Betsy is the story of a horse that had a life changing impact on people, especially the life of one autistic child named Rowan, the autistic son of Rupert Isaacson and Kristen Neff. Because of Betsy's special bond with Rowan, Isaacson was inspired to make the documentary film, THE HORSE BOY. He wanted to share the story of their family's journey from Texas to Mongolia in search of that illusive something that would heal their son.
"A lot of the parents go to the ends of the Earth in their own living rooms every day," Isaacson said. "I mean, we had more stressful car rides to the grocery store than any of the stresses and challenges of the trip to Mongolia."
THE HORSE BOY has been called "a lyrical, heartbreaking, and deeply stirring meditation on the mystery of autism" (Entertainment Weekly). That "lyrical" journey began with Betsy and how she, a patient, bay mare, showed the way into Rowan's world. Through the movie and companion book, Betsy has influenced and inspired many thousands of people around the world to try equine therapy.
Before Betsy, Isaacson and Neff struggled daily with Rowan's wild tantrums, and they feared he was becoming unreachable. "He would just stare off into space," Isaacson said. "I was worried it was going to get progressively worse and that eventually, he might float away from us entirely. Luckily, right about that time is when he met Betsy."
Betsy was owned by Isaacson's neighbor Stafford O'Neal. In 2004, when Rowan was just two and a half years old, he forged his own relationship with Betsy.
Darting away from his parents, Rowan ran through the fence separating Isaacson's property from O'Neal's and literally threw himself on his back under Betsy's hooves. "I thought he was going to get trampled," recalled Isaacson. The resulting bond between them was so direct, immediate and evident that Isaacson, a life-long horseman, knew that Betsy would forever change his son's life.
From then on, even though Rowan would run right up to her in the pasture, Betsy always displayed submissive behavior to Rowan, never scaring him nor scared of him. When lying on her bareback, body to body, Rowan's obsessive behaviors would go away and tantrums stopped. His babbling and spasmodic behavior would be replaced by an unusual, blissful calm. More amazing yet - when Isaacson began to ride Betsy with his son in the saddle with him, not only did the shrieking and jerking cease, but Rowan began to speak.
Betsy's miraculous impact on Rowan also spawned the creation both the New Trails Center and the Horse Boy Foundation, in Elgin, Texas, so that more children who battle with autism could benefit from the unique connection between human and horse and experience the healing magic of horses. There, Isaacson teaches what he has named the "Horse Boy Method" to therapists, therapeutic riding instructors, and riders who work with autistic children and their families, based on his experience with Betsy. Isaacson also travels all over the world to train horses in the method.
"Rowan is not cured of autism," Isaacson stressed. "The word 'cure' is not in my vocabulary for this." But, my son's ability to communicate and function, and that of many other autistic children, came from their discovering a special connection with Betsy and what horses can offer. On screen and off, Betsy is a horse star - truly an unsung hero. Her service to my son and our family has created a ripple effect far beyond one horse's single contribution. There is no living being to whom I am more grateful."