“I admire what you’re doing. It’s one of those things I wished I had done in my younger days, just get on a horse and ride across the country.” Bernice Ende hears these words countless times as she rides across the United States. Surprisingly, she hears it not only from equestrians, ranchers, and farmers but almost as frequently from construction and road workers and passing motorists in a variety of professions.
A few are young adults, many in mid-life, and most often they are from people whose faces are lined with the memories of a lifetime of experiences, still wishing they just once freely roamed the country.
How It All Started
Thirteen years ago, at age 50, Trego, Mont., ballet teacher and horse trainer Bernice Ende began her life as a long rider. That year she rode 2,000 miles on horseback from Montana to New Mexico.
In the following 12 years, she rode another 27,000 miles on horseback.
Bernice and her horses and dog, Claire, have crisscrossed the United States and Canada, seeing the country as few others see it —up close in all its wonders and perils.
They have trod the roads and trails of the high mountains and wildernesses of the Rocky Mountains, wound their way through the snow-clad peaks and low valley passes of the Cascades, and over the vast treeless grasslands of the Great Plains and through the canyons and the seemingly endless arid and silent landscapes of the Southwest Deserts.
Her Longest Ride
On her longest single ride of 8,000 miles, from 2014 to 2016, Bernice rode from the Pacific coast to the Atlantic coast and back again — her horses’ hooves splashing in both oceans.
In 2018 she has ridden a 600-mile ride in France with plans for a 400-mile ride through the southwest United States and a seven-month book tour beginning in October.
Bernice has earned acclaim from the International Long Riders’ Guild and is known world-wide as The Lady Long Rider.
Equestrian travel is unique. It is not at all like walking or riding on wheels in an automobile or on a bicycle. There is less human control.
“Riding a horse, I not only have this mass of energy between my legs, my eye-level is 12 feet high, and I’m riding an animal that can think and react on its own,” said Ende.
Living in the Moment
On a long ride, and especially along busy roads and fast-moving highway traffic, Ende has to always be in the moment.
No daydreaming — look up, look ahead, look around, look behind — anticipate what may happen and how her horse will react, and be ready.
And nightfall brings a whole other set of concerns — a safe place to camp and having food and water for her horses, her dog, and herself.
Although Bernice often hears from people that they, too, wish they had ridden or could ride across the country as she has done, ironically, one of the most often asked questions she gets is “Why on earth do you do this?”
Ende has a somewhat philosophical answer.
“Everybody does long rides —there are the long rides of youth, education, motherhood, military service, jobs, retirement.”
But for Ende, the answer to that question came as what some might consider a calling.
After 49 years of life experiences, Ende had a deep-felt void that she needed to fill and could no longer ignore. The answer came to her as a vision on a summer day in 2004, when she sat on her horse looking out over the Whitefish Range.
She saw herself riding a strange horse across an unknown desert. More powerful than the image was the idea of it — a notion she could not shake off.
When she set out on her maiden journey, she wondered how she could set out on such a journey without being afraid.
“I felt my smallness and reached for my bigness — hoping all the while there was bigness to be found.” She likened it to how a mountain climber must feel — fearful, anxious, determined, and exhilarated by the challenge and hopefully — and finally — the joy of succeeding.
Since that day, Ende has been long-riding. As she travels the country, she often gives talks at schools, libraries, senior centers, hospitals, and museums. She has discovered the advantage of being a senior woman.
“I think I receive a measure of respect I would not receive as a younger person,” she said, “and I try to be worthy of it in my dress and manner.”
Ende also admitted her more mature self as a lady long-rider has found it easier to deal with not having something you think you can’t get along without, accepting what won’t work and finding a way that will.
Generally, people seeing this lone woman riding a horse and leading a pack horse across miles of landscape tend to think Ende is carefree, independent, and adventurous. She is quick to respond, “Not True!”
A Singular Life
Ende leads a very singular life, which allows her the freedom to do what others cannot do — mount up and travel the Continent. She does miss not having a family and has a lot of alone time. But she is not lonely.
In the past, Ende may have been considered to be independent, even free-spirited, but crisscrossing the nation on horseback profoundly changed her.
“Even though my image is one of loneness and independence, I somehow feel intimately connected to the river of humanity that inhabits our nation. The people I meet on my travels, no matter how distant from Trego, Mont., they live, are my neighbors. It’s this view of humanity that carries me,” she said.
“I rely on people more than most. So often, when I have been in need, strangers (trail angels) have offered shelter, food, help with the horses or my dog, medical attention, good advice, tips on where to find water, whatever was needed. I could not do what I do without them.”
It is also true that during her travels Bernice has experienced many adventures, some delightful and some freighting but she does not consider herself an adventure seeker.
“I just really like living without walls.” MSN
Bernice chronicled her extraordinary life and adventures in her book recently released by Farcountry Press, Helena, Mont., titled Lady Long Rider, Alone Across America on Horseback. She has scheduled a fall book tour throughout the west and southwest U.S., then north through the Mid-west and Great Lakes and stopping over at Fort Edward, New York.
Montana Book Tour
- Whitefish Public Library, Whitefish Sept 24, 7:00 p.m.
- Northlake County Public Library, Polson Sept 26, 7:00 p.m.
- Grizzly Claw Trading Company, Seeley Lake Sept 27, 7:00 p.m.
- Montana Book Festival, Missoula, MT Sept 27-30, day & time TBD
- The Hidden Chapel (book club dinner), Libby Oct 15, 6:00 p.m.
Idaho Book Tour
- Boundary County Library, Bonners Ferry Oct 16, 7:00 p.m.
- Sandpoint Library, Sandpoint Oct 17, 7:00 p.m.