The Thoroughbred gelding had been jumping the green and white, two-foot flower jump for days. This was just another routine schooling. As the horse cantered the line, his rider balanced over the balls of her feet in a classic two-point. She shortened the reins for better contact, looked ahead, and prepared herself for liftoff. The horse pricked his ears toward the jump, boldly cantered forward, then skidded to a halt, swerved right, then left, then right and, feeling his rider come unbalanced, scrambled away from the jump. She hauled on the reins, but the gelding continued his mad scramble. The rider slammed to the ground, head first. She didn’t move. Others in the arena ran to help, but seconds later, she stood up on her own. She was shaken and covered in the mud of the puddle her body hit.
Acres of worthless sagebrush next to a productive field illustrate the difference irrigation made to Colorado's history and economy. As the sagebrush gave way to agriculture, so did the horse and buggy. With its space for one-cent postage, this Denver-publisher postcard dates to 1872, according to Webfooters Postcard Club.
Triton Emperor - approximately 18 months old - with Karin Livingston - shortly after the essay contest in which she won him.
You never know where love will take you.
As the sun was setting one warm spring weekend, I drove up the on-ramp to Interstate 80, headed home to my parents from the University of California at Davis.
In tow was my first horse, an older Morgan-Quarter-cross mare, Epa, her name allegedly Native-American for “hiccup”, and my young registered Morgan, Triton Emperor, also known as “Imp” for all the knots he untied, all the gates he unlatched, and all the hammers he stole while we were working on fences. I had won Imp as an 18-month-old gelding in an annual essay contest for youth.
To tell you the truth, I was thinking about selling Imp, because lately, he had developed the annoying habit of bucking off my boyfriend.
Doubt about whether Imp could be trusted ran through my mind as I came to the end of the ramp and hit highway speed. Then something moved in my left rear-view mirror.
I looked and saw my horse trailer pass me. No kidding, it actually passed me. The trailer veered left and rolled end over end, tipped sideways, and came to rest on its side in the grass median. I veered left on to the median and slid to a stop behind it in the pickup. The trailer wheels spun, and the horses lay on their sides, trapped inside.
An off-duty sheriff’s deputy witnessed the wreck and pulled over. Together we wrenched off the mangled bubble in the nose of the trailer. Imp lay on top of Epa. I learned the value of a properly-tied safety slipknot when we pulled loose Imp’s lead. He saw daylight, scrabbled to get out, and made it. Poor Epa, she took all his hoof blows. She seemed to know though, that this was also her only way out, and as soon as Imp got loose, she too fought her way to her knees, and crawled out through the debris.
Earlier days: My sister on her horse, Orbit, left, and me on my Morgan-Quarter-cross, Epa, whose name was allegedly Native-American for "hiccup".
Both horses made it to their feet. Palm-sized swellings formed under many cuts on Epa. She quivered. Imp looked around wild-eyed, but had few cuts.
Our attending angel, the off-duty deputy, radioed for help from the volunteer sheriff’s possee, which had its own horse trailer. We had forgotten that this was a holiday weekend. No one responded.
The stable where I boarded was a couple of miles away. The deputy suggested leading the horses on foot, but I didn’t think I could hang on to their leads if something spooked them worse than they already were. I have always felt safer on horseback than on foot. Cuts, scrapes and swellings littered Epa’s back, and she could not be ridden. That left Imp, the young Morgan gelding who enjoyed bucking off certain people.
By now it was dark. The deputy called for highway patrol escort cars. I bridled Imp, hopped on bareback, and led Epa alongside.
We moved along the interstate shoulder at a walk. Cars whizzed by in the dark at 60 or 70 miles per hour, headlights flashed, horns honked, and the two highway patrol escort cars’ red, white, and blue lights flashed in front of, and behind us.
Under me, Imp felt like a coiled spring. Epa moved stiffly, but I think her soreness kept Imp slow and under control. Epa always had a calming effect on Imp, and he adored his “stepmother”. Once, just to be with her, Imp jumped out of a four-and-a-half-foot pen, escaped the barn, and ran down the road to catch up to the two of us on a nearby trail.
