Filipe Masetti Leiti Rode a Horse 16,000 Miles. This is What he Learned.
“I’d never ridden more than 3 kilometers.” That’s what author, filmmaker, and Long Rider Filipe Masetti told me after riding 16,000 miles across North and South America. That quote will give you hope you can do whatever you’re dreaming of doing.
Interview With Filipe Masette Leite
A while back, I had the pleasure of interviewing Filipe. In addition to being a fine horseman, writer and filmmaker, he’s got a damn amusing way of sharing his story in an informative way. I love the part of the interview where he says, “There is no relaxing. When you sleep, you sleep with your underwear on, your boots on, and you’re ready to run out at any moment in the middle of the night and tend to your animal.”
Filipe also talked about things that apply to our everyday lives, like how he spent two years preparing to take the first physical step of his journey to how his dad taught him to deal with fear, or the “monster”, as Filipe calls it.
You can listen to our conversation by clicking on the audio player below or you can read the transcript below the player.
My Interview with Filipe Masette Leite Interview
The subtitle of your documentary “The Long Rider” is “A Journey of 25,000 kms Starts With a Single Stride”. Tell me how you got to the first step of your extraordinarily long voyage.
Filipe Masetti Leite:
The first step is a big theme in the documentary. The documentary wasn’t just about the actual journey, about going from point a to point B. A big part of it was to inspire other people to take the first step toward whatever they want to do.
It’s so hard to break through, punch through, and get going. I went through it, so I know how hard it is. People around you tell you you won’t be able to do it. You have your own mind telling you that you shouldn’t be doing this.
Our instincts and bodies are wired to keep us safe from when we lived in caves. There were bears that would eat us. And tigers and lions. So fear is an instinct that exists for survival. But once you can silence those voices and put that fear aside, you can do tremendous things.
How did you overcome fear?
My dad played a huge part in helping me overcome fear. When I was a young kid, my dad used to tell me that fear is just a monster that harbors in all minds. And if you can’t shut that monster up, you will not do anything worthwhile with your life.
My dad used to tell me the story of Tschiffely. (Editor’s note: Aimé Tschiffely was the author of “Tschiffely’s Ride”, the account of his riding two horses solo from Argentina to Washington, D.C.) He said that Tschiffely wasn’t scared. That was in the 1920s. Tschiffely crossed all these rivers with crocodiles, got to places where they didn’t even know where Argentina was and climbed the highest mountains. He was able to do it and became a hero to many as a legendary Long Rider.
Growing up in Canada
My dad also instilled this idea in me through example. He was an adventurer, so I grew up listening to stories of my dad as an adventurer. I was born in Brazil, and he took us to Canada when I was nine years old. That was the first time I’d faced adversity in my life. It was a huge moment. The first day I walked into school, it was super scary. I was nine years old and didn’t speak any English. I didn’t know any of the kids, but by the first recess with a soccer ball, I had already made my first friend. And then, in three months, I had learned the language, and in a couple of years, I was in university studying journalism.
That taught me literally that fear is that monster. And if you can put it down and use that adrenaline to push you forward, you can do amazing things. That’s what I used.
Write Down What You Want to Do
What was the first step of your journey?
The first step of my journey wasn’t the physical step of taking off, of getting on the horse and setting off from Calgary. The first step was writing it down. Today I understand how important that was. There are neurological studies that prove that when you write something down, you’re much more likely to live it. For it to become a reality.
So, one day I went on Facebook and wanted to say I was going to take this long ride on a horse. I thought, “What are people going to say? I’m going to be judged. They’re going to call me crazy.”
I put all that aside.
I wrote on Facebook, “I’m going to ride a horse from Canada to Brazil.”
And from that point on, there was accountability. It was a real project. I glued maps on the wall and created my war room. And two years after that, I was taking that literal first step of riding the horse. But, to me, the first step was writing it down.
Tell it to the World
Telling the world what you’re going to do, especially on Facebook, brings on a lot of pressure!
It wasn’t easy. It put on a lot of pressure. I believe that the difference between success and failure is called strategic planning. Luck doesn’t exist. We can all find bad luck on the trail, but I think the chances of you surviving a journey like this is how well you plan it.
