How they got started?
In the summer of 2009 Rupert, Kristin and Rowan were in the UK spending some time with Rowan's grandparents in London. For a boy who is used to the peace and quiet of rural Texas and who easily becomes overstimulated the demands of London can quickly become too much. For this reason Rupert has always tried to limit Rowan's time in the city to two or three days before giving him the respite of a few days in the countryside.
During this particular summer Rupert decided it would be nice to take Rowan camping and was eager to find a place with access to horses. He enlisted the help of a travel specialist friend of his who found a lovely campsite in rural Wales, right on the beach, and a local farmer who had safe horses he was willing to lend them for a few days. Rupert decided to invite a couple of other families he knew who happened to have children with autism and the first Horse Boy Camp was born. The camp was so successful and the reports from the families so positive that Rupert decided to repeat the experience and soon camps were running in multiple locations all over the world.
What they are?
A Horse Boy Camp is typically a three day/two night immersion into Horse Boy Method. The camp is intended for the whole family and siblings are not only welcome but actively encouraged to come and participate in all activities. Please note a Horse Boy Camp is not intended as respite for parents. We require at least one parent or guardian to attend and encourage both parents to come. Grandparents, aunts, uncles and close friends are also welcome. Bring anyone who is close to your child and who will make your child feel more comfortable.
Activities on offer differ from camp to camp. Some offer surfing and time on the beach and others zip lining and nature walks. Some provide accommodation in tents, others yurts and still others cabins. We even have one camp where you can stay in a real tree-house. What they all offer though is a natural, stress free, relaxed environment where autism families can spend time with each other, and with other families, safe in the knowledge that they are in a supportive, judgment free environment.
Horse Boy Camps emulate as closely as possible in a safe environment the adventure Rupert, Kristin and Rowan had in Mongolia. Immersed in nature around animals with as few man-made stimuli as possible we often see the most dramatic changes on camps.
Why they work?
Whether you attend a Horse Boy Camp or an Independently Run Camp it will be run by somebody who has reached the appropriate level of training within Horse Boy Method to be able to run camps. Whilst each camp is different and completely tailored to the families who happen to be attending it they all adhere to the same underlying principles which are taught as the Horse Boy Method. These principles are outlined below. If you are interested in learning more please visit our main website – www.horseboyworld.com
Provide the right environment
First we provide an environment in which autism families (and those with related neuro-psychiatric conditions) can find respite from man-made and industrial stimuli – which are known triggers for chronic episodes, seizures and tantrums. Once the child (or young adult) has relaxed into this environment we then introduce the horse.
Follow the Child
Along with providing the right environment this is the most important Horse Boy principle. Research shows that intrinsic motivation is a much more powerful form of motivation than extrinsic. You are also much more likely to get communication from a child if you respect their wishes and follow their interests. We take as long as the child needs before we introduce the horse. We are not here to teach the children to ride (although if they emerge as a rider we of course encourage them) but instead are here to gain communication. Remember negative communication IS still communication – therefore when a child says no we ALWAYS respect their wishes.
Sensory work for the whole family
We start with sensory work in which the child lies body to body with the horse in various positions that calm the nervous system. Then we begin the ridden work. During your time at the camp we will offer all family members the chance of a sensory session. We strongly suggest that you all give it a try. It will allow you to experience what your child is experiencing and can also help encourage a reluctant child to get on the horse. If your child sees one of their parents
up their then they know that the horse is a safe place to be. In addition the sensory session is very calming and will help you to relax into the camp – the more relaxed you are the more you can help your child.
In Horse Boy Method we ride in the same saddle with the child sitting in front of us and use a mixture of the horse's rhythms and rapid response prompting to gain communication. Our horses are specially trained to do this safely at the walk, trot and canter. We often find the best results are achieved at the canter – something about the rhythm of the horse encourages communication.
Your child may wish to back-ride with you. This will involve you getting up on the horse behind them and riding in the saddle together. We often find that the kids prefer to back-ride with their parents or siblings first before feeling safe enough to ride with one of our trained volunteers. If this is the case we will either lead or long-line the horse at the walk and trot. We will also long-line your child if we determine that they are too big to safely back-ride with us.
Please note that your child may not wish to ride at all, with you or us. This is ok. Our goal is communication and if a child is communicating that they don't want to ride we always respect this. We request that you do the same.
Communication to perspective-taking to academics
From here we then begin to teach perspective taking skills, rule based games and academics – from the very basic to really advanced stuff such as fractions, science, geography and general math. Children with autism often display deficits in all three of the above areas and we strongly believe this is in part due to inappropriate methods. Children with autism learn best once their sensory dysfunctions have been taking care of in a natural, pressure free environment whilst they are moving. That is why the back of a horse is an ideal place to learn. We do not actively teach the kids but instead include them in games and exercises that we are doing without expecting anything back. In general we find that it doesn't take long for them to pick up on the concepts that we are modeling. We may or may not get to perspective-taking or academics in the course of a camp. If this is something you are interested in please let us know in advance. We will, however, include your child in a number of rule-based games (tag, hide and seek etc.) on horseback during their time with us.
About independent camps
What is the difference between a Horse Boy Camp and an Independently Run Camp?
Horse Boy certifies Independent Practitioners in Horse Boy Method. Practitioners that have gone through extensive training with us and have shown that they will go above and beyond for the families they serve are authorized by us to to run Independent Camps. These camps vary from activities, level of applied Horse Boy Method and Learning. Some are very close to what we offer at home, others focus much more on the environment and do not have a strong of a horse component. Some offer carriage rides while some others offer surfing in the day.
You book these camps with the practitioner directly. All moneys and agreements are between you and the practitioner. We strive to assure that only the best of the best are listed here and are continuously in communication with these practitioners. However Horse Boy cannot guarantee the services rendered and is not liable for any actions of the practitioner.
In 2012/13, The Horse Boy Foundation, in conjunction with The University of Texas at Austin, conducted a pilot study researching the child and family outcomes of attending a Horse Boy Camp. Six families completed the study and results indicated that attending the camp impacted not only the cognitive functioning of the child but also parental well-being, sibling well-being and family functioning in general.
It is possible to read the full report here: