Interview with Bernice Ende
Bernice Ende is in the middle of an 8,000 mile horseback ride along the Canadian and US border. She estimates that the route will take two and half years to complete. When asked where she sleeps at night, she responded, "I sleep in the tent with my horses next me. Always."
What are ideal conditions for long ride horseback riding, in terms of weather and routes?
There is no ideal! You just take what you get. It's so long that you get all of your weather conditions, and you're travelling all of your terrains: mountains, deserts, prairies. It's like any other travel, you take what you get. In this sense, I'm so out. When you're in a car or a house, you're not so restricted. But I'm on a horse, I'm always out.
This country up here [in New York] is very easy to ride in because there's grass and water. So that eliminates a lot of anxiety that one might have when riding across the desert, where you don't have water for your horses, or grass for your horses. There is a far greater ease here in that there is grass and water. And there are people, so you can always knock on a door and ask for water or shelter or whatever you need.
Ideally, I'd be up at 6:00 AM and have my breakfast, and have my horses up on stakes on picket lines, and they'd be eating and then I'd get myself into the saddle and I'd ride ten miles. And then I'd pull all the gear off and I'd rest for an hour and a half, brush all the pads out and let the horses eat and roll and then I'd get back in the saddle and I'd ride another ten miles and then I'd repeat that again in the afternoon and then I'd ride another ten miles and then by 5 PM, I'd be done for the day. Then I'd have two hours to set the tent and the campsite up, make supper, and let the horses eat. It's about a two hour set up at night and an hour and a half in the morning.
When you first started out, you would ride 50 miles a day. Why did you push yourself and your horses so hard?
There were some days I did. I was afraid I wouldn't make it. So I just kept going, kept walking, kept moving. I rode on ignorance. There's a certain amount of ego that says you can't turn back. How can you turn back? You just keep going.
What kind of care do your horses need during long rides?
They have to have vaccinations and vet checks, and I do my own shoeing. They've got to have proper care so they're not bothered with bugs. I rub them down and I brush them three times a day. I buy them grain on the road. Not much, mostly they eat out of the ditch.
It's more of a family type of thing. I mean, I live with these horses 24/7. I haven't been in a house since 2008. I'm living with the horses. The relationship with the horses, that's it. It's really just about taking care of your horses, that's all you do.
You spent a whole winter in Forsyth, Georgia in your tent in a barn. What was that like?
That was the third winter. I've spent a couple of winters down south, and of course the winters aren't nearly as severe. The barn in Forsyth was a little barn in the middle of nowhere. Flat, treeless. It was my first year attempting a winter and staying warm was really an issue for me. I need to be comfortable and I need to be dry. And I want it pretty inside! So I took my tent and I made a tent cozy, like a tea cozy. It's a heavier blanket that fits over the tent, and then I put the fly over that and over that I run a line with a tarp. I can heat that tent with a couple of candles. I strip down and I wash and read and write, and I journal, and it's beautiful inside my tent. It's a two person tent but I use the vestibules, so I expanded it; I don't just use the tent. All I'm really using is the frames of the tent, with the cozy in the winter and a tarp in the summer. But the tent cozy, it changed my life. I have a home. I always travel with my home now.
What gear do you always have with you? If you could carry more weight, what would you want to add?
I've got my cooking supplies and my tent, a sleeping sleeping bag, my down comforter, I have quite a lot of blankets. I've got vet supplies. I have a Coleman propane canister, single burner on top, one spoon, one knife, and one pot. That's my kitchen. I eat a lot of wild food. I've learned to forage. So it's a lot of nettles and dandelions greens and rose hips and wild apples and fruit. I eat a lot of wild fruit.
But I don't have a lot, I'm only carrying about a hundred pounds. And then I ship all of my heavier things to post office shops. I don't know that I need much more. It's just stuff. The life so simple. I think I have everything I need.
Do you spend more time in the saddle or walking?
Half and half, walk ride, walk ride.