Like I said in the film, it was very scary. When I set out that first day, I felt like I had a bowling ball lodged in my throat. I was swallowing the tears back and the fear, but I was ready. I had spent two years talking to Long Riders around the world. (Editor’s note: a Long Rider is a person who has taken a continuous saddle voyage of more than 1,000 miles). I spoke to Long Riders like Bernie Ende, Cuchullaine and Basha O’Reilly, and Bonnie Folkins. Stan Walchuk taught me about packing.
That helped me feel ready and helped me convince the Calgary Stampede to allow me to start my ride at the rodeo.
I hadn’t ridden a single kilometer up that point. But all that preparation helped me convince the Royal Mounted Police to ride out of the Calgary Stamped with me as I started my ride. It helped me line up a pack saddle. Two ranches gave me two quarter horses. A production company in the United States gave me the money and equipment I needed to document and take my trip. All that planning got me ready for that moment.
Don’t Make Excuses to Not Follow a Dream
How did you keep your dream alive?
People often come up to me when I do book signings and say, “I had a dream.” Then they’ll stop and tell me all the reasons they didn’t do it.
I had limitations, problems, and fears. I wasn’t the rich kid. My dad didn’t give me the money to do this. I wasn’t the best Long Rider in the World. I’d never ridden more than three kilometers on a journey. I wasn’t the best journalist. I wasn’t the strongest.
But I took the time to plan, strategize, and speak to the right people. I was never going to give up. And now, I want to show people that, yes, we all have limitations. But don’t use those as excuses to continue living a life that’s not making you happy.
Now I’m going to cut to the other end of the trip. From my experience taking long saddle voyages, everything is exciting when you start a journey. You’ve done all this planning, and things are working out, and, finally, you’re on the road with your mounts.
You’re out six months and then a year. At a certain point, the early excitement wears off, and voyage fatigue creeps in. How did you deal with the long term effects of fatigue on your voyage, which spanned years, not weeks?
That kind of fatigue is the toughest part. People always talk about the physical strength it must have taken, of what kind of incredible strength it took to do a trip like this.
But I’d say 90% of it is mental. It’s a constant battle. The focus you’re talking about is extremely, extremely important. And you start to lose it. It’s inevitable.
Fatigue creeps in. After a year in the saddle, I was still in Southern Mexico. That’s when the enormity of the journey really hit me. I was like, “Oh my God, I’ve been doing this for a year. And I still have more than a year in front of me to get to Brazil!”
I was so tired. I was ready to give up. It takes a certain kind of person to start and finish these kinds of journeys.
The Kind of Person it Takes
What about your upbringing helped you most on this trip?
What got me ready for it was the cowboy culture. The way my dad raised me. He was always testing me. The friends that I was around. Learning how to rope. One time my horse slid and fell on top of my leg, and I had to get back on and finish roping before I went to the hospital to see if my leg was broken.
That may seem tough to people, and it is. It’s the hard knock way of bringing someone up; in cowboy culture, it creates strong people. People that don’t give up. People that are able to focus, even when they’re exhausted.
When soldiers get ready to go to war, they are prepared mentally. They get put through an amount of suffering very few people go through because you need that when things get tough, and there’s bombs blowing up around you. You need to maintain that focus and be ready to go in the battle.
That’s Long Riding to me.
Being a cowboy was the greatest university I could have ever got a degree from. It helped me go from a want-to-be Long Rider to an actual Long Rider.
What were the signs that you were losing your focus because you were getting trip fatigue? For me, on my Long Rides, it was tying crappy knots and having my animals get loose.
The biggest sign for me was exactly what you’re saying, tying bad knots.
I had tied my horse Frenchie like a million times, and then in Southern Mexico, he got loose. He wandered into the road and got hit by a truck. He fell on the pavement and got all cut up on the pavement and needed stitches. I almost lost him, and it took a month to bring him back to health.
But more than physical injuries, he was mentally very affected by it. He was very scared and didn’t want to eat by himself. That was a huge moment for me. Like I said in the film, you have to be on top of your horses 24 hours a day.
There is no Relaxing
There is no relaxing. When you sleep, you sleep with your underwear on, your boots on, and you’re ready to run out at any moment in the middle of the night and tend to your animals.
You always have to pay attention. That means not putting your saddle pad on top of a piece of hay on your horse’s back when you’re saddling it. Because if you do, all of a sudden, at the end of the day, you’ll have a saddle sore. And that sore, which only took a day to develop, will take a month to heal, so that horse is ready to go again.