I, the two horses, the sheriff’s deputy, and the two highway patrol cars made it safely to the boarding stable. I returned my shaken-up friends to their pens and called the U.C. Davis vet hospital emergency line. They advised me to give Epa four grams of bute right away. I remember this because four grams is a lot of phenylbutazone.
Neither of the horses sustained life-threatening injuries, or even needed stitches. I went back to my house in Davis, threw open the door, and prevailed upon my housemate and his girlfriend for a shot of Jack Daniels.
I’ve always wondered how that trailer came loose. The approach to the interstate off-ramp was very bumpy, and the only thing I can think of is that the clamshell hitch popped free. The safety chains were a joke and snapped. To this day, I prefer a gooseneck hitch.
Imp, a registered Morgan, wins a high-point at a local show in California, approximately age four.
I fell in love with Imp forever that night. A handsome mahogany bay, he loved horse shows, and judges loved him. Trustworthy? He was my toddler son’s first mount, and continued to win horse show high points into his mid-20’s, mastered lots of other gate latches, and taught several children how to ride at our stable here in Colorado. Many offered to buy him.
The boyfriend? He went bye-bye.
In 2002 at age 28, although properly vaccinated, Imp came down with the West Nile Virus after a booster. Weeks and many intravenous treatments later, he recovered.
Then one night a few days later, Imp got cast in his stall. "Cast" is when a horse rolls up so close to the stall wall that it cannot straighten its legs to stand. Many horses panic in this situation. Imp must have struggled all night; he was discovered the next morning, on his side, dripping in cold sweat. We rolled him over to free his legs. I tugged on the lead line many times, and he tried so hard. We called our vet at the time, but in spite of her valiant care, he could never make it past getting to his knees. Imp had strained that brave old heart.
Our veterinarian cried with me as she put Imp to sleep.
I still cry.
And I am thankful for that trailer wreck.
Triton Emperor, aka: Imp, squires my young son through a walk-trot class at the Greeley Saddle Club, circa 1997.
Joseph Messier did not have death on his mind when he halted on a piece of ground downstream from the military's Camp Collins in 1862. What he did have was an alias, perhaps a little gold in his pockets, and an eye for opportunity.
The hulk fainted
He was fresh from Colorado’s gold rush, which if you knew where to look, could be a very good thing. Joseph had learned another lesson: One should beware of a certain beautiful Native American maiden, especially when there was another man involved. That other man, a hulking mule shoer, had objected. It ended in a duel in Denver, but not in death. The hulk fainted as the combatants faced off, one newspaper reported.
True love it seemed, was not in the cards for this darkly-handsome young bachelor. At least not yet.
Land high enough to stay safe from floods, easy well digging, grass everywhere, and a shallow river crossing for horses.
Joseph surveyed his surroundings. He had first passed through the area in 1860 while traveling with the Captain Reynolds expedition to Yellowstone. Here, along the Poudre River, this place beckoned: land high enough to stay safe from floods, easy well digging, grass everywhere, and a shallow river crossing for horses.
It would make superb farm land, and sitting along the Overland Stage route, the property’s exposure would draw business. If things got really rough, he already had a neighbor: Laroque Bousque, left, another French-Canadian, had settled directly across the river.
The only snag in the plan
The only snag in this plan was the Native American woman who owned the land Joseph wanted. Her husband was dead however, and it could be she was ready to sell out. Joseph's good looks probably helped seal that deal.
"He was six feet in stature, straight and lithe in form. His complexion was tawny, but clear, his eyes were large, full and flashing, and his hair and beard black as jet." - The (Fort Collins) Express newspaper, February 11, 1881
At age 22, he became the proud owner of 160 acres of paradise. Joseph busied himself with the life of a hero, not to mention farming and empire building.
'Torrents of water' plunging like waves
In 1864, the weather got ugly. Winter snows fell deep, and spring melts flooded the lowlands. On June 9th, a rain storm sent torrents of water “plunging like the waves of the sea under the impulse of a gale”, according to Ansel Watrous, the area’s premier historian, left, from whom much of this tale emerged. Camp Collins, the military outpost a few miles up the river from Joseph’s claim, was instantly flooded to the tent rooftops, and soldiers barely escaped with their lives.
