Howling winds, freezing temperatures, fatigue and the daily search for food and water have not stopped Bernice Ende from following her chosen lifestyle as a nomadic equestrian.
Over the last 14 years, she has covered nearly 30,000 miles, crisscrossing the country with her horses and faithful companion Claire Dog.
Ende, 64, grew up on a dairy farm in Minnesota and fell in love with horses at a young age. She trained as a classical ballet teacher and taught dance in Montana for 25 years before she decided to change her life.
Some people have called her the “crazy lady,” and she admits to having soul-searching moments. But what began as a way of overcoming a personal loss, has evolved into a lifestyle. She acknowledges that she could never return to living in one place. She is called to be a long rider, one who rides journeys of more than 1,000 miles.
Ende (pronounced N-Dee) is lean and tanned with piercing blue eyes. She speaks in a resonant voice that captures the imagination. She has given hundreds of talks at schools, senior homes and community centers. She says everyone is on their own long ride, be it marriage, parenting or just life. She hopes her rides encourage women to become leaders.
Ende has written searing account of her many journeys in her book, “Lady Long Rider,” published in 2018 by Farcountry Press. She is midway through a coast-to-coast book tour and will give three more talks in New Mexico.
The Land of Enchantment has a special draw for Ende. It was the destination she chose on her first long ride in 2005, a 1,800-mile trek from her home in Trego, Mont., to the home of her older sister, outside Edgewood. She described that first journey as “nightmarish.” She traveled with only one horse – a Tennessee Walking Horse called Pride – and her dog. She had no tent and slept on sheepskins she used beneath her saddle, covered with blankets and a tarp. Nevertheless, she became hooked.
“Since then New Mexico’s enchantment has lured me back again and again. I feel like I’m riding in a movie when I cross through New Mexico,” Ende said.
In 2006 and 2007, she did a 5,000-mile ride and encountered seven snow storms as she crossed this state. She writes about how grateful she was for the hospitality she encountered from a family on the Alamo Navajo Indian Reservation near Socorro and from residents of tiny Pie Town.
“I survived in large part to New Mexico’s generosity. My small notebooks from those years are filled with dozens of addresses, people who kindly helped a sorry looking traveler on her journey,” said Ende.
By 2008, she had honed her traveling skills and acquired a pack animal, a rugged Fjord horse called Essie Pearl. She was quite the sight as she rode through Quemado, Magdalena and Edgewood.
“Now I had two horses, a traveling dog and pony act came racing into town, as my dog rode on the pack horse!” she said.
People often stop her and say how they envy her freedom. She is passionate about what she does but honest about how tough it is and how much she depends on the kindness of others.
“Time and again, people have opened their homes, shared meals with me, washed my clothes, repaired tack, shod a horse, and encouraged or supported me in one way or another. I am truly indebted to hundreds of people,” she writes in “Lady Long Rider.”