SALAMANCA — Last week a woman on horseback, with a pack horse in tow, made her way through the city of Salamanca — but there was far more to her story than just a little oddity.
Bernice Ende, or as some may call her the “Lady Long Rider,” has ridden more miles on horseback than any woman alive, and she’s not stopping anytime soon. She is currently amidst a 2 ½-year, 8,000-mile trek that began in Montana, will wind up to Maine, across Canada and back home.
“This is my 10th year doing long rides and almost 25,000 miles of equestrian travel. By the end of this trip, I will have traveled almost 30,000 miles,” said Ms. Ende.
For those unfamiliar, a long ride is any stretch traveled on horseback exceeding 1,000 miles, according to the Long Riders’ Guild.
This isn’t just a hobby for Ms. Ende, now age 60. It’s a lifestyle.
She cooks all her own food and sleeps outside with her horses on the ground, traveling about 30 miles each day.
“It’s my life. I’ve been living with my horses in a tent since 2008. Those first few years I’d spend many nights in homes, but I don’t do that anymore,” said Ms. Ende. “It was a choice that I made to not go in and sit in chairs, sleep in a bed, live a normal life, because at my age if I do it I’ll never be able to go back out.
“Just the physical strain of it is immense. If you stop doing it, you won’t do it anymore. … I also felt I needed a level of trust with my horses that only comes by living with them.”
She also said selling copies of her DVD “Adventures of a Lady Long Rider: The First 10,000 Miles,” and stopping to make speeches along her travels is how she makes enough to sustain her rides.
The Lady Long Rider said she’s been living this way for so long she no longer desires the comforts of home most enjoy.
“I don’t want to be in a house anymore, I don’t want this anymore,” she said gesturing to the walls around her. “I want to see the stars and the moon and what the wind does to the leaves and grass. I want it on me — the heat and the cold. I just want to be alive.”
It truly is just Ms. Ende and her two horses out there. She doesn’t carry a cell phone and maps out all her travels in advance, stopping occasionally to update her website at local libraries.
“If I had a phone, I’d be on it all the time like everyone else,” she said. “It’s all I can do to keep myself alive out there everyday. There’s so much that happens to me in one day of unexpected new terrain — and weather. I can’t think I’m going to be talking on the phone. I need to leave it all behind. It’s just, where am I going, how am I going to get there and what do I need to do?”
It has been a long, interesting ride that led her to this current lifestyle. From growing up a dairy farm girl in Minnesota, to teaching classical ballet for 25 years and finally to long riding, Ms. Ende’s never been one for the easy life.
“This is so extreme, how did I get to do this?” she asked jokingly. “I guess I was finishing up my career teaching at the Royal Academy of Dance, and I saw an opportunity. … it started with something dumb, like I was going to just ride down and see my sister. And then here I am 10 years later, having ridden more miles than any woman alive, and still wanting more.”
Her ballet fundamentals have proven essential out on the ride, with much crossover in their physicality, discipline and focus.
“Everything I’ve done has been in preparation to do this. I wouldn’t be out there doing this had I not had ballet,” said Ms. Ende. “The flexibility and strength. In ballet there’s this thing called spotting, which is really an exercise in staying focused in the midst of chaos. That’s long riding.”
This isn’t Ms. Ende’s first time in the Northeast, but the last trip was in a car — and that doesn’t count for much in her book.
“There’s no comparison. You’ve never seen the world unless you’ve ridden on horseback,” she said. “You have four feet on the ground, not two. You have 360 degrees perspective. You’re 10 feet tall.
“On a bicycle, you have to be focused. And walking is the same way. You have to really pay attention. The medium just broadens your view. You’ve got this rhythm that’s very methodical and puts you in a very meditative state of mind. You’re really receptive to the world around you. These are things I never would have thought until I had done it.”
If there’s anything to be taken away from her travels, Ms. Ende said she hopes it is a message of liberation and inspiration.
“I do hope that I carry the message that I have the freedom to do this. It should be a reminder of the freedom we do enjoy in this country. I also hope it inspires other women,” she said. “I hope I inspire women to reach beyond their fears. Live your life to inspire others and you too will be inspired, not by others but by the life you live.
“But it is more than just me. It does envelope more than just me riding across the country. There is a message here and it’s not about me. It’s about something much bigger. I’m not even sure if I know what it’s all about yet.”
Maybe, it will take a few more miles.
To learn more about Ms. Ende, visit www.endeofthetrail.com.