redroanchronicles: Rhapsody - Gilded (rhapsody)

The Horse Boy
(Documentary film, 2009)

There's a bit of magic in that instant when you first put a child onto the back of a good horse. It's a moment when a connection can form, and for many horse people, a memory like that one stands at the beginning of a lifetime relationship with all things equine.

When Rupert Isaacson put his son Rowan on the back of a neighbor's horse, it was just as magical, but something even more remarkable happened. Rowan's tantrum ended. He went quiet. He clung warmly to the horse's back, and then he started talking.

For other kids, that might not be unusual behavior, but Rowan is autistic, and the challenges his parents faced were much different than those that other parents dealt with. Rowan couldn't answer when someone asked his name. He couldn't be potty-trained. His tantrums were heartfelt and prolonged. He didn't socialize with other kids and he rarely spoke. He spent hours obsessively lining up toys end to end.

But something happened when the neighbor's mare, Betsy, came into the picture. On her back, Rowan was different. He was calmer, and he spoke more. He was happy. And for his parents, this was a glimmer of hope where every other form of therapy and medication had failed to make in-roads.

It was the beginning of a journey that would eventually take them to Mongolia, where they would participate in shamanic rituals, ride to waters renowned for their healing powers, and ride north to meet the Reindeer People who make their home near the Russian border. And by the time they returned home, their son was transformed.

I haven't read the book that also tells this story, but a friend who has told me that she was disappointed that the story didn't focus more on the horse's role in the story. This is also true of the documentary, but I don't count it as a failing on Isaacson's part in telling his family's story; on the contrary, this story is essentially about Rowan, and about his parents and how they deal with what their life together is. The horses are an agent of change for Rowan, and though the film carries an undercurrent of gratitude and affection toward its equine participants (particularly Betsy), they are not the focus of the story.

The documentary is wonderfully filmed and deftly edited (the music is particularly fantastic), and though at times it's uncomfortable to watch, it is an unflinchingly real look at how Rowan's autism affects his life. I watched him throw tantrums in which he seems almost terrified by his own helplessness to stop himself, and I watched his parents clean him up after yet another "code brown," and I saw his parents struggle to reconcile their love for this boy with their obvious anguish that he isn't able to really connect with them.

When father Rupert -- after trekking the remote Mongolian steppe with his wife and his autistic child, holding his son's flailing arms as a shaman beats a drum next to the boy's head -- wonders aloud whether he's insane and whether he's really doing this for his child's benefit, I wondered too.

When Rowan's parents marveled at some change in their son that seemed almost mundane to me, I wondered whether they aren't just seeing what they want to see, whether they were trying to justify what they'd put themselves and their child through by seeing progress that wasn't there.

And when Rowan ran off to play a game of chase with the Mongolian guide's son, and chattered like a normal boy, and sat atop a reindeer as if it was the best thing that had ever happened to anyone (which clearly it is, because he was sitting on a freaking reindeer), I did begin to see their point.

This film is a profoundly touching and deeply educational look into autism and the ways in which autistic people can form closer ties to their world. There are interview segments with experts, including Temple Grandin, and throughout the film it's clear that the goal with Rowan is to help him lead a richer life, relate better to his family, and take some of the pressure off of his parents. Similarly, the issue of traditional medicine is treated sensitively and respectfully; the Isaacsons may not both entirely buy into the idea of shamanism, but they're willing to try for their son, and they're full participants in the ceremonies of the many Mongolian shamans who come to help them, even when that means biting their tongues and taking their literal lashes. Ultimately, whether it's the shamanism or the horseback riding or just pushing him outside of his usual comfort zone, the trip does change something in Rowan.

Though the film's conclusion in some ways fails to lead up to the build-up -- particularly true of the segment in which a fairly arduous ride to see the reindeer people mostly culminates in Rowan sitting on a reindeer for a moment like a child in a petting zoo -- the whole of the film is both fascinating and inspiring, and definitely worth watching.

Rowan's parents have since founded The Horse Boy Foundation, an organization uniting autistic and neurotypical children in learning horsemanship. They also help to fund and support other autism programs.

redroanchronicles: (Alan Rickman - Horse)
If you know me, people of the Internet, then you know that I am all about truth, and I don't hold back. So I'm just going to lay it out there: some men are just so beautiful, that the only way to make them more beautiful is to put them on a horse.

Yes, friends, Winston Churchill said it best when he said that "There is something about the outside of a horse that is good for the inside of a man." What he neglected to mention was that there is something about the outside of a horse that is pretty complimentary for the outside of a man, too.

So here's the deal, oh readers of random blogs including mine: every now and again on this blog, I will bring you a hot man on a horse feature. I might do a straight-up movie review of a cool movie with lots of horses in it. I might just feature an actor and show you stills of all the movies he's done with horses in them. Sometimes -- because I am all about equal opportunity hotness -- I will bring you posts of hot women on horses or just films with a bunch of exceedingly beautiful horses, whether there are attractive human beings around them or not. I will definitely recommend to you cool horse movies, because my inner former-video-store-employee just can't let go of the past, and insists upon trying to shape the viewing habits of others to suit my whims. It's a public service I'm providing, people, because somebody needs to bring you pictures of hot guys on horses, and believe me when I tell you very earnestly that you do not want to just Google that phrase.

