“My son Cole was diagnosed with autism at age 4,” says Megan B. McGavern, DO, MS, FACP. “At first I was devastated, but then I went into ‘warrior mode.’ I was determined to heal my son.” She read the book The Horse Boy, by Rupert Isaacson. He had developed a method using equine intervention specifically designed for the nervous system and brain. He refined it over a decade and now it is used in 42 countries worldwide. The program develops cognitive, behavioral and even academic progress in a way that feels joyful and easy. The Horse Boy Method activates learning centers of the brain and gets results.
McGavern trained under Isaacson. She took her son out of public school. “My son’s improvement was drastic,” she says. “His vocabulary increased dramatically.”
There is a communication hormone, oxytocin, which horses are trained to produce. “It is sometimes called the ‘feel-good’ hormone,” says McGavern. Nature is very helpful. Creating the right environment is important. The child becomes calm, focused and is stimulated to talk. “We create a ‘yes’ environment for a child who has always heard ‘no.’”
In 2017, McGavern created a homeschooling Movement Method program. This technique does not involve horses. It operates on the simple premise that learning occurs in a flexible, fun, pressure-free environment which works best for the autistic.
In 2018, McGavern added The Horse Boy Method to her program. This is a six-stage approach to calm the nervous system and the brain. It addresses social and behavioral issues, enabling learning. Games are essential for actual brain development. A horse is a perfect partner for introducing games.
In 2019, McGavern bought a 21-acre property in York County off Lakeside Drive. She has three Horse Boy trained therapy horses. All horses are a “Spanish barb” breed.
McGavern’s son’s health and vocabulary significantly improved. “I decided to share my success with the community and other families who had similar struggles,” she says. She created her non-profit foundation, Cole’s Horse Autism Therapy Station (C.H.A.T.S.).
The web site describes a variety of programs with a modest cost. One- or two-hour Horse Boy Method “playdates” are available for individuals or groups. These include riding, sensory work, arts and crafts, educational games and activities catered to each child’s needs or interests.
There are 4-week summer camps, featuring outdoor activities such as horse-riding, games and crafts. “Last year Rupert Isaacson was here for a demonstration,” says McGavern. She has four employees but relies on volunteers, especially students, and is very grateful for them. “It’s a wonderful opportunity for anyone who loves horses,” she adds. McGavern’s programs are the only ones on the East Coast.
McGavern is originally from Pennsylvania. She graduated from Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine in 2005. She completed her residency training in internal medicine at the Naval Medical Center in Portsmouth and has been affiliated with Riverside Medical Group for 10 years. Her specialty is internal medicine but she also has a M.S. degree in epidemiology and preventive medicine. She is married and has two other sons, who are twins. “I don’t have much free time,” she says with a smile, “but I enjoy the ocean and swimming.” She also rides her horses on the many trails of her property.
“It has been a long, difficult road —frustrating and isolating, but there have been days with amazing breakthroughs,” McGavern concludes.
TO THE POINT:
Cole’s Horse Autism Therapy Station (C.H.A.T.S) (501 © (3))
Address: 100 Old Pond Rd., Yorktown VA 23692
Contact: Dr. Megan B. McGavern, founder