Bernice Ende says she’ll ride through pain, but won’t ask her horses to.
As a “lady long rider” she’s learned a lot that makes the going less painful for her and her horses, but she says she’s still learning.
According to the Long Riders’ Guild, a “long rider” is someone who has ridden more than 1,000 continuous miles on a single equestrian journey.
Ende’s journeys have taken her more than 20 times that distance, and she’s got half the country to cover before November.
“There’s some controversy about what’s determined a long ride. I feel like you can do a long ride, but that doesn’t make you a long rider,” Ende said. “I feel like I am a long rider. I know the depth of it. I’ve tasted it enough times, I’ve swam enough troubles to know it. It’s not a la-di-dah adventure for me.”
Ende lives in northwestern Montana, but spends much of each year traveling with her two horses, Norwegian Fjords named Essie Pearl and Montana Spirit.
On her current journey, which started in April in Montana and may conclude in 2015 or 2016, her horses are taking her from Montana to Maine. They’ll spend the winter camping in Maine before riding through Canada to the Pacific Ocean, then back home to Montana.
At 8,000 miles, this is the longest ride she has attempted.
Ende’s longest ride so far was 6,000 miles, and she has seen a lot of the country in both the United States and Canada.
She crisscrosses the country alone, meeting new people, discovering new places and — she hopes — inspiring others.
“I hope my rides remind people of the freedom they have in this country. I hope this encourages other women to reach beyond their fears,” she said.
Fear is something Ende is acquainted with, but doesn’t have room for in her life or travels. “You exercise caution, you exercise attentiveness and you exercise skill. There’s no fear. I’m very cautious. I wasn’t always, but I am now.”
While being a woman traveling alone has a unique set of dangers, she feels like there are advantages as well.
“I’m invited in, to nursing homes, to schools, to 4-H kids to talk about my travels. I think people might be more cautious if I were a man,” she said.
Ende plots out her route, but she doesn’t have planned stopping points or accommodations scheduled, and she doesn’t publicize her route, for safety reasons. A lot of the time, she has to knock on doors and talk the landowners into allowing her and her horses to spend the night.
“You ride into a home, you have no idea what you’re riding into. I’ve slept with my gun in my hand many times. You protect yourself and you protect your horses,” Ende said. “I’m 60 and I carry a gun, and no, I’m not afraid.”
Ende’s past, which started on a dairy farm in Minnesota, has always included horses, but it’s also taken her down a path as a ballet teacher in San Francisco, Seattle, Portland, Minneapolis and to a remote Montana community, where her ballet studio had an outhouse. Her 10 years of experience have made most of those issues a thing of the past. She said her sponsors provide the best gear, and her Norwegian Fjords are well-suited for long riding.
“Fjords are exceptional for what I’m doing in that they’ve got very thick skin and coarse hair. I’ve come about 1,300 miles on this trip and they look fantastic. I’m proud of myself. I’m proud I’ve come up to this level of care. It’s taken years and years.”
The routine she has developed is more for her horses’ comfort and benefit than for her own. She said that, since she’s never had children, her relationship with her horses is the closest she’s come that maternal bond.
“So much of what I do involves MY horses and the relationship I have with MY animals,” Ende said. “A lot of people just get a horse and do a ride. I feel so grateful and appreciative that I couldn’t just use them. The relationship, for me, is very important for what I’m doing.”
“I’m up at 3 a.m., pack up and saddle up and try to be in the saddle by 4:30 or 5. I ride 10 miles, until the horses get hot. I pull the gear off, picket the horses, brush their backs, wash them, let them eat. I eat, make myself some hot tea, write in my journal, stretch, take a nap. I pack up, ride another 10 miles. I trot a great deal, but I also get off and walk for an hour and a half, then get back in the saddle. I try to finish my day by 1 or 2 p.m. because it’s too hot. I set up my tent, picket the horses, rest in the shade. As soon as it cools down I’ll ride into the evening as late as I can. I try to talk myself into a spot where I can rest my horses away from the mosquitoes.” She usually covers about 30 miles a day. She tries to take about a five-day break every three weeks, but sometimes has to stop more often because of the weather.
Ende said she eats a lot of rice and beans and dandelion greens. With garden season approaching she’ll ask if she can buy garden vegetables and eggs. When she gets into town she buys meat for a more substantial meal.
Though sometimes invited to use someone’s couch or spare room, or even guest house, she usually refuses to sleep in a house or bed. She sleeps on the floor year-round, and she intends to live in a tent all winter. “The reason I stay in a tent is so I can continue to live as I do when I travel. Otherwise I would seize up and never move again.”
While Ende prefers to sleep with her horses, she often accepts an offer to share a meal. One skill she has learned is keeping her mouth shut.
“You sit at people’s tables and they have very different views. You just keep your mouth shut. You don’t go anywhere with politics. You don’t offend them. They’ve got their views, you’re at their table. You’re just riding by. You’re passing through. You don’t have to throw out your views. I get many emails a year asking how to be a long rider. That’s something I point out — don’t get mouthy and talky, you’ll get yourself in trouble.” ❖