Real People. Stihl People.

Rural Missouri Magazine
Trail Boss
Brent Erwin's Medicine Hat Trail Ride teaches beginners to ride

by Bob McEowen

Erwin poses with his favorite horse Doctor Speck.
A wary-eyed visitor studies the horses inside Brent Erwin’s corral, searching for an answer to a question he’s unequipped to address. How would I know which one I want to ride? the visitor seems to ask as he examines each animal’s gaze, looking for a glimmer of equinecompassion toward an inexperienced rider.

Brent provides a summary solution when he announces "I think we’ll put you on Itchy" and begins to lead a chestnut colored quarter horse out of the compound. He ties the horse to a fence and hands the visitor two brushes. With a few tips on grooming Brent leaves rider and horse to get to know one another and begins to saddle his own steed, a wildly spotted appaloosa named Doctor Speck.

Once the animals are saddled Brent watches his guest hoist himself onto a horse for the first time. After a few minutes of instruction they’re off. The ride begins with a lap around a pasture before they head into the woods for an hour-long trail ride.

It’s a typical ride for Brent, a 48-year-old former veterinarian’s assistant, construction worker and western relics and art dealer, who operates the Medicine Hat Trading Company Trail Ride from his home near Carthage.

After years of what he describes as a troubled life without purpose Brent finally fullfilled a dream of owning a ranch and a home of his own. An inheritance from his father allowed him to buy land. Equally important was the "therapy" provided by Doctor Speck who listened to Brent sort things outduring their rides together.

In time, a friend asked Brent to teach his son to ride. That event led to the formation of the Medicine Hat Trail Ride.

"I had the young boy riding and handling a horse so well his father said ‘Why aren’t you doing this for a living?’"

Trail Ride
Brent Erwin leads a group through a field at the start of a trail ride at his Carthage home. Erwin specializes in teaching beginners to ride.

Open for business just one year, Brent charges $20 per rider for a guided one-hour trail ride. Typically he’ll take no more than six people at a time and limits his horses to three outings a day. Each ride includes basic instruction if needed.

Accompanied by one or two of his dogs, Brent leads riders among the trees, up and down slopes and even across a creek. The pace is leisurely — rarely faster than a walk — and Brent offers guidance when he’s not pointing out features of the landscape. An hour later the new rider has gained confidence and the satisfaction of overcoming the unknown.

"The joy of teaching somebody to ride is helping them overcome a fear by doing the thing that they’re afraid of," the Barton Country Electric Co-op member says. "When they come in off the ride they’ve actually established some real self assurance of their capabilities. It’s pretty neat."

Unlike most of the trail rides in Missouri, Brent’s ride caters to beginners. He does not usually allow guests to bring their own horses but relies on his own stable which he trusts with new riders. "I’ve trained my horses. They are care givers and teachers and baby sitters," Brent says.

While many of his customers are just looking for recreation, others want to try riding before buying a horse. "I offer the opportunity to get some experience before you invest in a horse, the trailer, the land, the boarding, the tack," Brent says.

Brent’s real specialty, though, is teaching children to ride. In fact, his typical customer is a 10-year-old child.

A large man with long hair and a look reminiscent of an American Indian, Brent says kids are often taken back by his appearance. The impression grows stronger when he shows kids and their parents his one-room log cabin decorated with animal skins, mounts and Indian and cowboy artifacts.

"They take this all in and I think they wonder what kind of knife I carry and whether they’re going to end up as a mount or a skin," Brent says.

The children have nothing to fear. Brent, who also teaches tennis, offers instruction with patience and understanding.

"I never belittle a child. If a kid doesn’t want to ride I en-courage him to get down and enjoy the rest of the day while he’s here," says Brent. "Nobody guilts him or shames him. It’s OK to be afraid."

It’s an approach that’s not lost on parents.

"He’s very good with kids and people and the horses out here and does a really good job," says Andy Smallwood of Carthage whose 9-year-old daughter, Hannah, is a regular at the Medicine Hat Trail Ride.

"This is the highlight of her week, to come out here and ride. He’s taught Hannah a lot about horses, not just riding."

Indeed, unlike pony rides or riding sessions in a horse ring, Brent’s rides offer a more realistic and involved encounter for the beginning rider.

"It’s pretty much hands on. You go from learning how to groom and prep a horse for riding to the tacking to the trail," Brent says. "You get to experience how to pay attention to the horses senses and the signs he’ll give you with his ears and his tail, things you don’t get in a controlled environment."

For some, Brent’s trail ride provides a diversion on a family trip or a chance to try something new. For Brent, teaching people to ride fulfills a need in him.

"A good Indian friend of mine says there’s two important times in a man’s life. One is when he’s born and the other is when he knows why," Brent says. "I’ve found mine."

For information write to Medicine Hat Trading Co., 12724 County Rd. 70, Carthage, MO 64836; access www.everycowboysdream.com/medicinehattradingco on the Web or call (417) 246-5889.

Rural Missouri magazine - November 2014
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