Filipe Leite can talk the talk and walk the walk, or rather trot the trot.
The 27-year-old Brazilian is heading home to Sao Paulo, Brazil, the finish line of his 16,000 kilometre road trip on horseback. On July 8, 2012, he was given permission from organizers to start his journey at the 100th Calgary Stampede.
With the help of his two quarter horses Bruiser and Frenchie, Leite has travelled through the United States, Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua. He currently resides in Costa Rica, and anticipates reaching Sao Paolo sometime in May 2014.
This grand adventure has been a dream of Leite’s since he was a child.
When he was a young boy, Leite’s father, Luis, read him the story of Aime Tschiffely , a man who road horseback from Argentina to New York in 1925. This not-so small feat was the fuel behind Leite’s personal road trip across continents.
“This story has been something I’ve thought about my whole life,” Leite said. “It was always in the back of my head and I knew for a long time that I wanted to do this. I think the best part of this whole experience is that I’m living my dream. I’m not just thinking about Aime Tschiffely anymore because I’m creating my own story.”
His father played a valuable role in encouraging Leite to follow his dreams. Ironically, Luis had imagined himself following in the footsteps of Aime Tschiffely first.
“I heard the story from my father and for a long time it was my dream to have a journey like this,” Luis said. “I love horses but life just got so busy. I started a family very young, and I was committed to my family, so it was hard to achieve my dream after that.”
Despite not being able to have his own 16,000 kilometre adventure, Luis rode with Leite through most of Mexico. Luis said he feels like Leite is living this dream for both of them.
“I never thought he would actually do it, but I am very glad he did. I am truly loving each mile of this journey like it was my own,” Luis said. “I am very happy he is following his dream and that I get to live it through him.”
Leite was born in Brazil but moved with his family to Canada when he was 10. The family then moved back to Brazil when Leite was 17 and finally, he came back to Canada to study journalism at Ryerson University.
After graduation, Leite said there was “something strong pushing me to ride back home”.
One can only imagine the amount of planning put into an endeavour as large sale as this. Packing the whole family into the minivan for a summer trip to Florida is equivalent to a Saturday afternoon trip to the mall when compared to Leite’s travels. Leite cited the longridersguild.com as a particularly helpful source when planning his trip. The website is a tribute to all things relate to equestrian exploration.
“I started going on their website years ago and I remember reading stories about people who were travelling by horseback,” Leite said. “So it really got me thinking ‘is this still possible?’, ‘could I actually do this?’, and after an extensive amount of reading the idea started to become a reality.”
Approximately a year and a half before he took his first steps out of the stampede grounds in Calgary, Leite decided to put he dreams into motion.
“I felt like if I didn’t start taking it seriously at that point in my life, then I would never do it,” he said.
One of the most daunting tasks for Leite was finding a sponsor for this trip. Trying to win over a business with the words: horseback ride, presented a lot of challenges for Leite. However, as someone fresh out of university with no budget for a road trip this grand, it was extremely important for Leite to find a sponsor.
The work never ended when he would get home from his job. After contacting dozens of companies and receiving many closed doors, things were looking bleak for Leite.
“Two months before I was supposed to leave, I still hadn’t heard back from anyone. I was starting to get a little worried but then it was like the universe just opened its doors for me,” Leite said. “I guess it was testing me to see if I really wanted to do it. Through Twitter I got a production company in Nashville to buy the project.”
OutwildTV is the company that saw the potential in Leite’s dream. They are his main sponsor and Leite uses to the money they give him to support his main costs including food for himself and the horses and hospitality. Along with Outwild TV, Leite also received a valuable contribution from two ranches in Montana, who provided him with his two quarter horses, Frenchie and Bruiser.
Although finding a sponsor was exhausting, the hard work was just beginning.
A road trip of this magnitude would be a difficult test travelling in a vehicle, exchanging motorized wheels for horses multiplies all aspects of the trip. The journey is twice as long, and Leite needs to find food for himself as well as his two other companions.
Although many would assume weather or language barriers would be the hardest part of the trip, Leite confirms that the horses and their health has been his biggest concern.
“This is a really hard trip on them. Their health always comes first to me,” Leite said. “It’s like taking care of children. It’s completely different than travelling by bike or vehicle because at the end of the day you can just put down your bike or get out of your vehicle and go to bed. But with this trip the work doesn’t stop when the day is over, in fact the real work starts then. I have to find shelter, and water and feed for the horses. The heat is just crazy so we wake up at 4 o’clock in the morning to start riding so we can end the day early.”
The basic care of an animal would be enough to keep one busy on a journey like this, but there have been other incidents with the horses to really test Leite.
In New Mexico, Bruiser fell into a ditch and it took Leite an hour and a half to get him out.
Frenchie was hit by a truck in Mexico, an event that Leite said was the worst moment of his trip so far.
It’s as though each day is its own mini journey, but Leite wouldn’t want it any other way. Without the horses, the trip would be a subpar adventure compared to his idol Tschiffley. It would be a watered down version of his dream.
His route to Brazil has also been a difficult challenge.