Do you see any advantages to riding solo as a female?
Oh, yes, indeed. I am definitely invited into more schools and public places, even private homes that I ride into. They are certainly far more willing to entertain me for an evening. Most of the men who are doing the long rides are more rough looking, maybe they've got a gut on them. And I get invited into a lot of schools. With the horses! They bring the kids outside and I speak. I do dozens and dozens. I did twenty-six this winter. That's how I make my living, as well as with my DVD.
What has been the most challenging day or trip so far?
The 5,000 mile ride was the hardest ride. It will always be the hardest ride. And of course the first ride was pretty challenging. You know what was the hardest part? I was afraid people would laugh at me. I'm serious, here I am a fifty year old woman, and I'm gonna go out and ride around the country? I just thought people would laugh at me and say, "What do you want, you old lady? Go on home, go back where you belong." That was so hard to overcome, it just filled me with anxiety. It was so weird to ask for help because I thought they'd yell at me, or say, "What do you want? Get off my property." Of course, it's not true, it never happened, but still that was really just personal fears. I am not the same person I was when I rode out eleven years ago.
What made you want to take that trip eleven years ago?
I don't know. I don't really have a concrete answer. It was the end of my teaching career, and I was alone, and it was an idea, it was a vision that came to me. I tried talking myself out of it, I tried not to go. But it's like all visions: once that vision has taken hold of you, it will never let go. If it's a true vision. And it grabbed hold. It's been relentless.
I feel like everything I did before this was a preparation for this. The life as a ballet teacher, in my years as a child on the dairy farm, really prepared me for this. Until you go to that very far limit of what you thought you were made out of, and you discover there's a whole lot more on the other side of who you thought you were made of, and you discover this part of you that you never knew existed, and there is whole new world inside of you that's opened up, you think, "Where've I been all my life."
Do you have any plans to ride outside of North America?
Nobody's ridden around the world. I'm halfway around. I'd love to ride to Europe, I do see that, going over and spending two years riding in Europe. The problem is, is what am I going to do with the horses? How do I leave my horses? And how do I go over there and ride the other horses over there and then leave them? I'd have to ship them back home. It's not the riding, it's not about the la-di-da adventures. It's about the horses.
Have you met any other long riders?
I've met two riders. I am a member of the long riders field, I'm in touch with riders, people email me asking how to do a long rides, or if they can come with. I've taken two riders out with me. One lasted 150 miles and the other lasted 200 miles. They didn't like the uncertainty. "How far are we going today? Where are we going to sleep tonight?" I don't mind the uncertainty; that's just part of the ride.
What advice can you give other long riders?
Horses have to be prepared and trained as well as a police horse. Embrace uncertainty. Get off and walk.
Map of Bernice Ende's rides from 2005 to 2015 including her current route.
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I studied under Ms. Susan Higgens, Portland, Oregon. Royal Academy of Dance method. Taught some, then picked up a Fitness Specialist degree at the Lake Washington Voc-Tech, in Bellingham, Washington. I taught for 25 years. Corporate dance/ fitness and Classical Ballet. In 1992, I moved east from Seattle, Washington to Trego, Montana. I opened The Community Dance Studio in Trego and the Whitefish School of Classical Ballet in Whitefish, Mt. I have called North-West Montana home ever since. Ten wonderful years working with local children. Teaching a most unorthodox ballet class in the old community hall building next to the Trego fire-hall. The wooden structure at that time had an outhouse and wood heat. It took at least 5 hours to heat the building for classes. I made wood ballet barres and many times the girls would be warming up in gloves or mittens with the ballet barres pulled in close to a black, double barrel wood stove. I gave summer horseback riding lessons at my mountain cabin and trained a few horses for the McCurry Ranch out of Trego. Retirement in 2003 brought not a lack of activity, but rather a change of focus. I felt the pull of the open road. Adventure called, the need to go, see, do. A window of opportunity opened and I climbed out . . . .