Brent Erwin's Medicine Hat Trail Ride teaches beginners
by Bob McEowen
A wary-eyed visitor studies
the horses inside Brent Erwins corral, searching for an answer to
a question hes unequipped to address. How would I know which one
I want to ride? the visitor seems to ask as he examines each animals
gaze, looking for a glimmer of equinecompassion toward an inexperienced
poses with his favorite horse Doctor Speck.
a summary solution when he announces "I think well 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
Once the animals are saddled
Brent watches his guest hoist himself onto a horse for the first time.
After a few minutes of instruction theyre off. The ride begins with
a lap around a pasture before they head into the woods for an hour-long
Its a typical ride for
Brent, a 48-year-old former veterinarians 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 arent you
doing this for a living?"
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
hell 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 hes 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 theyre
afraid of," the Barton Country Electric Co-op member says. "When they
come in off the ride theyve actually established some real self
assurance of their capabilities. Its pretty neat."
Unlike most of the trail rides
in Missouri, Brents 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. "Ive 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.
Brents 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 theyre
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
"I never belittle a child.
If a kid doesnt want to ride I en-courage him to get down and enjoy
the rest of the day while hes here," says Brent. "Nobody guilts
him or shames him. Its OK to be afraid."
Its an approach thats
not lost on parents.
"Hes 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. Hes taught Hannah a lot about horses,
not just riding."
Indeed, unlike pony rides or riding sessions in a horse ring, Brents
rides offer a more realistic and involved encounter for the beginning
"Its 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 hell give you with his ears and
his tail, things you dont get in a controlled environment."
For some, Brents 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 theres two important times in a mans life. One is when
hes born and the other is when he knows why," Brent says. "Ive
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.