The cowboy has navigated his way through backcountry trails and busy highways with each course presenting pros and cons.
The trails are a much safer ride for the horses, however, it takes much more time and interaction with civilization is scarce. The highways are more direct and quicker, but riding a horse with a transport truck speeding past is not ideal.
Leite said his route has definitely been unconventional.
And although the horses are good company, Leite has been fortunate enough to have his girlfriend Emma Brazier join him for much of the trip.
Brazier, 23, met Leite at university and knew the moment he decided to really tackle this epic journey that there was no turning back and she wanted to be there with him.
She was there to see him off in Calgary and travelled with him a few months later in the United States. Brazier returned back to Canada for a bit and then flew Nicaragua, the starting point of her own personal adventure since she hopes to stay with Leite all the way to Brazil.
Like Leite, Brazier shares concern for the horses health as well.
“The toughest part is definitely seeing the horses in any kind of trouble or pain,” she said. “You feel helpless and so sorry for them when something like that happens.”
However, these events along with the general travel have all compiled as an amazing learning experience.
Brazier said her time of this trip has been invaluable and will always be a contributing factor to her personal growth as well as her relationship with Leite.
“Filipe and I have both grown so much both individually and together. That’s the one thing that I can say I’m most proud to take away from this trip, is how much our relationship has developed and become stronger,” Brazier said. “Needless to say we have a lot of incredible memories. It’s so much fun for us to relax after a long days work and have a beer and laugh about our experiences both good and bad.”
And, at the end of the day, as long as Leite and the horses are safe, the good far outweighs the bad.
In Mexico, Leite was given a third horse by two locals. Dude, an Indian Mustang, has been very helpful with regards to carrying loads as well as Leite himself.
Leite has met many exceptional people and been lucky enough to inspire others as well as be inspired by those he meets along his travels.
One of Leite’s favourite moments so far was his travels through Honduras.
At first Leite was very sceptical of the country considering the dangerous reputation it has acquired.
“It’s the most dangerous country in the Americas,” he said. “They have the most murders per capita. The drug war has completely taken over the country, so I was pretty nervous to ride through on horseback.”
A run in with a few drug lords upon entering Honduras really caught Leite off guard with their warm hospitality. The men snuck Leite into the mountains and provided him with a place to sleep as well as amenities for the horses.
“I was thinking ‘the drug lords are helping me, this can’t be good’, but the people there were so friendly,” he said. “I don’t want to say they were the nicest people I’ve met on my trip because I’ve been lucky enough to meet some very selfless people, but they completely changed my view of the country. It was so amazing to see. Their level of hospitality was beyond what I would expect anywhere.”
Leite said their value of life was very different than what the Western culture is accustomed to. He saw many people living in small sheds for homes, travelling by horseback, fetching just enough food and water for the day. Too many people this would be a vision of poverty, but Leite said their lives were rich in simplicity.
“If a local only had one chicken, they would butcher it and give it to me for food,” he said. “They wanted me to have the best impression of their country.”
However, of all the things the Hondurans did for Leite, the most memorable gift was during one of his many rides through the country.
Leite had met a bunch of locals at a ranch and was getting ready to travel onward. As he and his horses are making their way out of the town, a group of Hondurans began to walk towards him. Several of the locals had put together a parade for Leite complete with both the Honduras and Brazil flags. Kids from the nearby school had organized the event complete with a band and stilt walkers.
“I started crying. I was so emotional,” he said. “I couldn’t think of why they would do this for a stranger just riding through. They were just so happy to host me. They feel like their country has a bad rep due to the media and events in their country, but they were just so happy to have someone actually stay with them and see their life.”
One person who is very happy that things didn’t turn sour in Honduras is Leite’s mother Claudia.
As a parents, no matter how old a child is, the worry never goes away.
“My biggest concern is the other people,” she said. “He is travelling through some unsafe areas and I’m always worried about him getting robbed or shot. To be honest though, I’m concerned about everything. What is he eating? Where is he sleeping? Is he cold? Is he said? The concerns never end.”
However, as someone who has known Leite his entire life, Claudia believes Leite is the perfect person for a journey as grand as this one.
“He is a very hardworking person and a very determined human being. When he wants one thing, he goes for that,” Claudia said. “He is a dreamer. He wants to change the world and as a journalist he hopes to have the power to do that through his writing and his travels through the poor and dangerous counties.”
The journey is just the tagline for Leite’s story. He hopes through his adventures that he will be able to expose the countries he visits, not in a negative way, but to show people there is a lot of good amongst the bad.
Leite’s plan is to write a book about his travels and OutwildTV will create a documentary about his journey.
When he reaches Brazil, the horses will be given a much deserved early retirement.
Through all the stories, scary moments, and exhausting days, the main point of Leite’s journey is to follow his dream.
“We’re not robots. We’re humans with hearts and we should face our fears and live out our dreams no matter how wacky they may seem,” Leite said. “I hope this inspires other people and younger generations that they don’t need to feel pressured to graduate school, get a job, and start working. It’s not crazy to want to leave your life behind and see the world.”