Joseph told the bedraggled crew they should move what was left of their camp to a spot south of the river, on his east border. It was high enough to protect from floods, and provide early warning in case any Native Americans, angry over being pushed out by the United States government, attacked. In a letter endorsed by Abraham Lincoln, the acting interior secretary ordered the move, specifically noting Joseph's claim. Perhaps as a thank you, Camp Collins named Joseph and his partner as sutlers (suppliers) to the new outpost. It could also be that Joseph spied an opportunity to attract new customers when he became the first postmaster a year later.
Into the horse business
Camp Collins did not last long, and was abandoned by soldiers in 1866. Ripples of the Homestead Act of 1862, which offered free land to settlers, had finally reached the Colorado Territory and Fort Collins. With Colorado’s 1876 statehood looming, the government threw open the camp property to pre-existing squatters and local entrepreneurs. Joseph, well into breeding and selling horses, in fact, well into any kind of horse-propelled business he could think of, had sold his farm to Henry Forbes, and moved on to acquiring more land, as well as putting Fort Collins on the map.
Love at last
In all the excitement, Joseph finally made room in his life for love. It could have been a fried chicken dinner or a breakfast of pork chops and eggs. We don’t know, but in 1867, while on a freight trip, Joseph discovered the superb cooking and companionship of young Luella, 10 years his junior. Luella worked for her father at his hotel on the Overland Trail in Longmont. The two were married in 1870, the second marriage in Fort Collins' history. In due course, Luella bore Joseph four children.
Sheriff on the hunt
The years saw Joseph’s star on the rise, especially his sheriff's star. Not limiting his politics to launching the Colorado Central Railroad Company, or convincing the populace to make Fort Collins the county seat, Joseph agreed to be the first county sheriff. He distinguished himself with bravery, especially in the matter of chasing down the woman-molester, Happy Jack, who after jail time, escape, and lengthy pursuit, mysteriously “disappeared”.
Newspapers followed the pursuits of Joseph’s trotting horses, and a particular horse “Sam” turned heads, sending one writer "busted and disgusted" out of Boulder, Colorado. In other horse pursuits, Joseph’s stage line to Cheyenne wooed customers with advertisements for convenient pick up at local hotels, and the newspaper and family documents duly noted his new livery sign and hay sales.
At one point Joseph paid the highest taxes of anybody in the county. Perhaps he needed a feed store for all of his livestock when he bought what is today Ranch-Way Feeds from Auntie Stone.
50 acres to start a university
Besides helping others get a start in the bustling metropolis of Fort Collins, with an 1878 population of 1,200, Joseph performed an immense act of generosity and donated 50 acres to help build what is today Colorado State University.
If Joseph had planned a career as a pioneer hero, he couldn't have asked for more. But Joseph never expected what happened February 9, 1881.
The horse balked
Coming home from a visit with an ill Mr. Sherwood, who owned land east of Fort Collins, a young horse brought Joseph and Luella's carriage to a halt, refusing to cross the Dry Creek stream. Luella jumped out and urged the team across the stream. Still the young horse balked. Luella returned to the carriage, took over the reins, and Joseph jumped down. He pulled on the problem animal's headstall. The team began to move. As the horses picked up speed, Joseph ran along.
If you know horses, you know that running over rough ground with a horse in tow is difficult. Joseph stumbled and fell.
Luella and her mother halted the team and turned back to Joseph. He lay still. The women went to his side and found him unconscious. With the help of bystanders, they loaded him into the carriage and bore Joseph home.
62 shards of skull
When they laid him down, they discovered the worst: Joseph had been kicked in the head.
“... the fracture was nearly the shape of a horse shoe, one heel calk cutting through the skull just back of the right eyebrow, and the other in a direct line back of the ear: the arc of the shoe extended from those points to a point a little above the turn of the head, or above the temporal bone.” -- Fort Collins Courier, February 17, 1881
Joseph swung in and out of consciousness. Local doctors pulled 62 shards of skull out of the wound. Joseph’s partner frantically summoned Denver specialists by train, but could not get permission for a special train run because the railroad owner was on vacation. Those who loved Joseph gathered round. At one point he rose and recognized friends and family. He was able to sign his will, but could last no longer. Joseph died February 11, 1881 at age 41. He left behind Luella and their small children.
