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Copyright 2010 Rocky Mountain Rider. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Reproduction of any editorial material, artwork and photos is strictly forbidden without express written permission of the publisher. For information about reprint rights, please contact the editor; editor@rockymountainrider.com.

 

A Lesson in Devotion

Bernice Ende, Long Rider

By Dorinda Troutman, RMR Staff Writer

Photos courtesy Bernice Ende

 

October 2010 Issue

 

     “It’s a legendary and romantic image. The horse and rider is something that has been with us for a long time.”

     As she speaks on the phone from Minnesota about being a long rider, Bernice Ende, a former ballet dancer and instructor from Montana with about 15,000 miles of long riding behind her, pauses and struggles a bit to explain why she became a long rider.

     “On my first trip, I was so unsure that I was doing the right thing that I cried the day I left. Then, I hit the wall after a storm in the Red Desert in Wyoming , and breaking down, asked myself why I had ever thought I could ride to New Mexico to visit one of my sisters. My dog had duct tape on her paws, and I was just worn out.”

     A local rancher’s daughter found Bernice and her animals beside the road and invited her to stay for a while and rest up. After that compassionate respite, she was able to continue.

     “Long riding was never anything I had thought about before, but I had no husband, no children, no parents, and I thought to myself, I’ll just ride down and see my sister, who, as it turned out, was adamantly opposed to me doing it.

     “My sister—and everybody else—told me I would die, but, by the time I finished my first ride, I was in love with the life.”

 

“Live your life to inspire others and you too shall be inspired. Inspiration comes from within. Inspire yourself!”
— Cornelia Ende, Bernice’s mom

     Bernice explains that her sister’s opposition, and then very reluctant but firm guidance on safety and precautions, made her a much better long rider and caretaker of herself and her animals.

     What Bernice has learned, since that first trek in 2005, is that she must be devoted to her horses 24–7. She and her two horses—a saddle mount and a pack horse—have stepped out of a life with buildings, routine, and safety, into a world that is constantly changing and challenging. She literally lives with her horses, and says that she is humbled by their willingness to travel with her.

     “It’s high maintenance. I keep my horse’s feet oiled and shod, and make sure the bugs are kept off. I keep everything very clean, including myself.”

     At the noon rest, Bernice takes the saddle and pack off, washes and dries her horses’ backs, and then brushes them. This is again repeated when they stop for the night.

     Bernice and her companion dog walk about half the time, and ride the other half. Claire is a nine-year-old, medium-sized, mixed breed who rides in a special bed atop the packs on Essie Pearl, the 10-year-old Norwegian Fjord pack horse.

     Bernice rescued Claire as a tiny puppy, when she found her abandoned in a ditch. Claire was lying next to another puppy that was dead.

     Bernice purchased Essie Pearl in 2008, after traveling for two years with the barest minimum of gear, and sleeping on her saddle pad with a tarp for protection. The little pack horse means that a tent, a sleeping bag and more supplies can be carried.

     Bernice’s previous saddle mount was a rescued, gray Thoroughbred mare of Native Dancer bloodlines named Honor. Unfortunately, high jinks between Essie Pearl and Honor tragically claimed Honor’s life after a playful kick broke her leg while the horses were together in a corral in Texas this past February.

 

     Now, Bernice rides Hart, a big strong, bay-and-white Paint gelding given to her in Texas . She is not sure that Hart’s pink skin and white markings will hold up to the sun and biting insects, and does not know if his “laid back” personality is cut out for the long haul of continuous travel.

     Bernice says it takes a year to season a long-riding horse.

     “A long-riding horse needs first to toughen and harden up. Their backs need to get muscled, and they need to learn to move forward. They need to get used to life’s inconsistencies; to camp in a ditch; to not be afraid of fireworks and crowds of people. They need to be part-police horse, part-mountain horse and most of all, they need to learn to trust you.”

     She laments that sturdy “saddle horses” — ones that can a person can ride day in and day out — are no longer bred as they were before the 20th century.

     Bernice appreciates that her Norwegian Fjord is a hardy ancient breed, and has a great mind. She says that Essie Pearl easily takes everything that comes her way. She is such an easy keeper that “she can survive on twigs, and has feet and legs of steel.” The stocky little horse steps out quickly and willingly, but Bernice prefers the comfort of a smoother ride from a taller, long-striding horse like Hart.

