As an equestrian explorer and so-called “lady long rider,” Bernice Ende has learned to ride through pain and discomfort while covering nearly 22,000 miles on horseback in the past decade.
With a mix of stoicism and grit, she can push herself past the brink, intimate as she is with her limits and resilience, and understanding that the path forward is rife with unknown variables.
She won’t ask her animals to do the same, however, tending to them with fastidious care and attention. As a former ballet teacher, she applies a brand of finesse to her epic rambles in a way that might seem at odds to an outsider, a stark contrast to her rugged, kerchief-adorned appearance. But it makes perfect sense to Ende, whose interest in ballet was born of her relationship with the horse, “a most gifted dancer indeed,” she says.
Ende lives in Trego, but spends much of the year traveling with her two horses, Norwegian Fjords Essie Pearl and Montana Spirit. On her current journey, which began in April 2014 and will tentatively conclude in December, her horses are taking her from Montana to Maine and back west through Canada to the Pacific Ocean before returning home to Montana.
Last week, she passed through the Flathead Valley on a hometown detour, stopping along the way to visit with friends, supporters and well-wishers, for whom Ende is a familiar sight as she has crisscrossed the country numerous times on her loyal steeds.
“I stop a lot when I come through Montana. My people are here, and it’s an excuse to rest the horses and visit with my friends and supporters,” Ende said.
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 another 1,000 miles to cover before December.
She commenced her first long ride in 2005, riding 2,000 miles through the Rocky Mountains from her home in Trego to Albuquerque, New Mexico.
It was a learning experience, to say the least.
“I simply did not know what I was getting myself into. I rode on a wave of ignorance,” she wrote on her website, www.endeofthetrail.com. “I cried the day I left and I cried for weeks until fatigue finally broke the fear into tiny digestible pieces. I eventually found a life that tantalized and called to me, a life that suited me. I remember thinking, ‘how will I ever return to a normal life?’ Well, I guess I never did.”
The following year, she rode 5,000 miles in a sprawling circumnavigation of the western United States that took her through 15 states. She’s continued to push the limits of long riding, and when she completes her current journey, which she began in spring 2014, she’ll have kissed both coasts while traversing the northern and southern tiers of both the U.S. and Canada, respectively.
“I’m about 7,000 miles into an 8,000-mile international tour,” she said. “I’m hoping to be back here in December.”
Ende, 61, averages about 30 miles a day, and generally takes a five-day break every three weeks. She travels almost entirely on back roads, entering cities only to restock her food supply.
She eats rice, beans and dandelion greens, buys garden vegetables and eggs whenever possible, and doesn’t carry a cell phone.
She rides unsupported and alone, preferring the equine company of Essie Pearl and Montana Spirit and, on previous journeys, her beloved Claire Dog, who made her last long ride in 2012 and died earlier this month.
Although Ende plots out her route, she doesn’t follow a set itinerary, and while she visits friends and family along the way, she has no planned stopping points or planned accommodations, preferring instead to knock on the doors of strangers and camp on their land.
It can be dangerous, and while Ende has encountered hostility and carries a gun, she’s mostly met with support and praise, especially from women who are inspired by her courage and independence.
That’s an important piece of Ende’s journey, and last summer, to celebrate the 100th anniversary of women winning the right to vote in Montana, she made a special pilgrimage to visit the gravesite of Susan B. Anthony, the famed 19th century suffragist.
“It was amazing to be there and speak to women about my travels as a way to highlight suffrage,” she said. “It was a way to say thank you to the women who gave their lives to make what I do possible.”
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