Lost: The Father of Fort Collins
At Joseph’s funeral, citizens packed the church and poured out into the street. The population of Fort Collins, now 1,356 people give or take a few, produced a procession of mourners a half mile long. We had lost the Father of Fort Collins.
"Joe … was entirely devoted to the interests of Fort Collins and Larimer County. He was always ready to help newcomers get a start here - he would lend them money, fit them out with teams to till the soil, and assist them in a hundred ways,” reported the Fort Collins Express. “’He never thought of Joe,’ said an old friend of his … 'but always of somebody else.’”
If you ask most people today about the French-Canadian named Joseph Messier, they will probably shake their heads. You see, Joseph changed his name when he came to this country. We knew him as Joseph Mason.
Joseph Mason’s grave was relocated in the great 1887 local cemetery move to Grand View Cemetery. The people I've run into in Fort Collins look blank when you mention Joseph Mason. I guess we've pretty much forgotten him, but Wikipedia remembers the Father of Fort Collins. At least we named a street after him. When you ride Fort Collin's new MAX rapid-transit system, look out the window. You are on Mason Street.
Found: The original farm
Joseph’s original farm, the heart of that river parcel he bought more than 150 years ago, exists today at our place, 930 N. Shields St.
A little Googling of Shields Street history will give you your first historic clue with a mention of Joseph Mason and Shields Street. Alvina Desjardins, the granddaughter of Joseph's neighbor, Laroque Bousque, more famously known as Rock Bush, remembered the property, which "bordered Bush's to the south" in an article she wrote for the April 13, 1987 Fence Post. Rock Bush's farm location is backed up by the 1915 map of the Irrigated Farms of Colorado. (Note: The specific map link, Northwest Quarter -- Townships 6-9 North, Ranges 66W - 69W;, will not load on computers low in RAM.) Joseph Mason and Rock Bush lived in Section 2 of Township 7, Range 69W. When the map was made, a Mr. Kenedy owned our place. To get your bearings, look for T.7N. on the left margin of the map, head right a little bit and stop at the intersection of the Poudre River and Shields Street.
Old red clay irrigation tile pieces are part of a line running to our apple trees, and hint at many more secrets still to be unraveled.
Ansel Watrous references Joseph's farm location in his book, "The History of Larimer County" (p. 320), as well as Joseph's sale of the land to Henry Forbes (p. 216). Ansel would have first-hand knowledge of the property, as his uncle, William Watrous, owned the property for many years, as well. If you use government land ordinance records to look up Henry Forbes, you can see the property on yet another digital map, and you can find Rock Bush's parcel across the river. Joseph's property location is also noted in the Fort Collins History Connection.
In the crosshairs
Fort Collins has spread, and Joseph's farm has shrunk to 19-and-a-half acres. The City of Fort Collins owns much of the former acreage in the form of Martinez Park, city offices and the city yard, which houses its big-truck, big-construction resources.
If you are walking or driving by, look for the farm at the southeast corner of the Poudre River and North Shields Street. Up the bluff above the river, many of the old buildings peek out. Once the Twin Willows Tea Room, with an old tale all its own, the farm is today Poudre River Stables, where people live daily the fabric of history that Joseph Mason first wove – a love of horses, haying, the harvest, and the land.
Horses grazing in the pasture, Poudre River Stables, Fort Collins, Colorado.
A sunset view of our old red barn - Poudre River Stables - original farm - Father of Fort Collins - Joseph Mason.
Rummaging around second-hand stores on a recent trip to McClelland's Beach, Spirit Lake, Iowa, I found these great old postcards from 1908 and 1909 that illustrate how important horses were back then. You won't find an automobile in sight. You could mail a card for a penny. One of the messages is in a language other than English. Can you translate it?
Stories like this remind me that there is still hope for humanity (even politicians). Madison did not give up on pulling horses out of the flames until the smoke hung so low that she could not even crawl into the burning building.
"There is something about the outside of a horse that is good for the inside of a man."
