Rider takes a break from her ‘remarkable journey’
April 23, 2007
It may seem like a universal leap from ballet instructor to long rider but, in the mind of Bernice Ende, “50 something,” all it took was a small leap of faith.
“To me it was a natural progression,” Ende said. “They both require the same things from me … focus, stamina, it’s all pretty much the same.”
Ende has been an avid horsewoman all of her life and she knew in her heart that one day she would become a long rider. She spent 25 years as a ballet dance instructor, teaching in San Francisco, Minneapolis, Portland and Seattle before moving to Montana. She and her husband bought land near Trego, intending to retire there. When her husband died in 1993 while they were living in Seattle, she moved to Montana where she taught at the Whitefish School of Classical Ballet and at the Community Dance Studio in Trego. A little more than three years ago she made up her mind to fulfill a life-long dream. She sold her dance studio and set her mind on a horse ride few people, man or woman, would ever have the courage to undertake.
She now belongs to The Long Rider’s Guild, an international association of equestrian explorers. An invitation-only organization formed in 1994, it represents men and women of all nations who have ridden more than 1,000 continuous miles on a single equestrian journey.
For Ende, the quest began when she made the 2,000 mile trip from her home in Trego to Albuquerque, N.M., to visit her sister. Ende left home astride a Tennessee walker called Pride, her “trail companion and fearless leader,” 6-year-old Claire Dog, “a rare, one-of-a-kind, Montana breed of unknown origin” at her side. On her return to Trego, it would be a couple of months for rest and relaxation while she planned her next ride.
Ende discovered she wanted to follow the road for no other reason than the love and longing for the ride so, on May 5, 2006, this single woman rider, her horse and her dog, began an adventure that would last for the next 18 months and cover more than 5,000 miles.
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She acquired another horse before she left, an 8-year-old gray thoroughbred mare with Native Dancer bloodlines called Native Tail. Ende renamed her Honor. Thoroughbreds are unlikely candidates for endurance riding but Ende’s dedication to the horse has been repaid ten-fold. Honor barely leaves Ende’s side and gets stressed when Ende is out of her sight.
“Honor was a rescue,” Ende said. “I know she was raced as a 5-year-old, although I don’t know her history before that. She lost those races, became a broodmare and had two foals. She was then sold and the new owner resold her, saying she didn’t get along with other horses.”
Ende answered an ad in a Washington state newspaper.
“Thoroughbred mare, sweet disposition, $800,” she said. “When I found her, she was knee-deep in mud, covered in lice and rain rot, full of worms and absolutely miserable. It took weeks of grooming and treatments to clean her up, good feed and vitamins to get her weight back but, we built a great relationship because of it.”
Claire Dog was another throw away.
“Six years ago, last March, I was riding an old mare down the road when I saw two puppies on the side of the road where someone had presumably dumped them,” Ende said. “One was already dead and the other (Claire) was growling at me. She was about 3 weeks old. I tried to get one of my ballet students to adopt her but no one would take her. They did name her though, Clara, after the little girl in “The Nutcracker.” So I kept her and Clara became Claire.”
Ende’s first responsibility is always to her two traveling companions. They come first no matter how tired or trail-worn she is. Ende constantly worries about opinions of the uninformed. Honor is lean and lanky, muscled and well groomed and yet Ende has received criticism from animal activists even though the horse is totally void of saddle sores, has well-shod feet and a mane and tail you can run your fingers through. Ende carries pieces of rawhide in her pack that she makes booties for Claire to keep her feet from getting road weary and Claire never runs loose in high traffic areas as Ende has a special harness and leash to keep Claire close to her side.
Ende has been amazed at the amount of generosity she has received in her journey.
“The longest I have spent out in the open without any shelter was about four months,” she said. “So many times I have been so blessed with wonderful people who have given me shelter of one kind or another.”
Coming up from Death Valley through Lone Pine and along Highway 395, Ende has spent nights at the Romero Ranch in Bridgeport, a couple of nights at the home of John and Lucy Wise near Topaz Lake. She weathered out the latest storms, last weekend, at the Gardnerville home of Assemblyman James Settelmeyer and his wife Sherese at their special invitation.
Her story has more than passing interest.
“This is not a ride between A and B,” she said. “This is my life.”
Ende gives informal talks to service groups, schools and any gathering with people who want to listen. Ende makes a little money through pass-the-hat donations. With each encounter it is a life lesson learned, both for Ende, and for the people she meets and talks to.
“I manage to budget myself to no more than $20 a week,” she said.
It’s the generosity of all the wonderful people she meets along the way that keeps her going.
“My little presentations help me pay for things along the way. As a woman, I want to encourage other women to fulfill their potential. I want to show them they can reach beyond their limits. I have found out how to replace fear with skill and attentiveness. I want to share that with others,” she said.
With piercing blue eyes, in an unwavering eye-to-eye conversation, she talks about the serendipity she encounters with those she meets along the way. There are those who long for her courage and can’t find it, those who just respect her spirit and those who are slightly envious of her freedom to see the world around them in the down-to-earth way that she does.
“I know that I ride these rides with hundreds and hundreds of other kindred spirits who would have, or always wished for, or would love to but were never able to. They share their joy and generous support that encourages me to share back with them, remarkable journeys as a woman with horse and dog.” Ende said.
“I do like riding into smiles.”
— Jonni Hill can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Follow Bernice Ende on her life’s journey.
She answers her e-mails as often as she can from library computers along the trail.