No, seriously. Don't.

Today I'm bringing you a bit of a preview of horse-including flicks, finishing with Ripley Scott's new Robin Hood, and starting with the inimitable Paul Gross and his new comedy/western, Gunless.



There he is. Paul Gross: Canadian. Thespian. Hot-ass. We all know Paul Gross, because he played Benton Fraser, upright Mountie of uprightness, on that seminal Canadian series Due South. (It's still my favorite TV show of all time. OF ALL TIME.) He's also done a lot of other totally kick-ass things, like Slings & Arrows, Passchendaele (holy shit, I spelled that right on the first try!), H2O and Trojan Horse... the list goes on. (I would've put Eastwick on there, but it's not actually kick-ass at all. Paul Gross was kick-ass in it, but otherwise it was just sort of eh.) Paul Gross is arguably one of the most attractive men in the world, not just for his smokin' bod but also for his delectable brains. But you take Paul Gross, and you put him on a horse, and his hotness is multiplied exponentially. (Good job, horse! And also good job Mark Zibert, who took the photo for this enRoute magazine interview.)

Paul Gross was raised as a ranch kid, so he knows a thing or two about horses. (At some point in the future, I'll bring you some photos of Paul Gross on a horse from Due South and Getting Married in Buffalo Jump. I'm not going to give them to you now, though. That's how I'm going to get you to stick around. FIRST HIT'S FREE, PEOPLE.) And he looks mighty pretty on them. The photo above is a particular blessing, because though it's to promote Gunless, it doesn't feature Paul wearing the ridiculous wig that he sports for the movie.

And yeah, okay, Gunless is not at all my sort of movie. I mean, it seems to have a lot going for it... Paul Gross on a horse, for a start. It also reunites Gross with his former Due South costar, Callum Keith Rennie, who will hopefully also have at least one scene on a horse. (Please? Pleeeeease?) It has plenty of Canadian jokes by Canadians -- those are the best kind -- and in general seems to have a slightly more slapstick Adventures of Brisco County, Jr. feel to it. So it could be good. Maybe. I just don't have the hard-on for Leslie Nielsen-type humor that our friend Paul Gross does, so it might not be my thing.

Except for the part with Paul Gross on a horse. That's definitely my thing. Gunless comes out on April 30th, and if it's in a theater near you, it could be worth a look.

Next on our list is a film that I'm very much looking forward to: Ripley Scott's new Robin Hood film. This movie is full of lovely people, among them Russell Crowe as Robin Hood, Cate Blanchett as Marion, Kevin Durand as Little John, Matthew Macfadyen as the Sheriff of Nottingham (WOOT!) and even Great Big Sea's Alan Doyle as Allan A'Dayle. And if that isn't enough for you, we've also got Mark Addy, Max von Sydow, William Hurt, Mark Strong, and oh, did I mention it's a film by Ripley Scott, biiiiiiotch? Oh, yes, I did. Sorry, I didn't mean to be redundant.

I have a real thing for medieval period films, and I will not even admit how many times I watched Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves as a youngster. (Later on this blog: Alan Rickman! ON A HORSE!) This is partly because I can't admit how many times I watched that movie, because at some point I lost track. Suffice it to say that I could recite every line in the movie entirely from memory. And did.

ANYWAY, my horrific childhood aside, I realize that you are here for pictures of men on horses. Are you ready? I am about to lay it down. Brace yourselves.


War is hell, people. Just in case you didn't get the memo.


For awhile, I had trouble deciding who had the coolest horse in this picture. Then I decided it was the random background rider on that gray Andalusian-looking horse. But Kevin Durand still wins at "Best Awesome Goatee."


"Hi, I'm Robin Hood! Where is the Maid Mar-ion? And the Sheriff of Notting-ham!"


I have this theory that Kevin Durand is going to steal the show. He's just sort of... magnetic in this. It must be the goatee. The days of Zipacna are long gone.

But you like the Russell Crowe, don't you? Here, have a few more.






And finally, I was looking forward to Matthew Macfadyen on a horse until I saw this. WTF? Kevin Durand gets a hot goatee and Matthew Macfadyen becomes the bastard love child of a Sasquatch and a mountain man? Unfair. But take heart, gentle readers! I'll do a Matthew Macfadyen feature soon and show you glorious, glorious pictures of him in stuff like The Reckoning and Pride & Prejudice. Soon, my pretties.


I do not think it at all unfair to say that, on the whole, Robin Hood projects tend to be shit. I mean, there's Prince of Thieves of course, but then you've also got the BBC series Robin Hood which, though it has pretty of its own, sort of takes awful and cranks it up to 11. I haven't seen any of the early Robin Hoods, let's admit it, I have no appreciation for the classics. Still, I hope that this new film will live up to the glory of the legend and not the cheese of the adaptations. At very least, in Russell Crowe we have an actor who can ride a horse without making the poor viewer (and the poor horse) cringe. Russell Crowe (and Kevin Durand, and Matthew Machotness), we salute you!

Ripley Scott's Robin Hood will hit theaters May 14th, and I daresay it's more likely than Gunless to be showing at your local ultramegagoogleplex.

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