A film called “The Horse Boy,” widely viewed through the PBS Independent Lens series, documents the experiences of parents Rupert Isaacson and Kristin Neff as they wrestled to make sense of their son’s autism. Isaacson will be speaking in Scottsdale this fall as part of a fundraiser for Camelot Therapeutic Horsemanship, a non-profit organization teaching horsemanship to children and adults living with physical disabilities such as neuromuscular disorders, visual or hearing impairments, and traumatic brain injury. Camelot Therapeutic Horsemanship, which works with youth ages 7 and up, is eager to expand their program to provide horsemanship experiences to children living with autism.
Executive director Mary Hadsall and principal riding instructor Michelle Bartlett recently returned from The Horse Boy Foundation’s New Trails Center in Elgin, Tex., where they enjoyed firsthand experiences with methods used to support children affected by autism.
“The whole family is involved in this process,” says Bartlett. “Parents and siblings are the experts in these children’s lives.” Bartlett describes the “Horse Boy” method as “tribal,” praising Isaacson for “thinking outside the box” and “creating a ‘yes’ environment.” Their focus, she says, is communication.
Hadsall notes that Camelot Therapeutic Horsemanship was founded by Eileen Szychowski, a “horse lover and walking quadriplegic,” after she received two horses from polio survivor Josef Rivers, founder of a California animal therapy program called Dragon Slayers. Today Camelot has eight horses, including one who’s retired and working in what Hadsall describes as “Walmart greeter” mode until their new program for autism families gives him a new role. Children who participate in Camelot programs enjoy individualized lessons, generally lasting 90 minutes each. Some focus on building core strength and flexibility, says Hadsall, while others help riders explore the desert they find inaccessible during their daily lives.
The Starry Knights fundraiser is important, says Hadsall, because “we never charge for our services.” Starry Knights is a grown-ups only affair that includes dinner, live and silent auctions, and featured speaker Rupert Isaacson. Event organizers describe it as “a delightful evening of horses, healing and hope.” It’s taking place Saturday, Nov. 3, from 6 to 9 p.m. at the Scottsdale Plaza Resort. Single tickets are $110 through Oct. 10 and $125 thereafter.
On Sunday, Nov. 4, Isaacson and Horse Boy Method co-founder Iliane Lorenz will present a 45-minute demonstration during a 10 a.m. event at the Camelot facility. Families are welcome for the Sunday event, which is limited to 200 participants. Tickets are $10 (free to those who purchase fundraiser tickets through Oct. 1o).
Click here to learn more about Isaacson’s film and a book that shares the same title, here to explore related materials for teachers and parents made available through PBS and here to learn more about the work of the Horse Boy Foundation.
Click here for information on Camelot Therapeutic Horsemanship and the organization’s upcoming events.