The biggest telltale sign I overlooked was when Frenchie got loose. I should have been watching him. I was talking to the owner of a restaurant, and it almost cost his life. So after that, you can bet your butt that I was trying to stay focused.
So how did Frenchie come loose?
He was one of those horses that played with his lead rope. You tie them, and they figure out a way to untie themselves, like Houdini. I knew that he did that and should have been watching him more closely. It was my fault.
Getting all the Stuff You Need
What did you do for food, water, and shelter? Let’s start with food.
I carried my food in the pack saddle. Before I set out from every small town, little pueblo, or someone’s house, I would talk to the locals to figure out what I could expect ahead of me.
For example,I would tell myself, “I’m going from Calgary to the border of Montana. That’s 200 kilometers. I traveled 30 kilometers a day. So how many days is that going to take me? Is there anything on the way? Are there houses and ranches? Is there a supermarket? Is there a variety store? Oh, no, there’s nothing. Okay. So I know I need to take eight days’ of breakfast, lunch, and dinner with me.”
So I would pack all that in the pack saddle and take water for myself. Unfortunately, it’s too heavy to take feed or water for the animals. So that ended up being the biggest issue, especially crossing deserts, finding water for the horses.
Food, Water and Shelter for the Horses
What did you do for food, water, and shelter for the horses?
I learned early on, talking to Cuchullaine and Basha O’Reilly and all the other Long Riders I spoke with, that you only eat after your horses eat. You only drink water after they’ve had a drink. You only rest after they’ve rested. That’s something I carry deep in my heart, and it’s something I did every single day on the trail. My horses always came first.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t carry feed and water for them because it was just myself and the horses on that first journey. I would start the day by letting them graze for two hours in the morning. Then I’d ride about 10 kilometers. After that, I’d let them rest for half an hour and graze. Then I’d ride for another 10 kilometers, take the saddles off for lunch, and let them graze for another hour. And then I’d do the next 10 kilometers. That’s something I learned from Bernice Ende.
I’d do 30 miles a day. Then, in the late afternoon, I would let them graze for two hours. Then I’d highline them most of the time at night. (Editor’s note: highlining is tying horses out, usually for the night, from a rope stretched between two solid objects like trees or poles).
If I saw my horses losing weight, I would stop in a town and buy alfalfa hay and grain. I would get them back to health before we continued.
When the Water Runs Out
We ate and drank what there was. There were moments when the horses went a full day, almost two days, without having a drink of water, which was terrible. The anxiety drives you crazy. You don’t know if they’re going to start colicking. (Editor’s note: colicking is a painful condition in a horse’s stomach, often caused by an intestinal blockage or dehydration). That was really hard.
I always carried cooking oil with me. If I couldn’t find enough water, I would dump cooking oil down their throats using a syringe and not let them graze that night. That helps prevent colic. Then the next day, I’d get up early and try to find water.
You Can’t Take it With You
Did you carry any grain with you, like two to five pounds of grain?
No. No grain.
What did you do for water? It’s too heavy to carry, so you probably didn’t do that.
That’s right, water’s way too heavy to carry. Especially when I had three horses. It’s just impossible to carry that much water. So you’re on the hunt for water all day. You can go without feed for a couple of days, but not water. Water is life. Finding water for the animals was the hardest part, by far, of the entire journey. Finding water is like life for death. When you don’t have water for your horses, that starts to drive you absolutely mad.
A Place to Stay
That brings us to shelter for you and your horses. I know you stayed in all kinds of places, but I’m curious how much of the time you stayed with people and how often you camped out in public lands, out in the desert or in the jungle.
I spent far more nights with people than by myself, but it depends on what part of the trip we’re talking about.
In the Alaska Yukon, Northern Canada, it was just Clara and me a lot of time, and we didn’t see anybody else. (Editor’s note: Filipe met Clara on his voyage, and she is now his wife.)
The same went for Patagonia. I went a long time without seeing people down there just because there weren’t many people around. But for the most part, in North America, Central America and South America, it was heavily populated. That’s because I needed to get in lots of miles, which meant following roads where people lived.
I didn’t do a lot of backcountry riding because trails don’t run in a straight line. I just had so many kilometers and miles to ride that I tried to go as straight as possible, which put me on smaller roads next to highways and some trails.
