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Horse Boy Method Intro Workshop


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Over approximately seven years of working with autistic children and horses Rupert Isaacson, father of Rowan Isaacson (the Horse Boy) stumbled upon a number of techniques that seemed to bring about better verbal communication with his son.

For some years Rupert and Rowan literally lived in the saddle together on board a Texas Quarter Horse called Betsy. The story of how Rowan opened up to the outside world through Betsy is told in the bestselling book and award winning film, both entitled "The Horse Boy".

Soon after Rowan's success Rupert began working with other local children on the spectrum to see if what had worked with Rowan and Betsy would also work for them.

While no method can ever be right for 100% of people Rupert did find that a sufficiently high percentage of children did seem to benefit in sometimes quite astonishing ways.

After a couple more years Rupert realized that he had a system of techniques in place, that targeted different types of autism spectrum challenges. Since 2009 he has been working internationally with the Horse Boy Method™ at camps and centers in North America and Europe.

Horse Boy Method is specific to Autism and neuro-psychiatric conditions.

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Horse Boy Method Intro Workshop

  1. 1. Horse Boy Method Workshop • Theory Overview Basic 2 Day Day 1: • Environment Certification • Sensory • Tricks Day 2 • Back-riding & horse preparation, Trail ride with Freddy • Theory of mind, Perspective taking & games • Academics & Self-Advocacy • Long lining
  2. 2. The Horse Boy • The story • What has happened since? • Horse Boy Foundation • New Trails • Horse Boy Camps • Horse Boy Method • Horse Boy World • Not here to CURE Autism • Address dysfunctions • Autism is NOT a problem to be fixed. • So what is Horse Boy Method?
  3. 3. So what is Horse Boy Method? • Simple 6-stage process • Gets direct communication going • Enhances the gifts by addressing the dysfunctions • Proving ground for other neuro-psychiatric conditions • Enhances healing for families and kids • Stage 1: Environment • Stage 2: Sensory Work • Stage 3: Back-riding • Stage 4: Perspective Taking & Theory of Mind • Stage 5: Academics • Stage 6: Self-Advocacy • We don’t teach kids how to ride • Be Self-Compassionate! • What’s in it for me?
  4. 4. Self-Compassion & Brainchemistry • Working with Autism is difficult • Working with horses can be difficult • Be kind to yourself in order to be effective • Bio- chemistry in brain • Oxytocin vs. Cortisol • Amygdala in horses and people on spectrum => anxiety • Parallel between young horses and autistic kids • Exercise 1: Oxytocin vs. Cortisol • Hands out • Clench fists • Say something shitty to yourself • Open palms • Cross hands • Lay over heart Oxytocin
  5. 5. Why are we talking aboutAutism? - Prevalence • Autism has gone from something quite rare (2 kids in 10,000 20 years ago) to a PANDEMIC (at least 1 child in 100) • Therapeutic riding stables are experiencing a tsunami of autistic kids • Old methods of therapeutic riding are designed for physical disability and don’t work for autism • 4:1 male to female ratio • True Autism • Reaction to toxins in environment • Is the increase improved diagnosis? • What do you mean the environment is getting more toxic? • Is it because of vaccinations?
  6. 6. Myths of Autism • Autism is much misunderstood. • Here are the main misunderstandings: 1. All individuals with autism are alike 2. Autistic people don’t have feelings 3. Autistic people don’t form relationships 4. All autistic people are savants 5. Autistic people have no language skills 6. Autistic people don’t make good eye contact 7. Autistic people don’t have empathy 8. Autistic people can’t have careers 9. AUTISM IS A PROBLEM TO BE FIXED
  7. 7. Autism Truth • Autism is a spectrum of neuro-psychiatric conditions • Continuum • Key feature: difficulty communicating with the exterior world. • Common features: • sensory problems, gastrointestinal problems, sleep difficulties, epilepsy, repetitive behaviors etc. • Asperger’s Syndrome • PDD-NOS: most common, current diagnosis. • Related disorders: • Angelman’s syndrome • William’s syndrome, • Rhett’s syndrome, etc.
  8. 8. Treatments –Autism is a lifelong diagnosis • No single treatment protocol. • Autism cannot be ‘cured’. • Common Autism Treatments • ABA (and other highly structured behavioral therapies) • Floor Time (and other play-based therapies) • Diet (gluten/casein-free diet, protein deficiency and others) • Biomedical (chelation, Valtrex, etc.) • Treatments that work for one child may not work for another! • People’s understanding of Autism is still simplistic • Get answers online at “Ask Cisco” on
  9. 9. Environment • Stop the white noise / physical discomfort • Entire environment for Autism/Sensory = 50% of success • Kids first, horses second • Most kids will spend most time NOT on horse • Other animals • Environment within an environment • Inside & outside toys and playrooms. • TRAMPOLINE most important piece of equipment • Everything must be about ‘YES’ • If we say ‘NO’ a lot the child thinks we are not worth communicating with • Avoid sensory triggers • Sensory trails & rooms : Does and Don’ts • Learning to order the environment • Edible, tracking, wildlife, farming environments, fires • Indoor arenas & lighting
  10. 10. Exercise 1: • Take an average suburban backyard. How can we make these into optimum autism environments?
  11. 11. Exercise 2: • Take an average suburban living room. How can we make these into optimum autism environments?
  12. 12. Exercise 3: • Take an average school yard. How can we make these into optimum autism environments?
