By Sarah Gianelli EBS Associate Editor

BIG SKY – Virginia Ferguson has a dream. She wants to bring a not-for-profit equine riding arena to Big Sky. The 26-year-old is currently at work on a business plan in the hopes of making her vision a reality.

Born and raised in Belgrade, Ferguson has been a horse lover since she was 7 and a cat scratch sent her running into the neighboring pastures where horses still roamed.

Big Sky resident and Belgrade native Virginia Ferguson dreams of building a non-profit equine center that offer riding lessons and boarding, host events and provide emotional and physical horse therapy to those in need. PHOTO BY VIRGINIA FERGUSON

The youngest of seven children, her family couldn’t afford riding lessons at the nearby Covered Wagon Arabians riding arena, so Ferguson struck a deal. For every 10 hours picking stones from the pastures and cleaning stalls, she received two hours of lessons.

“It was paradise,” said Ferguson, remembering climbing through her neighbor’s fence to get to the arena, and the talent shows she put on with the friends she made there. Ferguson remained involved with Covered Wagon Arabians riding arena through high school and its transition into Epona Equestrian Center in Springhill, Montana.

“I want to bring that to this community,” Ferguson said. “That’s where this dream comes from. The ability for community members and their families to be around horses and have a place to board them, and ride them.”

After high school Ferguson worked summers as a wrangler in Yellowstone National Park and at Chico Hot Springs before ending up at Jake’s Horses in 2012. Ferguson made Big Sky her permanent residence in 2013 and currently works as a housekeeping supervisor at Moonlight Basin.

In addition to providing lessons that cater to all riding disciplines, long- and short-term boarding, and hosting horse and rodeo events, Ferguson also envisions the equine arena as a therapy center. She wants to offer scholarship opportunities for local youth, and possibly urban youth that might benefit from living and working with horses while immersed in the beauty of Big Sky.

Although Ferguson is in the preliminary planning stages and has not yet nailed down a location for the arena, which would eventually entail both indoor and outdoor structures, she is optimistic after pitching her idea around the community. On March 22 she presented her vision to the Big Sky Rotary Club.

“People seem energetic and optimistic about the prospect of [an equine center],” Ferguson said. “Encouraging enough that I thought I should give it a shot.”

And she is—she’s connected with Eagle Mount about the possibility of providing a Big Sky home base for the Bozeman nonprofit that specializes in therapeutic recreational activities; and with established Big Sky horse trainer Ellie Manka.

Ferguson is undaunted by project costs and where the funds will come from.

“Someone else is going to have to pay for this if it’s going to happen,” Ferguson said. “I’m just the facilitator—I have the dream. I have the drive.”

With the help of the Big Sky Chamber of Commerce, Ferguson’s next step is to finalize her business plan and after that, find funding.

“A riding arena was part of Chet Huntley’s original plan,” Ferguson said. “A cool coincidence—but I’m hoping it will help me.”

If you would like to learn more about Ferguson’s plan for a Big Sky equine center email westforkequine@gmail.com.