The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Local News

April 6, 2014

Jo Ellis: Medicine H.A.T. planning horse therapy fundraiser

CARTHAGE, Mo. — Dr. Speck is a familiar name and a familiar sight to many Carthage residents.

If you meet Dr. Speck, you will readily see that he is not a physician in the true sense of the word. He is not even human. He is a leopard Appaloosa horse who, nonetheless, has had remarkable healing power for his owner, Brent Erwin.

Erwin bought Dr. Speck when he was in a transitional period from drug and alcohol use to sobriety. In the beginning, Erwin said, he often rode the “speck-tacular” brown-and-white speckled horse to work out his anger.

But the relationship gradually evolved.

“He was like my guidance counselor,” Erwin said, “He loved me despite my anger and abusive ways. He helped me find some peace.”

Erwin, a descendant of Native Americans, used that relationship as a springboard to his current effort to help children and adults with psychological disabilities better cope with their emotional and societal issues.

He has established Medicine H.A.T. (horse-assisted therapy) Inc. as a nonprofit organization under a seven-member board. His clients come to him either on an individual basis or from social service agencies such as Jasper County Sheltered Facilities.

“To me, what we are truly providing is the freedom and experience of riding a horse, immersing them in Mother Nature and allowing them to control something,” Erwin said.

He walks the riders on trails throughout his 40-acre wooded farm, which is intersected by about a quarter-mile of Dry Fork Creek in northeast Jasper County. His clients seem to have a willingness to interact more with animals than with humans, he said.

He was inspired recently by a vision- and speech-impaired 11-year-old girl whose vocabulary was limited to one- or two-word responses. After six months of trail-riding and interaction among her, the horses and the two dogs that usually accompany the riders, she had increased her vocabulary and was forming complete sentences.

“I often think about their frustrations when I am walking with them,” Erwin said. “This is an hour of ‘me’ time. I want them to leave here calmer and more focused.”

Dr. Speck is retired now, but there are five other therapy horses continuing his legacy, Erwin said.

To aid the project, the Medicine H.A.T. board is holding a fundraiser on Saturday, April 12, at the Steel Rooster on East Fairview Avenue in Carthage. Doors open at 6 p.m. to reveal a variety of donated auction items. At 7 p.m., a pulled pork dinner will be offered for $7 a plate. A live auction will take place from 8 to 9 p.m. and will conclude the family-friendly portion of the event. There will be no admission charge during that time.

From 9 p.m. to closing, the event will be open to adults over 18. There will be a $15 cover charge, and the Mark Chapman band will provide entertainment.

Cash contributions and donated items are welcome for the fundraiser. To contact Erwin, call 417-439-9545, go to the website medhattrails.org, or find the group on Facebook.

ADDRESS CORRESPONDENCE to Jo Ellis, c/o The Joplin Globe, Box 7, Joplin, MO 64802 or email news@joplinglobe.com.

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