 

     Bernice’s current ride began in March 2009. This is her fourth long ride, and her plan has been to travel a 6,000-mile loop through the western and central U.S. over a period of two years.

     Since departing from her small hometown of Trego, in the forests of northwestern Montana , she has ridden through wilderness, along rural roads, and across Indian reservations and BLM land.

     She traveled first to the Pacific coast, and then turned south in a big loop that has taken her through Oregon , Nevada , Utah and New Mexico to Texas to visit another of her five sisters. From Texas , Bernice turned north toward Minnesota , where she was able to visit other family members and to stay near the dairy farm where she was raised.

“You are an absolute pleasure and joy to get to know, and without a doubt one of the most fascinating persons we have had the privilege to know. What you are doing is both inspiring and incredible.”

— Bowling family, Midland , Texas , January 11, 2010

     As of early September, 2010, she was riding westward through North Dakota .

     Bernice, her dog and her horses usually travel up to 30 miles a day, and stop every five days or so for a longer rest.

     Bernice often uses bed sheets over the horses and saddles while traveling and in camp to keep the biting insects at bay. It was so hot, on their leg through Minnesota , that Bernice wet the sheets to keep the horses cool.

 

     Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Life is a journey, not a destination,” and for Bernice that expression is so true. Her life is also about the people she meets — those who put her and her animals up for a night or a week, who provide a bale of hay, and who find groups and schools where she can give inspirational talks about pursuing dreams and explaining “the call of the unobtainable horizon.”

     Bernice makes friends all along the way. “I meet families… and I am so hopeful for our communities, our country, and our children.”

“I think the number one comment she made was that her life is right here,” he says and holds his hand out in front of him. “It makes me know that we should all slow down and that we are missing half of life as we speed by in our busy lives.”

— Dale Moore, May, Oklahoma — as quoted by Rachael Van Horn in the Woodward News, May 8, 2010

     When asked how she funds her treks, Bernice laughingly says. “Well, I’m not independently wealthy. I’m independently poor.”

     Bernice lives on about $40 a week, and passes a hat at her talks to help earn that money. She also has a few sponsors that help her with equipment. She explains that rice, beans and tortillas are her staple foods, along with wild greens and berries.

     A life-long avid horsewoman, a long-time Royal Ballet-trained dancer, and a ballet instructor and owner of a dance studio for 25 years in rural Montana, Bernice lives a subsistence life even while at home in her small cabin with a wood stove for heat. At age 56, she believes that she has about five more years left in her to ride.

     Bernice expects to be back home in Montana by late fall, hopefully before snow flies, in time to get her little cabin back from summer vacation renters, to rest up all winter and get ready for next year’s trek.

    “The winter sunshine was already losing its strength by the time I rode into Roswell Livestock and Farm Supply on the southeast corner of town. But to ride into handshakes and smiles was enough sunshine for me.

    “Feed Stores are important places to me and I have ridden into countless feed stores over the years. Supplying me with hay, oats, horseshoes, directions, a place to tie up, a place to “put up” (camp). They are usually friendly places to begin with. The sound of cowboy boots on wood floors, the smell of hay and leather and feed supplies. Local ranchers and farmers standing together visiting. Cowboy hats atop lean, brown, tanned men, catching up on local news, taking a break between the ceaseless work that their lives require of them. You can find out a lot about a community from the local feed store.

    “And I thought, you know this would never happen at Wal-Mart. These are places that make me proud to be part of this country; these are people that make the world a better place.”

    Bernice Ende, December 19, 2009

     Bernice has a website maintained by family and friends, and she sends periodic descriptions of her travels that provide a vivid window into how it is to travel alone by horseback such long distances, and how great folks are that she meets across America .

     Keep up with Bernice’s travels at www.endeofthetrail.com.

     Bernice is a member of the Long Riders Guild, an international organization dedicated to preserving the independent, adventurous spirit of the horse and rider. The Long Riders Guild advocates for and educates about care of long-riding horses. For more information, visit www.thelongridersguild.com.

Copyright 2010 Rocky Mountain Rider. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Reproduction of any editorial material, artwork and photos is strictly forbidden without express written permission of the publisher. For information about reprint rights, please contact the editor; editor@rockymountainrider.com.

 

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