  13. 13. Exercise 4: • Take an average indoor/outdoor riding arena. How can we make these into optimum autism environments?
  14. 14. Exercise 5: • Take an average therapy/class room. How can we make these into optimum autism environments?
  15. 15. The Human Environment – Tribe • It takes a village to raise a child • Suburban life creates ISOLATION • Horse Boy Tribe • Should NOT feel like therapy • Should feel like fun, play, exploration • Coming out to the family farm • Changeable structure • Humor and laughter • Easy and informal • FAMILIES ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR THEIR CHILDREN AT ALL TIMES • When child ready to ride your team jumps in
  16. 16. The Learning Environment: • Communicate don’t teach • Don’t test or pressure instead continually impart information • Involve the family (Parents, siblings, careers are the expert) • Open ended time frame • Bring the horse to the child, not the child to the horse • Never interrupt an activity • Bring the horse into the house if necessary • Work outside as much as you can: Trails, circus, water activities etc. • Intrinsic vs. extrinsic motivation: Let the child lead, offer choices and start where the child is • Accept negative communication “I want down!” – “Thank you for telling me!” • Humor • Laughter IS verbal communication • Laughter produces oxytocin • Toilet humor IS funny!
  17. 17. Sensory Work • Autistic kids get misinformation through their nervous systems • A breath of wind can feel like fire • Clothes can suddenly feel like they weigh 10 tons • Result = panic and meltdown • Work body to body bareback with a static horse • Stimming often stops (use of good stimms) • First the parent, care giver and/or sibling • Arm’s length, cheek and heart, forward hug, backward recline, butt hug. • Support with volunteers and stabilize • Be prepared for emergency dismount if needed • Choose quiet location within sight of child • Let the child explore • Monitor horse’s mood • Long, broad backed horses are ideal • Changing sleep patterns
  18. 18. Sensory Practice • Exercise 1: The diaper-shake: lie on the floor, on tummy, hands by sides, partner sits next to you, puts hand on sacrum and gently rocks in rhythm • Exercise 2: Prana breathing: you breathe in through the nose to fill the lungs, hold for 1 beat, exhale through closed mouth through larynx. Do 5 times – tool people can use when getting very stressed
  19. 19. Tricks • Why do them? • Communication • One syllable vowel sound • Hand gesture • Horse does something spectacular => big payoff • Help families connect • “Please help me train my horse!” • Horses like it • Naughty busy brained horses • Injured and hot horses • Does it make my horse mouthy? • The use of treats, sticks and gloves • Trick 1: Look away • Trick 2: Smile • Trick 3: Jambettes • Trick 4: Reverence Bow • Trick 5: Pedestal •
  20. 20. Mind Benders • Rowan • Oak • Scott • Conrad • Chimenne
  21. 21. Back riding 1: preparing & maintaining • Goal: Throughness (a horse that says yes to soft aids (weight, leg hands) • How do I get there: Classical Training Scale • Start where the horse is • Topline: What is it? How do we create it? • Lunging in side reins/Vienna, Long-lining & Hill work • Training aids • Market Harborough (German Martingale) • Draw reins, Vienna side reins • Dressage stick, spurs • Demo: • Ground exercise 1: Flexion from pole and jaw • Ground exercise 2: Yield the quarters • Ridden exercise 1: Rhythm • Ridden exercise 2: Count downs at walk, trot • Ridden exercise 3: leg yield into canter transition
  22. 22. Back-riding 2: Riding with Freddy • Equipment • Oversized 20” synthetic western saddle (e.g. Big Horn) with breastplate • Do not use • Never smaller than 18” • English saddle, surcingle or treeless • Introducing Freddy the feed sack • Desensitizing your horse • Mounting • Hold Freddy around the middle with one hand, reins in other hand • Talk, sing, offer choices, tap on body • Dismounting Freddy • Ridden exercise 1: trail ride with Freddy. Sing and talk to Freddy offer choices • Ridden exercise 2: walk and trot count downs with Freddy
  23. 23. Perspective taking • When comfortable back-riding we can start with perspective taking, rule based games and academics. • Social Skills – Applied tricks • Rule Based Games • Exercise 1: Does Freddy see what we see? • Exercise 2: Bigger and smaller • Exercise 3: Tag – You are it! • Exercise 4: Hide and seek • Exercise 5: False belief
  24. 24. Academics • Introduce concepts • DO NOT test the child • Exercise 5: Math (additions, subtractions, division, multiplication) • Exercise 6: Fractions • Exercise 7: Using the arena letters to teach any subject (with long lines) • In our series Horse Boy Learning we go into greater detail on how to teach academics in a stress free environment with and without horses. More details on our website:
  25. 25. Long-lining • Kids get too big to back-ride • Builds your horse’s topline • Benefits • Still behind the child • You can provide oxytocin producing rhythm • You lose: • Deep pressure • Canter (unless you train “Terre a Terre” in long-lines) • Trail rides and arena work • Arena letters to teach any subject starting with their interest • Exercise 1: Learning to long-line • Exercise 2: Self-advocacy - Let them teach you what interests them!
  26. 26. Dream-whisperers • Autism is a gift and a skill set • It is therapeutic for us neuro-typicals • Give us a break from our own egos • The horses also tend to go sweeter with autistic kids • Blurring the boundaries • But there is more thing • Helps your own dreams come true. • So what are your dreams • When you are in service to the dreams of these children, families, people your own dreams start to come true