devoted to the child's inability to poop on the potty, and his father's intense reactions, including strings of curses ("motherf---ker," "s--t," and "Jesus Christ" as an exclamation). By letting viewers into their lives, the family helps expand understanding of autism, culture, nature, animals, and what it means to heal.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say

There aren't any reviews yet. Be the first to review this title.

Teen, 16 years old Written byRachel Laufer September 10, 2014

Temple Grandin has ought to stop! (The author)

Please never ever trust Temple Grandin. She either only believes in lies about autism or knows the truth but sells rubbish and claptrap inside of a pretty cover... Continue reading
Kid, 12 years old September 9, 2011


your right best left for parents(wiat how should i know im 12!)

What's the story?

After exhausting traditional medicine's approach to their son's severe autism, parents Rupert and Kristin Isaacson undertake an epic journey to Mongolia in hopes of finding a more spiritually minded treatment. During their travels, they meet with several shamans who offer explanations and conduct rituals for their son's condition. Eventually, they travel several days on horseback to meet with a very special healer. Throughout the trip, the Isaacsons learn valuable lessons about themselves and their son, and see him make incremental but significant progress. When he's around animals -- especially horses -- he also does well. The couple eventually found an theraputic organization that brings kids -- both autistic and typical -- together with horses. Experts on autism, including Temple Grandin, appear in interview segments to offer insight into the experience of living with autism.

Is it any good?

Based on an acclaimed book by Rupert Isaacson about his family's voyage to Mongolia, THE HORSE BOY is an honest depiction of a family who reaches a breaking point, yet keeps going. The Isaacsons let the cameras into their lives with unflinching honesty, revealing their raw emotions throughout their struggles and joys as they watch their son emerge from his shell through his relationship with animals. Throughout it all, the parents' love for their child and each other shines through.

Though the filmmaking isn't top-notch, with some awkward transitions, the combination of a compelling personal story and some expert commentary about autism creates a powerful documentary about a subject most people know little about. Because they've let you into their lives, you can't help but root for this disjointed family to come together. Suspense builds throughout the journey: Will Rowan get better? The poignant scenes at the end will bring tears to your eyes.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about disabilities and differences. How do you think the media usually handles disability and difference? Does it rely on stereotypes? Does this film do things differently?

  • Do you know anyone with autism or any other disabilities? Has this film changed your perspective? Did you learn anything from the movie?

Movie details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love dramatic stories

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