It was like a scene from an old western, a lone rider on horseback came into town on a hot, sunny afternoon.
Posted on 7/18/15
By Melissa Anderson
The townsfolk stopped and stared as the woman rode by, wondering who she was and where she had come from.
According to the rider, Bernice Ende, this is how things usually go until someone gets the courage, or a fellow horse person happens by and introduces themselves to her.
“You ride in and nobody comes out. I feel like Clint Eastwood in one of his movies, riding into town with a low gaze and covered in dirt,” Ende said.
Riding into Langdon was one of the exceptions to this occurrence. Not only was Ende approached almost immediately upon her arrival, but was offered a place for her and her horses to spend a few a days and rest up.
“I was greeted with handshakes and smiles,” Ende stated.
Ende refers to herself as “Lady Long Rider” and for good reason. The Minnesota native has been doing long distance riding for over a decade, with her first ride in 2005 from her residence in Trego, Montana down to Edgewood, New Mexico.
“By the time I finished that first ride, I was so profoundly changed, I kept saying ‘How am I going to go back?’” Ende said.
Ende never really did go back to what many consider a “normal life,” and from that point on has done a long ride every year or two with most of her riding being in the western part of the country and the lower half of Saskatchewan and Alberta, Canada. From that first ride to now, Ende has covered over 20,000 miles on horseback.
The ride that Ende is currently on is an ocean to ocean ride along the U.S.-Canadian border that will cover roughly 8,000 miles. Ende rode out of the northwest corner of Montana in early April of 2014 and traveled along the northern states of the U.S., making her way to the east coast, where she and her two Norwegian Fjord horses, Essie Pearl and Montana Spirit, spent the winter in the eastern part of New York state. Ende is now traveling back along an even more northerly route that will include crossing over into Canada and to the Pacific Ocean before returning back to her home base in Trego, Montana.
Ende never expected to be a long rider and never thought that she would leave her old life behind for the adventure of the open road.
“Adventure called, the need to go, see, do. A window of opportunity opened and I climbed out,” Ende explained
Before her adventure began, Ende grew up on a dairy farm in Minnesota where she learned to ride horses by the age of 4. Her love of dance stemmed from horses and she became a ballet teacher in Washington state and in Oregon. She moved to Trego, Mont. in 1992, where she continued to teach not only ballet, but also returned to her roots of working with horses. Ende retired from teaching in 2003.
“Retirement brought not a lack of activity, but rather a change of focus,” Ende recalled.
Ende had no one depending on her or in need of her at home as she was not married and had no children when the idea came to her to undertake a long ride and wouldn’t let go.
“I told somebody, then told somebody else, and I got all excited for it,” Ende explained.
Two years later, Ende set out on her first adventure of long distance riding and the rest, as they say, is history – which Ende continues to make. When she completes this ride, Ende will have traveled over 26,000 miles on horseback.
How Ende lives her life from the back of a horse is not as complicated as one might think, but it is not an easy life by any means. Ende hasn’t lived in a house since 2008 and calls a tent her home, even in the winter. She utilizes her surroundings and finds wild forage as a food source. She knows that keeping herself in good shape with nutrition and exercise is important for both herself and her horses. The years of ballet and consistent stretching has helped keep this 61-year-old in the saddle.
“I have to stay really fit. I try to treat myself and the horses like athletes,” Ende said.
A typical day for Ende and her two horses begins at 3 a.m. with packing up camp and hitting the road by 5 a.m.
“I stand in the saddle, very actively riding by being aware of the traffic, holes along the road etc. It’s attentiveness and caution that I apply. Fear is an inhibitor, you won’t get anything done,” Ende explained.
How long Ende stays in the saddle depends on the weather, but she does do quite a bit of walking, hoofing it for about three hours alongside her horses every day.
These horses, which play such an integral role, have been hard to find. A good long-riding horse must have, according to Ende, a thick skin, heavy coarse hair, long hairs on their legs (feathers), be an “easy keeper”, big feet, not too tall, broad short back, short neck, deep wide chest, have a nice soft jog – and all these attributes must be found in a horse with a disposition as steadfast as a train.
“Over the years, I have traveled with a Tennessee Walking Horse, a Thoroughbred, and a Quarter/Thoroughbred horse, and they have done well, but not nearly as well as this sturdy draft pony breed – the Norwegian Fjords,” Ende said.
As Ende continues her travels across North America, she notes that what she is doing is what she wishes for everyone.
“To not simply lead a life, but to know the difference between living and living a life with passion,” Ende said.
Happy Trails, Lady Long Rider, and may the sun never set on your horizons.