For the most part, it was a lot of civilization, especially in Central America and Latin America, where there are few trails compared to where I started my trip in Canada.
Staying in Homes Versus Camping
What ratio of the time would you guess you stayed with people versus camping away from people?
I’d say maybe 80% with people and 20% in the middle of nowhere with the tent. Every time I was around people, the way they welcomed me into their homes was insane. That was the most important part of the trip to me, especially as a journalist.
I wanted to tell stories. There weren’t as many stories to tell in the backcountry because there weren’t as many people. I wanted to show culture through this ride. I was able to do that really well because I needed to find water, shelter, and a place to stay for my horses. That put me inside people’s homes in 12 nations. I got a chance to break bread with them and learn their stories. So it was a very telling and enriching experience.
I wound up my conversation with Filipe and my wife Julia wanted to ask Filipe a question. Julia is no stranger to long distance saddle voyages. She grew up riding horses and spent six weeks riding a skittish mule with me from North Carolina to Virginia and back.
Julia wanted to ask Filipe how the spiritual aspects of his journey helped him address his fear.
You spoke about addressing your fears in the “Long Rider” documentary. You said near the end of the film that you started to think there was a larger universe of thoughts and things out there. Did your fear diminish with the idea that something bigger than you was protecting you and the horses?
A hundred percent. That realization brought me closer to my God. This is my belief. Obviously, everyone has their own belief. In my case, I started to see, based on everything that happened in my life, that everything’s already written. Like, we’re all here just going through the motions.
There’s a greater plan out there and everyone has a time. We don’t know when. We only know that there’s a beginning and a middle, but we don’t know when the end will be. But it’s going to be at some point.
So why are we going to let that stop us from doing these amazing things? Why would we let that hold us back from having tremendous experiences and, in my case, meeting the love of my life?
Put Fear Aside. Take the First Step
I met my wife Clara on the trip because I put fear aside and took the first step. I went on a second journey that I never imagined in my wildest dreams I would go on. And suddenly, in Patagonia, I meet this woman who changes my life. It was like she was the person that I was meant to meet.
So all that drove home to me that there’s no point in fearing the unknown because it’s already planned. I don’t know by who. I don’t know if it’s God, the universe or what. But it’s all already written, and we’re just going through the motions. Knowing that definitely helped me.
How my Wife Julia and I Met Filpe Masette Leite at the World Premiere of “The Long Rider”
A while back, my wife Julia and I visited Long Rider Filipe Masetti Leite and his wife Clara at the Beaufort International Film Festival. They were there for the world premiere of Filipe’s documentary “The Long Rider”. The film is about Filipe’s 16,000-mile saddle journey across North and South America.
Julia and I watched the premiere screening of “The Long Rider”. Filipe did an incredible job filming the voyage, from what it’s like to party with a drug lord to having your horse get hit by a car. Producer Sean Cisterna did an artful job weaving that footage into a movie that captured the spirit of long distance riding better than any movie I’ve seen. Julia cried, and I was close. It takes a lot to choke me up.
After we watched the “The Long Rider” movie, Fililpe did a question and answer session for the audience and Julia and I thought, “Damn. We need to interview Filipe!” A few days after the film festival, we caught up on the phone. That’s how this interview came to be.
“The Long Rider” Documentary
Filipe’s documentary “The Long Rider” is currently in film festivals. It is scheduled for a theater release.
Filipe has written a trilogy about his voyage. His books are available on Amazon.
- Book 1: Long Ridge Home: Guts, Guns and Grizzlies (available on Amazon)
- Book 2: Long Ride to the End of the World: A Lonely Long Rider’s 7,500 km Journey to the Land of Fire (available on Amazon)
- Book 3: Last Long Ride: A Journey of Adventure, Freedom, and Love Ends Where It All Began (available on Amazon)
Get A Free Copy of my Photo Book “Nineteen Million Mule Steps”
I’d love to give you a free copy of my new 134-page photo book “Nineteen Million Mule Steps”. The book is about my 7 month, 2,300 mile Long Ride from North Carolina to Idaho with my mules Brick and Cracker.
Some More Hoof
Director and producer Sean Cisterna, who turned Filipe’s film footage into “The Long Rider”, is with Mythic Productions. Follow Filipe on Instagram: @seancisternaSign up To Hear When the “Two Mules to Triumph” Book is Released.
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