12 Years out Riding
by Kim Roe
It was a rainy morning when I drove to interview Bernice Ende, known as the Lady Long Rider. On my way, I thought of only one question: Why? What would motivate a woman to leave the safety and comfort of home and ride horseback around the country?
As I pulled into the rodeo grounds where she was staying, I saw her sitting in the shelter of a shed beside her tent — thin and agile-looking, she wore a large hat and a beautiful smile. She shook my hand and looked directly into my eyes, and I immediately knew I was in the presence of a remarkable woman.
Ende’s two mares, the steadfast Essie, a 14-year-old Fjord, and Spirit, a 7-year-old Percheron/Fjord, were in a field grazing; even through the rain I could see they looked strong and healthy. Bernice rides Essie when she needs dependability (like crossing the I-5 overpass amidst heavy traffic and big trucks). At these times she leads and packs Spirit. Otherwise, the mares trade off duties.
Ende has an advantage over folks in cars as she can see and hear much better than they can. She knows when trucks are coming long before they see her, giving her time to move out of the way. She covers 30 to 35 miles a day, moving along at a fast trot when she can. Bernice has ridden more than 21,000 miles with Essie and 11,000 with Spirit.
The first three years she went with one horse, a Tennessee Walker, and didn’t carry a tent, traveling light. Now, with a pack horse, she sleeps in her tent every night, camping close to her horses. She showed me her tent, called it her “house,” and described how comfortable it is: clean, dry, and warm, with pretty blankets. “It’s all I need,” she said.
Bernice has been doing these long rides for 12 years now. The current ride is an 8000 mile, two-and-a-half year round trip, from the West coast to the East coast and back again. The day we met, she had her final 1000 miles ahead of her, and then she would be returning to her home in Trego, Montana.
She showed me a photo of the two horses taken a few years previously, with her dog riding on top of the pack horse. The dog learned to wave to people passing by. “We were a real dog and pony show back then” she said. The dog traveled 17,000 miles with Bernice, walking most of the way, and has since passed away (she was 16 years old).
Before becoming a long rider, Ende taught ballet in Trego. Her studio had a wood stove and an outhouse, and many of her students were disadvantaged children. It was a rewarding time, but there came a day when she found she didn’t want to go to her studio anymore. Her first ride was to see her sister in New Mexico.
Ende said the long-riding was hardest in the beginning and worried that people would laugh at her and refuse to help her because she was crazy and shouldn’t be out there doing this “la-di-da” riding around the country. She was alone and had nothing. She made a lot of mistakes, ran out of money after her first ride, and had to ask people for help — for food for herself and her horses. That was really hard.
But it didn’t stop her. She learned a trick where her horses would stick their heads in people’s car windows and she would say they were looking for food. A few times in remote areas she couldn’t find water at night. When I asked her how she handled this she answered, “I found out that you can live without water for a night.”
Things are much better now. Ende has sponsors and a great website where people send donations. She gives frequent talks to many organizations. She has been invited to speak at Harvard University about her great aunt, a 1917 graduate. Not surprisingly, Bernice is considering riding there.
Bernice meets many people. “Every day,” she says, “they stand beside me with tears in their eyes and tell me how they’ve always dreamed of doing this. Riding horseback across the country is a legendary, iconic notion that represents freedom and independence. Our spirits long for it.”
They cry because the stories she tells are about the good out there in our country. And then she said the part that made me really understand why she rides. “It’s not about me, but how we share our stories and our communities. I want people to have the courage, all of us, to do something different, to dream, to change, maybe into something better.”
Follow Bernice and learn more about her at www.endeofthetrail.com.