If you love trail riding and have ever dreamed of an epic ride, then The Long Rider, a new documentary feature film now in theatres, is your jam. The film, directed by award-winning filmmaker Sean Cisterna, follows Filipe Masetti Leite, who leaves his adoptive home of Canada as he sets out on quest to ride from Calgary to his family’s home in Brazil ‒ and later beyond ‒ entirely on horseback.
Filipe was inspired by Aimé Tschiffely’s 1925 equestrian journey from Argentina to New York. Filipe’s own odyssey took him and his horses eight years and over 25,000 kms across twelve international borders, where the young rider battled intense heat, drought, speeding transport trucks, nature’s wrath and corrupt border guards on his history-making long ride home.
Culled from over 500 hours of never-before-seen footage, The Long Rider deals with the issue of chronic loneliness, and the insensitive and restrictive nature of international borders, but is above all an inspirational and emotional story of the most daring and epic proportions.
Horse-Canada.com spoke with Filipe, who has written two best-selling books about his adventures on horseback, about his incredible ride.
HORSE CANADA: Our first question is why? What compelled you to ride 25,000 km?
Filipe Masetti Leite: The desire to see the Americas at four km an hour and thirty kms a day and to connect with nature and horses in a deeper way. And to share it all as a journalist. While I read the book Tschiffely’s Ride over and over again, I saw an opportunity to really experience the culture of all of the countries a long rider crosses while also building a bond very few people will ever get to experience with their horses. Ultimately, it was like every cell in my body was telling me that this was the time to live my dream!
HC: How much riding experience did you have before you began your ride?
FML: I was on a horse before I could even walk with my old man. In high school I started tie-down roping and made it to the National High School Finals two years in a row. But I had never travelled with a horse before. I contacted the Long Riders Guild and they put me in touch with long riders around the world who helped me get ready for the journey. I also went to Stan Walchuk’s wilderness riding clinic in northern BC before my ride to learn how to pack and camp with horses.
HC: Talk about the structure of the trip.
FML: It took me 803 days to complete my ride from Calgary to Brazil. It took me eight years to become the youngest person in the world to cross the Americas from Alaska to Ushuaia, Argentina, on three different journeys:
- 1 – Calgary, Canada to Barretos, Brazil. July 8, 2012 – September 13, 2014
- 2 – Brazil to Ushuia, Argentina. April 10, 2016 – July 8, 2017
- 3 – Alaska to Calgary, Alberta. May 17, 2019 – July 3, 2020
I took about 18 months to plan each different journey.
HC: How did you set up the journey in order to ensure your horses were fed and had water and rest?
FML: Every day I had to find water, feed and a place for my animals to rest. Finding water was always the biggest challenge, especially in the desert regions I crossed like Wyoming, the Chihuahuan Desert and Patagonia.
HC: What special training did you do with your horses?
FML: I had to train them to carry the pack saddle, feel comfortable next to roads while cars flew by and also get them comfortable to ponying another animal. The second part was getting them into shape! I started working with them slowly to build up to the 30 km we travelled daily.
HC: Did Dude, Bruiser, and Frenchie all make the entire journey? What type of horses are they, and how old were they at the start of the journey?
FML: Dude is a Mustang and Frenchie and Bruiser are Quarter Horses. They were the horses I rode from Canada to Brazil. I retired them at my family’s ranch near Sao Paulo. On my other two long rides I rode a different horse in each country. It’s becoming impossible to cross borders with the same horses.
HC: Looking at the film it would seem you had more than your share of danger and injury. What was the scariest moment for you? And what was the most exhilarating/special?
FML: The scariest moment was in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, when the owner of the house I was staying in tried to kill his wife with five gunshots. I was the only person staying there at that moment… I didn’t know if he had killed her and if he would come to kill me next, as I was a witness.
The most special was meeting my fiancé in Patagonia, Argentina. I rode up to her house, asked for help and her parents hosted me for a few days like thousands of families along the way. We fell in love!
HC: What surprised you most about the journey?
FML: By far it was the way I was welcomed into homes from Alaska to Ushuaia! This journey showed me that 99.9 percent of people are good! And that we are all inherently the same. I ate dinner with politicians, drug lords, ranch hands… you start to see that although our flags, skin colour and religion may change, we all just want to love and be loved. I also learned that the horse is a common language that breaks down borders.
HC: Do you feel that being with horses helped generate goodwill on the road more than had you been running, cycling, driving, or hitchhiking?
FML: Yes, 100 percent! All of the doors that were opened for me were thanks to my horses. A drug lord in Honduras who hosted me in his mansion for three days only did so because he loved horses! Because you travel so slowly and require so much help to find water, feed, a corral for the horses, it also makes you knock on strangers’ doors daily. You can’t just travel 800 km to the next hotel.
HC: You’ve written two books about the ride, and now there’s the documentary. What do you hope sharing your journey will do for your audience?
FML: I hope to shake people up and make them realize that we are the architects to our lives! If you have a dream, a goal, a project, it may seem impossible right now, but if you are willing to work for it with your heart, soul, your everything, absolutely nothing is impossible. The hardest part is putting the fear aside and taking that first step. I want people to take that step!
I also hope to inspire more people to ride horses and connect to the natural world.
HC: The film and books reference your life falling apart, without giving anything away, what happened and are you okay now?
FML: When I finished my first long ride from Canada to Brazil I had symptoms of PTSD. Depression, anxiety, recurring nightmares… The horses were my therapy. The horses saved my life.
HC: The idea of being an adventurer or explorer has an old fashion romantic connotation to it – would you describe yourself that way?
FML: There is nothing romantic about what I have done. It’s like going to war. Every day you are pushed to your limit, especially mentally! I would describe myself as an adventurer who loves sharing stories. I am a completely different person after this journey. I am much stronger spiritually and mentally. I am more patient. I know the value of simple things. I don’t find happiness in material things.
HC: What is next for you and your horses?
FML: I am going to release my third book Last Long Ride on my journey from Alaska to Calgary. We are touring with the documentary to different festivals around the world and next year begin shooting a motion picture based on my first book Long Ride Home. I am also working on a travel show where I show culture through the horse and western heritage.
Watch the trailer here:
The Long Rider will stream on Amazon Prime Canada and Super Channel in October, 2022. Filipe Masetti Leite’s first two books, Long Ride Home and Long Ride to the End of the World are available at Amazon and other retailers.