Whitefish Pilot, Whitefish, Montana

Montana Cowboy Hall of Fame inducts ‘Lady Long Rider’

By Whitney England

Claire Dog on Essie Pearl, and Bernice on Hart.

Horseback riding thousands of miles across parts of the U.S. multiple times over the past two decades has given Bernice Ende of Trego, commonly known as the Lady Long Rider, experiences of a lifetime.

She took her first “long ride” in 2005 and since has been on eight major rides accounting to over 30,000 miles traveled atop a horse. In late October the Montana Cowboy Hall of Fame announced the 2020 class of inductions and chose Ende as the honoree from the 10th district, which includes Flathead, Lincoln, Lake and Sanders counties.

Inductees are chosen from a field of candidates nominated by the general public.

“The Hall of Fame exists to honor those who have made an impact in their part of the state and represent Montana’s authentic heritage for future generations,” said MCHF and Western Heritage Center President Bill Galt.

Ende says she’s honored that the organization recognizes both the sacrifices she made and victories she celebrated with each pursuit.

“It’s a legendary romantic, iconic image — this horse and rider, riding across the country,” she said. “And I never took it for granted, I understood how fortunate I was to be able to do it. But it was hard, it was damn hard.”

Her journeys always began from Trego and she said Whitefish was a usual venue to pass through as she headed out or returned from each ride. She said there was never a truck and trailer for these 3,000 to 4,000 mile trips, just always her horses and dog to keep her company.

Ende grew up in Minnesota on a dairy farm with five other siblings and was riding horses on her own by age 3. Ende taught classical ballet for 25 years before ever becoming a long rider. She lived and taught dance in several places before calling Trego home.

All while teaching dance though she kept horses near to her heart. She taught dressage and trained horses even while keeping up with her dance instruction. While training some thoroughbreds one day, she reached the horizon and thought one day she’d like to ride to see her sister who resides in New Mexico.

That was her first long ride, to Albuquerque. It didn’t go exactly as planned, and she ran into some hardships as she has on several of her thousand-mile treks, but she was already planning her next trip before she safely arrived in New Mexico.

According to the Hall of Fame, no other living woman has ridden as many miles or completed as many journeys as Ende; the Long Riders’ Guild recognizes Ende as an “outstanding ambassador for long-distance exploration on horseback.”

Ende completed her first couple of long rides by sleeping in between her packs on just a tarp with her dog, she’s since upgraded to a tent and a small propane stove to boil water. She said she still lives in a tent whenever she’s away from her home in Trego.

Ende’s longest journey began in 2014 when she rode coast-to-coast for 8,000 miles which took two and a half years to complete. She began in Trego, riding to the east coast of Maine and returned by riding through much of southern Canada to the west coast, riding back through Washington and Oregon to finally make it home.

“I didn’t really have anything, I gave up a lot to do it,” Ende recalled. “You give up your community and your family, really, and any sense of security.”

This past July, Ende was planning a “Lady Long Rider Suffragist Tour” in honor of the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution giving women the right to vote. She was due to travel, by truck and trailer this time, to New York and then ride to several sites and give talks at those places. However due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the tour was cancelled.

Although disappointed, Ende said her work to encourage women will never end.

“I ride to encourage female leadership,” she said. “After the first ride I realized that I really want to encourage women not be afraid of doing something that scares them. We need female leadership, we need women who have the courage to step out.”

Ende isn’t exactly sure what the future will hold, but she’s leaning toward doing shorter rides — and by shorter she means 400-mile trail rides instead. She said there is much of the country that she hasn’t seen yet because on these cross-country rides her only transportation was by horse.

“Like when I rode to the East Coast, it took me eight months to go there; so when you set out, you don’t get to go sightseeing, you’ve got to go there, you’ve got to keep it moving,” Ende said.

According to the Montana Cowboy Hall of Fame, Ende leads a life that closely matches the spirit of the state’s original founders which led to the honor.

“She embodies the pioneer, can-do spirit characteristic of those who have created our great state — Bernice has put Montana on the map from astride her horses,” her induction says.

To follow Ende’s adventures and future rides, visit endeofthetrail.com.

Bernice at her cabin near Trego, Montana.