On October 8, 2014, long rider Bernice Ende rode her mares Essie and Spirit along the sands of Parsons Beach in Kennebunk, Maine, and let them splash their hooves in the Atlantic.
Long riders are an amazing yet little-known segment of the equestrian world. The Long Riders’ Guild is an invitation-only association with hundreds of members worldwide. Their website (www.thelongridersguild.com) is one of the best resources on the subject. To be considered a long rider, you must make a journey of no less than 1,000 miles by horseback. Many people might be surprised to learn that Olympic gold medalist David O’Connor is a long rider. He earned that status when his mother, Sally O’Connor, took her two young sons, David and his brother Brian, on the trip of a lifetime and rode from Maryland to Oregon.
Long riding is a lifestyle and a life choice; it is neither a competition like endurance nor a hobby like trail riding can be. For the most part, long riders follow roads. Ende does not use GPS; instead, she is a big fan of using gazetteers (map books for each state that show all the roads, not just the main ones) to find the best routes and perhaps less-traveled roadways. Ende has been living this lifestyle for 10 years and has logged over 20,000 miles criss-crossing the U.S. and Canada.
Her current horses are Montana Spirit, a 5-year-old Norwegian Fjord/Percheron cross mare, and Essie Pearl, a 12-year-old Fjord mare. During her travels, Ende rides one and packs the other. She also stops, completely untacks and rests the mares three times a day. The panniers on the pack horse are evenly balanced, and she tries to keep the weight that the pack horse carries at 100 pounds or less. Other than a small box with her computer for blogging that she ships ahead, she carries everything with her. Life is all about the essentials: a tarp, a tent, cooking gear, candles, a bedroll, gear for the horses, a change of clothes, a sharp knife, a headlamp and a gun.
Long riding is a way of life. It requires discipline, attention to detail and focus. You have to be mentally present at all times, especially while riding on roadways. You also have to be flexible and adapt. When you are long riding, things happen, weather happens, and there is no advance plan on where you will stay or find water, shelter or food.
While crossing the western states, Ende often stayed in the abandoned homes and barns that dot the landscape. She has a tent and has camped in cemeteries and backyards; many times horsepeople along the way offer her a place to camp. She ties or stakes her horses and gets up numerous times in the night to check on them, but the only time she gets a good night’s sleep is if she has a corral to put them in. She gets her meals along the way—when I saw her, she had just ridden to a local pizza shop and the horses were untacked and left grazing out back while she went in for lunch.
People reach out to her frequently during her travels. Many folks have seen her interviews on TV or are aware of her through her blog. Most of the time as she rides through a town, she is referred to farms or stables. As word spreads about her, her new friends connect her with their friends farther down the road. To travel this way is an exercise of trust and faith in the kindness of strangers.
I was lucky enough to catch up with Ende in Maine to attend one of the many talks and slide shows she does as she travels. The theme of Ende’s current ride was inspired by the 100th anniversary of women’s right to vote in Montana. She has been honoring the American women’s suffrage movement by visiting historical landmarks associated with these women along her route. Ende’s traveling slide presentation is an educational journey about Suffragettes as well as lady long riders.
I first became aware of long riders when I read A Lady’s Life in the Rocky Mountains by Isabella Bird, one of the earliest lady long riders. If you have a fascination with this type of riding and would like to follow along with Bernice Ende, visit endeofthetrail.com/blog. You can find her current location and maybe even meet her in person and attend one of her presentations when she is in your area. Each time Ende sets out on an uncharted journey, she always leaves a trail of friends behind her.
DUSTY PERIN is a freelance equine photographer based in Maine.
This article originally appeared in the February 2015 issue of Horse Illustrated magazine. Click here to subscribe!