~ Winston Churchill
“Come on boy, come on.” I whispered into Magic’s ear, which was twitching with eagerness. I laid a hand on the Thoroughbred’s glossy neck. I had to force myself not to get distracted by all the things around me, and my job was very hard. The calm breeze toying with the branches, the light pounding of Magic’s hooves on the sandy ground, the heavy breathing that was pushing in and out of my mouth. Magic’s silky and sweaty fur felt smooth under my body, I felt like I was almost about to slip off, but I found enough to grip to that I was just staying on, the feeling was amazing. I was riding Magic bareback round and round the arena, and everything was perfect, I felt like I was flying, just me and Magic, one with each other and one with air.
“Sit the trot!” my trainer shouted. Oh great, I thought crossly, sitting the trot was my sore spot, and it was just the thing to ruin this perfect feeling. Oh well, I thought, just keep your heels down, sit up straight, and stay calm, it’ll be fine. As soon as I stopped posting, I bounced around like a bag of jelly beans. I must have done something wrong, which is what I usually did, because I wasn’t that good of a rider yet. Magic suddenly started cantering! As I struggled to slow him down and make him stop, I also struggled to hold on. I felt my confident moment of just flying around the arena slip away, and when I fell, I hoped, really hoped, that I could just get back up as if nothing happened at all.
Blackness, dark, inky blackness. Everything was blurry, like the water color painting I made in preschool, the one that I added WAY too much water to. My trainer ran faster than a horse in the Kentucky Derby; when she reached my crumple body, she bent over me in concern. I stood up slowly and as I did, I felt a fiery pain in my right arm, I struggle not to cry, everything about this was pain, extreme
On Easter Sunday, Gregg and I took another shot at getting Hobbes to go solo in our two-horse, straight-load, bumper-pull trailer. Hobbes is fine in our three-horse-slant gooseneck -- when he is with his friend, my Morgan gelding, Dell, but you can forget the two-horse trailer alone.
Contrary to Hobbes, I believe every horse should learn to travel solo in whatever carrier you choose. They might need to make an emergency run to the vet, go to a horse show alone, or live life without their friend.
It took hours of “friend” Dell loading by example, “friend” Dell standing nearby for moral support, the two of us reviewing Hobbes’ halter drills, backing, pivoting, giving any part of the body to pressure, and a turf-ownership review in the round pen. We punctuated the halter drills with attempted load-ups that promised grain at the end of the tunnel. Whenever Hobbes did something naughty his way, we assigned him another job our way. Hobbes reacts violently to the presence of whips, so force is not an option.
Hobbes’ real name is Sixes Daredevil, which as the story goes, he earned after jumping off a loading dock as a weanling. I wonder if this had something to do with his attitude toward the two-horse trailer, but we will never know.
As the sun began to pass overhead, Hobbes crept into the trailer. He “whoa’d” for our prescribed amounts of time, and backed out on command. Ten seconds, 20 seconds, 30 seconds: When Hobbes could load and whoa for at least a minute, we shut the back gate, started the truck, and took him for a spin – a nice, slow, peaceful spin.
“You know, working with horses,” said Gregg as we drove home, “it’s like, different than owning a cat.”
Speaking of cats, we found our cat dead under the bed on Good Friday. No kidding. Spanky didn’t like to travel solo, either.
I cannot remember a barn cat before this little gray tabby, who wandered in to our workshop one February day more than 15 years ago. She was all ribs and had a blind, milky left eye. A client veterinarian blamed the eye on a fight. I could imagine other animals picking on this fistful of fur.
Spanky aced her barn cat job and dispatched many a mouse, but the next winter, she again pulled the pitiful card on a single-digit February day, and moved into our house. Spanky would still visit the barn as a volunteer, but preferred to spend her time as bed-lounger, confidant to my daughter, and oh yes, queen of the dogs.
As I said, Spanky didn’t like to travel either, and she outdid Hobbes in this department. Spanky would turn into a crazed maniac if you tried to put her in a carrier. Even if you wore gloves, you were in mortal danger because Spanky could wiggle out of any wrapped towel, knew exactly where to look for exposed skin, and didn’t care if it was your face or your neck. We learned to bring the vet and meds to her.
Spanky now rests under a rose bush. One little life passes, and another steps into the future.
