1 Woman, 2 Horses: An 8,000-mile Journey

Lady Long Rider Bernice Ende likes riding horses. That’s why she left her home in Trego, Montana with two horses earlier this year on her way to Maine and back.

This isn’t her first long-distance ride. Not counting this ride, Ende said she has traveled nearly 20,000 miles on horseback and foot since 2005. She is a member of the Long Riders’ Guild.

The Guild is the world’s first international association of equestrian explorers, and is an invitation-only organization. It was formed in 1994 to represent men and women of all nations who have ridden more than 1,000 continuous miles on a single equestrian journey, according to its website.

“I’ve always ridden horses. I rode a pony back and forth to the barn when I was four years old. I’ve never not been riding,” she said.

Retiring from teaching classical ballet in a studio with an outhouse, she is accustomed to trail life. “My cabin has no electricity, gravity-fed running water and an outhouse,” she said.

Her current ride will take her to northern Maine, hopefully by late October or early November. She plans on spending the winter in a tent, then head back to Montana, via Canada, Washington state and Idaho when the weather breaks.

“I’ve been sleeping in a tent since 2008,” she said. “I don’t know where I am going to stay yet, but it will be as close to the Canadian border as I can get.”

Claire, her undetermined breed dog, has always been with her on previous travels, but at 11 years, she left her home on this trip.

Her horses are Essie Pearl, a 12-year-old Fjord mare, and Montana Spirit, a five-year-old Fjord/ Percheron mare.

During an unplanned stop at the Suites at Rouse in Youngsville on Monday, Ende had lunch with the residents and entertained them with some of her adventures.

“I’m asked every day, ‘Aren’t you afraid?’ Cautious, yes, but I’m not afraid,” she said.

Ende said she has learned many lessons over the years, some that nearly killed her and her animals. She said that she must constantly be aware of her surroundings, and what is going on around her. One misstep in front of a truck means disaster.

She told of one experience she calls the “Night of the Black Stallion.”

“In my second year out, I still don’t know what I’m doing. I was crossing a desert in New Mexico, looking for water. There are five-, six-thousand acres of grazing lands for cattle, with stock tanks or windmills for water. There are gates that allow vehicles to cross with another gate to the side for horses and cows,” she said.

She said she had spotted a windmill in the distance and took her horses through the livestock gate. When she arrived at the windmill, she not only found water, but a 55-gallon drum that slowly dropped corn kernels. While she was happy that there was also food for her horses, she didn’t realize that the corn was for wild game.

Ende explained she set up camp like she always does, with saddlebags and gear ready to load for a quick start in the morning.

“First, a herd of wild javelina pigs came, and my dog went after them. They didn’t get any water that night,” she said. Then came the wild burros, with the same result. After the burros were gone, she said she heard a horse scream and saw a wild black stallion approaching her mare, who was in heat. She explained the difference between a ranch stallion and a range stallion, who has no fear of humans.

“He wanted my mare, and he was going to kill me to get her,” she said. The stallion reared up, pawed at the air, and charged, she said. She used a metal screw tie-out to drive him back, but she said he kept coming in, head lowered and ears pinned back, baring his teeth at her, trying to pull the saddle off of the mare with his teeth.

She told of loading the mare, beating back the enraged stallion with the tie, and moving towards the gate. “I didn’t know where the gate was. To make matters worse, Claire came back with a face full of cactus spines.” She said she managed to pull some spines from the dogs muzzle while keeping the stallion at bay. Fortunately, Claire knew the way to the gate, and led them back to safety.

When she first began riding long distances, her sister told her that she was obsessed, and her horses were in bad shape. “She was right. I had to give up my ego. I had a lot to learn, including humility,” Ende said.

For her life on the road today, she said, “I see goodness in the people I meet. I try to eat well, but simply.”

She added that on Monday, she had some apples and blackberries mixed with honey. She eats wild plants like burdock and dandelion greens, and carries minerals and supplements for her horses. She noted that as opposed to the west, in this part of the country there is plenty of grass for grazing and water.

“I never really sleep for eight hours. I sometimes doze in the saddle,” she said. After a question from one of the residents, she said she talks to her self and sings. “I don’t get bored, I don’t get lonely. And the horses are as good as any police horses.”

Ende compared travelling in the East with the West. “In the West, I can go for weeks without seeing anyone. I have to have a devotion, a desire to get up every day and move on.”