Aug 30, 2016 at 2:27PM, Published in North Kitsap Herald
By DIONNE DESCHENNE
SUQUAMISH — The Kitsap Peninsula has long been a draw to people who have crafted unique lives and livelihoods for themselves.
Academics, artisans, healers, artists and musicians, and innovators from all walks of life find their way here, and many stay and make it their home.
Lynne Ferguson is just such a person, and here on the Kitsap Peninsula she has created a life for herself that allows her to pursue two great passions from her childhood: Native horsemanship and music.
Ferguson grew up in Southern California and learned Numunuh, the Comanche Tribe’s method of Native horsemanship, from her grandmothers. Her great-grandfather had been raised in Comanche country on the Red River, where he learned Numunuh. He later shared the method with his wife, who then passed it down to her daughter and granddaughters.
From an early age, Ferguson began learning this method, which involves riding bareback without reins, instead using the knees and shifting one’s weight to cue the horse. She has always been passionate about horses and appreciates the communion that is attainable when interacting with them in the respectful and cooperative manner that the Numunuh method teaches, where mutual trust and complete connection are the goals.
Some years ago, when teaching her own young relatives, Ferguson realized that embodying the wisdom of Numunuh helped people to heal within. She initially offered it to children through the local Tribes, but later decided to formally establish a program that would allow all local children access to horses and instruction in Numunuh methods.
In that moment, Ferguson’s Native Horsemanship Youth Program was born.
Now, anyone is able to take the classes, but according to Ferguson, “We have seen especially remarkable recovery in people suffering from PTSD, whether it is from domestic violence or other forms of abuse, or even [other] kinds of trauma, such as car accidents.
“Lately, it has been really rewarding working with the military veterans who are struggling to recover after returning from war, [as well as] kids diagnosed with autism. The horses heal everyone, no matter what they have suffered.”
Ferguson estimates that she has about 35-40 program participants a week, but said that’s a guess.
“We have an awful lot,” she said.
She added, “Equine therapy isn’t just for people who are injured, though. Working with the horses helps people learn patience, gentle communication, and healthy boundary setting, so everyone can benefit from it. I wish every child could have some exposure to a form of Native horsemanship, even if only for a few months, because the skills that it instills in them have positive effects that last a lifetime.”
Running such a program isn’t cheap, particularly given that Ferguson works tirelessly to help others in the community who are without resources, often because their young age, or the condition that they are suffering from, limits their ability to pay for instruction. She and her staff work on a shoestring budget to provide this service to many, often for free or on a donation-only basis. Fundraising, therefore, is essential to sustain the program.
Ferguson’s other passion since her childhood is music. She began singing in church at age 7 and moved on to performing in a duo at age 15. For many years, she has been a professional musician, recording 15 albums and working with many of her favorites, including Roger Ferguson of Double Step, Taj Mahal, and Mark O’Connor. Given this, it’s no surprise that Ferguson looks to music to help her raise the funds needed to keep the horsemanship program in operation from year to year.
Over the past several years, Ferguson’s program has bought many great musicians to town to perform. Forrest O’Connor and Kate Lee, Barbara Lamb and Treble Hook, David Grier, Wil Maring, Mark O’Connor, and Tim May have all performed on behalf of the program.
This year, the Native Horsemanship Youth Program is bringing well-known blues singer Tracy Nelson to perform at 7 p.m. Sept. 21 at Kiana Lodge.
Nelson began her career in the 1960s, performing blues and folk music in coffeehouses in her native Wisconsin.
Nelson recorded her first album, “Deep Are the Roots,” featuring blues harmonica player Charlie Musselwhite, in 1964.
Nelson and her band, Mother Earth, played the Fillmore Auditorium, sharing bills with the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix.
A song she wrote during that time, “Down So Low,” was later covered by Linda Ronstadt and Etta James.
Her 1974 duet with Willie Nelson, “After the Fire is Gone,” was nominated for a Grammy. In the 1990s, she performed on “Sunday Night” and “Austin City Limits,” and earned a second Grammy nomination in 1998. She was nominated for a Blues Music Award in 2013.
Nelson’s career has been full of challenges — but like many of the participants in Ferguson’s program, Nelson has overcome them and has performed in six decades.
For Ferguson, Nelson’s performing this year is a special treat.
“Tracy is my favorite living singer and I’m so honored to have her do our fund-raiser this year,” said Ferguson, who is thrilled to have also developed a friendship with Nelson while organizing this performance.
“I am so grateful to have the support of such a remarkable woman and musician, someone that I have respected for decades.”
Ferguson has been able to garner the support needed to build and maintain the Native Horsemanship Youth Program over the past 18 years. She acknowledges the Suquamish Tribe and Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe for their years of support through various forms.
Ferguson singles out Suquamish master artist Ed Carriere for the pivotal and sustained role that he has played from day one, providing the land that Ferguson leases just outside of Indianola, on which the program’s facilities are located.
“Ed has helped in every aspect,” Ferguson said.
Carriere has worked with Ferguson for nearly two decades to provide the essentials, adapting as needed as the program evolves.
According to Ferguson, another crucial and long-term supporter, Beth Kelton of the S’Klallam Tribe, has consistently brought children to the program for many years.
“We saw such amazing changes in those kids, that Beth began bringing more and more kids,” Ferguson said. “Ed and Beth’s support kept us going during the most difficult years, when we were just getting going.”
When asked about this year’s event in particular, Ferguson said, “The Clearwater Casino has been absolutely wonderful, sponsoring our event, so that we can fund the program for another year. We could not have made this event happen without them, as well as Port Madison Enterprises and the Suquamish Tribe.
“I am also so grateful to Blue Sky Printing in Poulsbo for donating all of our advertising materials, so that we could get the word out. It takes [a] community to pull events like this together and I am so grateful to be in this community, where there is so much support for our program and the kids that we help.”
Thanks to the generous support of the sponsors, all proceeds from Nelson’s concert will go directly to benefit the Native Horsemanship Youth Program.
Devon Tom, Port Gamble S’Klallam, relaxes with Joey, a stallion, at Lynne Ferguson’s Native Horsemanship Youth Program. Courtesy photo
Bryson Sigo, Suquamish, enjoys some time hanging out with his pony pal Chocolate Batman. Courtesy photo
For more information about the Native Horsemanship Youth Program, go to www.nativehorsemanship.org.
For more information regarding the upcoming Tracy Nelson Concert, go to http://seattle.craigslist.org/kit/cls/5700714123.html.
On Facebook, go to www.facebook.com/events/174605896289312/
To buy tickets, go to www.brownpapertickets.com/event/2558802.