Oh, and on working horses v. owning cats:
It’s a good thing cats don’t weigh 1,200 pounds.
They both like their faces scratched, just there, along the cheekbone.
At 7:40 a.m. Sunday, the phone rang. This found me staggering around in my attractive fuzzy pink bathrobe and coordinating flannel jammies, groggy after yesterday’s goat-pen moving, hay moving, and 4-H mounted meeting. I needed something clean from the closet or semi-clean from the dirty laundry pile. I picked up the phone.
“Uh, yeah, this is Hank. I’m out here by the black Suburban. (The car at the house in front of ours.) Where do I go?”
“Yeah, Hank the (new) hay guy.”
“Oh,” I said, thinking fast. “Uh. OK. I’ll be right there.”
I tried to wrap my head around the fact that Hank wasn’t due until 10:15 that morning. Throwing on jeans and slip-on muckers, I went outside to meet Hank, a nice Colorado State University (CSU) student majoring in agricultural business with a family hay operation waiting for him. Unfortunately, I later learned, Hank is allergic to alfalfa.
“Uh, I thought you were coming at 10:15,” I said, introducing myself and shaking his hand.
“No,” said Hank. “I said 7:15, so I could get to church too.” I noticed that Hank needed to work on enunciating “seven” and “ten”.
“So,” he said, “I take it the boys you were going to get aren’t here.”
“No, and my kids don’t even know I’m out here,” I said.
We looked at each other.
“I’ll take the front, you take the back,” he said. We began flinging bales off the side of the trailer next to the hay barn. Thirty-five minutes later, I tossed Hank a check, ran inside, threw on church clothes and instructed my son not to break any laws, but to push the envelope driving us to church.
Sirens started to wail behind us. Pale, my son pulled over, coincidentally just in front of Hank the Hay Guy, who waved us over as we pulled ahead of him.
The sirens faded. My son heaved a sigh of relief. I ran back to Hank. I guess my math isn’t so good in the morning. I had shorted him about $200. I told Hank I’d pay him the rest when he brought another sample bale later that day.
I got back in my car. My son stepped on the accelerator, and we made it to church with three minutes to spare, me breathing heavily and, after 236 bales in 35 minutes, “glowing” nicely.
Church ended with only a few botched musical moments, and my children and I looked for somewhere to eat. I am not a pretty sight when I’ve tossed hay and played music on an empty stomach. I needed food -- now. Sadly, the restaurant we chose had a new computer system and one new operator, not doing well. This put the wait for food at about an hour. We did get a lot of free stuff while we waited.
The three of us finally made it home with my children looking forward to their six hours of homework (you gotta love the high school Advanced Placement track), and me looking at (finally) doing invoices.
The red light on the answering machine greeted us. The last time that light was on after church, I learned that my old gelding, weakened by a battle with West Nile, was fatally cast in his stall, about to die of heart failure.
A client’s voice filled the kitchen. She’d had a phone message from another client that there’d been an “incident” with her own horse. The vet had apparently come (thank you!), and hey, what else did I know?
Stepping outside in my slick black sandals, church-ly conservative slacks and blouse, I investigated. Turns out the injured horse, a handsome fellow, had managed to flip over at the hitching rail, throw his front legs over the lead line, hang there, and generally tear himself up. As I unraveled the story, my son strode toward me.
“Mom, I think there’s an ambulance at the end of the driveway.”
I ran down the driveway, and looking for bodies strewn around; I found instead two fire trucks. Not having heard from us for a while, the injured horse’s owner, also a firefighter, brought two trucks and the squad to check on him. The horse stood in his pen, legs bandaged more for swelling than anything else, with a couple of stitches in his elbow and eyebrow.
Next, a strange (not weird, just unknown) young man strolled up and joined our gaggle of concerned humans. The boy was a sophomore animal science major at CSU, and had just bought one of the Paints at yesterday’s dispersal auction of a big local herd. Do I have any vacancies NOW, he asked? He was actually very polite and shy.
A quick confirmation call, and the answer was, unfortunately, “no”. A client’s sister planned to lease her horse to a friend and it was due to arrive any day. The poor guy looked very sad, but I put him on the waiting list.
