Eagle Times – North Sutton, New Hampshire
May 11, 2019
By Glynis Hart
NORTH SUTTON – Bernice Ende has ridden more thousands of miles on her horses than probably any woman alive. The “lady longrider” is one of a small but worldwide group of riding enthusiasts who make treks of over 1,000 miles. Ende, a veteran rider, has been doing this since 2005 and has covered more than 30,000 miles in the United States and Canada.
“It was never a dream of mine, something I wanted to do,” said Ende, who is coming to North Sutton on the third-to-last stop of her book tour. “Alone Across America on Horseback; Lady Longrider” chronicles Ende’s adventures tent camping and riding through the open spaces of the continent. Her free talk takes place May 17, 6:30 p.m. at the Pillsbury Barn on Musterfield Farm in North Sutton.
“I changed my life,” she said. “People will say to me, ‘I’ve always wanted to do that,’ but I didn’t just take off time. This is my life.”
In a typical day she and her two horses can travel from 20 to 50 miles, depending on weather, food and circumstances. She travels light, often foraging for wild vegetables or enjoying the hospitality of newfound friends.
“I don’t have a lot of money,” she said. “Usually I can find everything I need in a thrift store. For flysheets for my horses, I can pick up a bedsheet for $1.50. If it tears, who cares. Throw it away and get another one.
“I try to walk 10 miles a day,” she said. “Get off their backs, for heaven’s sake.”
Ende taught dance for 23 years and at the age of 50 she started longriding. “I fell in love with who I’d become, I felt I’d stepped into my skin,” she said. “By the second ride I didn’t have any money. I turned everything over to friends and family.”
She found herself checking out the senior centers in the small towns she rode through, as the smell of lunch wafted into the air. “I’d ride into these senior centers and say, I can play piano or give a talk, and they’d give me lunch or somebody would hand me $5. I did that for a long time.”
Then, Tucker Saddle sponsored her, then a few more companies, and now Ende has lots of sponsors, and this book, and even a documentary coming out about her.
She rides two Norwegian Fjords, sturdy draft ponies with distinctive black-and-white manes and tails and light golden hair. Her first longriding horses were an Appendix Quarterhorse, a sorrel Tennessee Walking Horse, a gray Thoroughbred — “all completely unsuited for longriding in my opinion,” she said. The Fjords, on the other hand, “Have thick coarse hair, thick skin, a short flat back, a steadfast mind. They’re easy keepers, they’re devoted. No buck.”
To endure the long hours on the trail and travel in all different weathers, the horses must be healthy and tough and take changes with equanimity.
Montana Spirit and Little Liska Pearl, the horses, carry the tent and food as well as Ende. If they throw a shoe, she fixes it on the trail herself. They’re wise and well-trained, so the three of them can work together in an emergency situation. They came on the first part of the book tour with her, but with a total of 70 stops she decided to leave them in Michigan while she came East.
“I decided it was too much,” she said. “The horses have to have the best. I have the best gear; you will never see anything like it anywhere. That 8,000-mile ride in 2016, I did not have one sore on my horses. Every two hours I pull the saddles and brush the horses out. Everything that touches them is wool and it’s kept meticulously clean.
“I want my horses forever,” she said. “It’s not about the ride; it’s about this relationship I have with the horses and being outside with them.”
“The three biggest questions people ask me are, ‘Aren’t you afraid?’, ‘How old are you?’ and ‘Do you carry a gun?’” she said. “Fear is a self-perpetuated state of mind, when you’re thinking about what could happen to you. If a grizzly bear comes into my camp, I’m not in fear, I’m just reacting. People are afraid of so many things. So many times when you think of why you can’t do things it starts with ‘I’m afraid …’ Just listen to yourself! Move forward with attentiveness, caution and skill.”
For the last 13 years Ende has lived outdoors. She stays in her tent and only rarely accepts an offer of hospitality to sleep inside. “It’s not easy, there’s nothing fun about it, but I am so filled with gratitude and appreciation that I can do this, that I have my health, that I live in a country I can do it in.
“Life without fear is freedom,” she said.