Her spurs don’t âjingle, jingle, jingle,â but Trego resident Bernice Ende still enters the Montana Cowboy Hall of Fame and the Western Heritage Center.
As colorful a figure as one can meet, Ende will be officially inducted next weekend in Great Falls during the festivities August 13-14. As with so many other things, the COVID-19 pandemic has delayed the ceremony that was scheduled for last year.
Ende, also known as “Lady Long Rider”, said she was surprised to hear the news.
âI wasn’t sure how it went, but I’m certainly honored,â she said. “I think Loretta Park probably read my book or newspaper article and named me.”
Park died in a traffic accident in January.
âI will accept it on his behalf,â Ende said.
In a biography shared by the Montana Hall of Fame, Ende is described as “the personification of the pioneering spirit”.
BORN IN Minnesota on November 16, 1954, Ende was raised on a solid dairy farm with five siblings. She was riding a horse at the age of 3, but she would say she rode before she was born, as her mother did too.
Before becoming a long rider, Ende taught classical ballet for 25 years. Her nomadic spirit led her to teach in Portland, San Francisco, Minneapolis, Seattle and, finally, in Trego.
There the dance studio was equipped with a wood stove and an outbuilding. Families who could not afford the lessons provided firewood and started a fire in the stove before the lessons.
Ende also studied and taught dressage and considered this art form to be âhorse balletâ. But she never gave up her time on horseback, often working and training horses for others. While working with a pair of thoroughbreds, having reached the top of a mountain with a view, she thought she would like to travel to New Mexico to visit her sister.
Until then, she was aware of the long ride, but had never thought of it as something she would like to do. But she faced the fallout from a relationship that was going nowhere and decided to “wash this man out of her hair” figuratively and literally. The stress of the breakup resulted in alopecia, a severe hair loss from which Ende never recovered. As a result, she wears a bandana most of the time.
In any case, she now had a fever to take on her next challenge. She mapped out her routes, worked out the logistics as best she could, and after five months left for New Mexico in 2005. It soon became clear that five months of planning was not long enough. and it turned out to be a study on how not to make long journeys.
Halfway, Ende hit a wall. Luckily for her, “angels in disguise” came looking for her, gave her a place to regroup, took care of her horse and her rescue dog, Claire, and then sent her away.
Ende reached New Mexico, nearly 2,000 miles away, double the distance required to qualify as a long-term runner. Before arriving at her sister’s house, she was planning her next walk.
Ende said she got her âlove of the horizonâ from her mother and her âpositiveâ attitude from her father. She also credits her mother and grandmother – both independent women and drawn to Montana from Minnesota – for her attraction to the state.
Ende slept with his trail companions, Claire the dog and her horse. She later had two horses – one for her and one for Claire, who had led the way for 7,000 miles with her paws protected by leather slippers fashioned by Ende. She thought Claire deserved a horse of her own; the dog is then mounted on horseback in its own special box.
âShe became the celebrity,â Ende said. “People would see us riding into town and they were usually stunned to see a dog ride a horse.”
Claire died in 2015 at the age of 16. She died on one of Ende’s long drives on her way home through Montana.
THERE WAS many memorable and heartbreaking events during his walks.
âI was pointed at guns; one was a cop, another as I walked through the Flathead Reservation. A local had a shotgun pointed at me in Mission Valley,â she said. . “I was allowed to go up to the reservation, but he didn’t know until we spoke.”
Ende packed his own iron, a Smith & Wesson .357 revolver.
âI carried a gun to protect myself, but mostly because if a horse fell, I wanted to be able to put it down without suffering prolonged suffering,â she said. âThere, a veterinarian is not always at hand.
Rattlesnakes were also a bane to her, horses and Claire.
âNew Mexico has a lot of rattlesnakes,â Ende said. “There have also been encounters with grizzly bears, black bears, pumas and even moose.”
Depending on the disposition of the horse, Ende slept with the reins tightly wrapped around her wrist or she staked with her horses. She lay down on a tarp with her bags on either side of her, Claire snuggled up for warmth and the rest of the tarp was thrown over it.
After the first hikes, in bad weather, she started using a tent. A small propane stove provided hot water for tea and oatmeal. Ende supplemented the store-bought supplies with dandelion greens, goosefoot, nettles, and watercress.
ONE OF his most heartbreaking experiences were on his second hike, a 5,000-mile trip through the Midwest, to the Southwest, to the West Coast states and back to Montana.
On her way home, Ende found herself in eastern Montana in October. She still had 600 miles to go to get home with a pass to negotiate. She knew she wouldn’t be able to cross the Rockies until winter arrived and decided to roll winter in her tent.
Fortunately, Ende knew someone who lent him use of his barn and who helped keep the Montana winds at bay. The winter has been long and difficult, but with the occasional home cooked meal and visits from friends, she has succeeded.
His longest trip was from Trego to the Maine coast, back to the west coast, and then back to Trego, a trip of 8,000 miles. It lasted two and a half years.
Ende has traveled over 30,000 miles. At the 25,000 mile mark, she felt she really qualified as a long rider. Around this time, Ende became his own farrier and switched to titanium horseshoes to pull more miles.
âHorseshoes were one of the few things I would ship ahead of time,â Ende said. “They obviously weighed quite a bit and I was sending them somewhere, about 100 miles. If I got there and didn’t need them, I would send them another 100 miles.”
ENDE RELIED on maps and geographic directories to stay in the right direction and off major highways.
“Horses and highways don’t mix,” she said.
She credited the help of others for making her adventures possible.
âI had the publicity, which helped with the donations, and I could never have done it all without the help of a lot of people,â Ende said.
There were stops in towns where she lectured about her constituency, which also resulted in a lot of help.
âOnce I got out I couldn’t stop and wanted to improve,â she said. “I didn’t do it for fun; there was this world of uncertainty, but I kind of liked having my life in the face.”
Ende wrote a book, “Lady Long Rider”, and Far Country Press published it in 2018.
In 2020, filmmaker Wren Winfield made a documentary about the adventures of Ende. It can be found at endofthetrail.com/store/.
Today, Ende only makes “short” trips of 200 or 300 miles. She stopped her long journeys in 2018.
Although his travels have never been easy, his memories are rich with stories few can share.
âI called it ‘rolling in smiles’,â Ende said.
Journalist Scott Shindledecker can be reached at 406-758-4441 or [email protected]