Now at day’s end, after some reflection, and phone calls back and forth, I have decided to purchase Mr. Frankenstein-horse. I think he is a nice mover, very athletic. Very showy.
I hope this explains the blood on the pavement, the bandaged, bruised horse in sick bay, ownership changes, sirens, fire trucks, expected arrivals, and hay everywhere. Have a great evening!
(Who said owning a stable was easy? The preceding is an email – all names changed – that went out to our stable clients several years ago.)
On a road trip to McClelland’s Beach, Iowa, I made a sudden left at Oakland, Nebraska. The turn was enough of a surprise to leave Gregg grabbing at the hand grip above his door.
In my defense, Gregg did say he wanted to stretch his legs, and personally, I think serendipity was at work.
We turned again at a little park, and there in the middle of farm country, which rarely wastes space on horses, we found a woman, two horses, a dog, a trail-riding saddle, and a pack saddle. The little group was on a grazing break from their ride, which started in Austin, Texas. You read that right, Austin, Texas, 913 miles away.
Meet Bernice Ende, lady long rider.
To be technical about it, Bernice started in Montana, many years ago. This is her fourth loop around the country with her horses and dog, Claire.
A classical ballet teacher who also rides, Bernice came to a turning point in 2005, and decided if not now, when? She saddled up and headed out, leaving everything behind. Well, OK, except for the website dedicated to her efforts, www.endeofthetrail.com.
Bernice is not alone in this kind of quest. Check out the Long Riders’ Guild, www.thelongridersguild.com, a group of “equestrian explorers”.
Putting in 20 or so miles a day, you do get a chance to see the country in a way you’ll never experience by car. “I take as many back roads as I possibly can, a lot of power line roads, railroad-track roads, forest service roads,” says Bernice.
Claire, and Essie Pearl, the Norwegian Fjord pack horse, have been with Bernice for 15,000 miles. Don't worry about Claire’s poor little dog pads. Claire did most of those 15,000 miles riding in a box on top of Essie Pearl’s pack.
Bernice pays special attention to the horses’ feet, too. They are shod with cleats that give them special traction and make their shoes last a long time. When the horses need a trim, Bernice pulls the shoes and resets them herself.
Bugs are the worst problem, and Bernice fights back with custom-cut bed sheets, customized fly masks, as well as garlic juice and Bag Balm “lathered all over their legs”. Personally, Bernice allows herself the luxury of the Tucker saddle, provided by the company, which she says has done a great job.
The Ende team suffered a heart-rending setback several months ago in Austin when penned together, Essie Pearl kicked Bernice’s veteran mount, a Thoroughbred mare, and broke the horse’s leg. The Thoroughbred had to be put down. Well-wishers stepped forward to offer Bernice many mounts, and she picked Hart, the big Paint. Hart is green, but says Bernice, “by the time I get back to Montana, Hart’ll be broke.”
Riding tens of thousands of miles requires hands-on horsemanship skills, and Bernice credits 4-H with teaching her the important stuff.
“4-H is not just an organization. It is an American tradition. It takes the study of something and makes it applicable,” said Bernice. “It was instrumental in giving me the wherewithal to know how to do this.”
Bernice is in it for the long ride, and the lessons from the road. If she ever wrote a book (“I’ll get around to that some day.”), it would be about the “lessons of devotion and lessons of respect”, she learned through the special bond with her horses. “Respect yourself, and they will respect you,” says Bernice. “They’ll only trust you as much as you can trust yourself.”
The horses will occasionally lie down next to Bernice. Once, the Thoroughbred mare protected her from two hostile dogs. “She put her ears up and her head down, and just circled around me,” said Bernice.
Bernice dedicates all her rides to her mother, Cornelia Ende, who taught her daughter, “Live your life to inspire others, and you too shall be inspired.”"L
The people Bernice meets prove the truth of her mother’s words. “I just meet really good, kind people,” says Bernice. “If there’s a message in all this, it’s the goodness in our country. It’s an absolute miracle.”
If she happens to be in your town, Bernice does talks for pass-the-hat donations. You can check her website, mentioned above, for updates, or contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
(Special thanks to Gregg Doster, who took the photos for this story.)