The Horse Boy
PBS, May 11 at 10 P.M. EST

After countless modern medical treatments failed to help their autistic son speak, Rupert Isaacson and his wife, Kristin Neff, looked for hope in the untested. The Isaacson family’s adventure, depicted in the PBS documentary The Horse Boy, began when two-year-old Rowan suddenly changed. He stopped speaking words he’d earlier known, retreated into himself and erupted into frequent tantrums. One day, to his parents’ dismay, he slipped through a fence and ran into their neighbor’s horse pasture. They feared Rowan would get kicked by a spooked horse, but instead he made his first friend: an old mare named Betsy, who gently bent her head down to meet Rowan’s.

As Rowan spent time with Betsy, he grew calmer and his speech improved. Rowan’s father, a former horse trainer, realized he had finally found a way into his son’s world. With a little research, he discovered that shamans in Mongolia use horses as part of their traditional healing methods. The Isaacsons soon packed their bags and left their home in Austin, Tex., with Rowan, now five years old, on an uncertain and hopeful quest.

The documentary, based on a book by Isaacson, follows the family’s struggles and joys as they search for a miracle. The audience, along with Rowan’s parents, wonders if the trip is in the boy’s best interests when his shrill screams accompany a chaotic shaman ceremony. Yet the magic of the journey is apparent when, in nearby Siberia, Rowan brushes his fingertips along a reindeer’s furry antlers, smiles and says, “Reindeer. Cute.” —Corey Binns