By: Filipe Masetti Leite, 2020 Calgary Stampede Parade Marshal
Ride planning and preparation can mean the difference between life and death.
My life’s dream was to ride horseback from Canada to Brazil. But before I rode out of the Centennial Calgary Stampede in 2012, I spent nearly two years studying and planning this logistical puzzle. Travelling 16,000 km in a car is difficult, imagine traveling with living beings weighing a thousand pounds each at 4 km per hour, 30 km a day.
The first thing I did was to create a space I called “the war room,” where I could start my strategic planning. I plastered white Bristol board on the walls of an empty bedroom in the apartment I rented and began making never ending lists: equipment needed, goals, contacts, bureaucracy, maps, etc. This helped immensely because I was constantly being reminded of all my deadlines and the things I still needed to do. The project wasn’t locked up in the back of my mind or in a drawer. It was all right there in front of my nose in big block letters.
Friends chipped in offering their skills, enthusiasm and pep talks. We all tried to guess at what all the variables would be. But how do you determine the weather, the terrain, the people, the politics and the health of man and beast for two years down the road. So, I began doing extensive research on how to travel properly, on horseback. I had spent a lifetime with horses, but in the rodeo arena tie-down roping. Riding a horse for 8 – 10 hours a day in the middle of nowhere is completely different from exercising a horse a few hours a week for competition. I needed to talk to Long Riding experts. I contacted the Long Riders Guild, the world’s first International Association of Equestrian Explorers, and began an intense research period.
CuChullaine O’Reilly, the president and founder of the Guild put me in touch with Long Riders from around the globe. Speaking to these men and women I learned an arsenal of information that would help keep myself and my horses alive.
Pedro Luis de Aguiar, a Brazilian who rode 20,000 km around his native country taught me to use a foam pad instead of a regular saddle pad under my saddle. This insured my horses’ backs were always healthy because saddles sores mean they can’t carry weight.
Bernice Ende, an American woman who rode more than 20,000 miles on seven different trips over the past ten years, gave me one of the most important pieces of advice.
“If you have ridden all day and you don’t have water to give your horses, only let them graze for half an hour, tie them up and using a syringe give each as much cooking oil as you have to help prevent them from colicking,” she told me when I met her for the first time.
I used this oil syringe trick to keep my horses alive while crossing a mountain pass in Wyoming. We were riding in an extremely hot summer and all the creeks we passed were bone dry. I carried a litre of oil with me all the way from Calgary, stashed in the bottom of the pack saddle, and on that day, it made all the difference. After an entire day trekking, with no water to give the horses, I used a syringe to inject the oil down all their throats. After only letting them graze for half an hour I tied them up and fortunately the next morning we finally found water.
The experience of these Long Riders helped me design the entire journey. How many kilometres to travel a day, how many days to rest, how to prevent accidents, etc. Without their help and this extensive research, I never would have made it to Brazil. Perhaps the best advice they gave me was…all the planning in the world can’t prepare you for everything. Sometimes you must act on the fly and trust your gut. The good thing is your ‘gut’ is not just intuition. Your gut instinct is the sum of all the training, planning, education and experience that you’ve done before. It may feel like intuition, but it is really the manifestation of planning and strategy when the situation seems brand new.
Another important part of the planning stage was looking at the route I would travel. I knew that I wouldn’t ride the entire proposed route because things always change when you are on the road, but it was important for me to know what type of geography I would come across and the current political state of all the countries I would cross.
Honduras for instance, was statistically the most dangerous country in the Americas at that time. It had the most amount of deaths per capita. I needed to know that, so I could prepare myself mentally and make strong connections in the country before entering. If not, it could have meant certain death. The people I met along the way helped tweak my plan and in the end, having to befriend an influential drug-lord, everything turned out alright.
During this time, I also had another major hurdle – securing the funding needed to pull this expedition off. I had recently graduated from Ryerson University’s journalism program and didn’t have any money saved up. Soliciting sponsorships required a lot of time, effort and a tough skin. Using the skills acquired in school, I wrote up a project to shoot a reality series about my expedition and began creating content. I filmed and edited pilots, produced a sponsorship magazine and made a website. Then sent hundreds of letters and emails and made too many phone calls to remember, trying to sell the project to production companies and or television stations.
No one wanted anything to do with it! For nearly two years all I heard was, “No… This is not for us… You are crazy… You are going to die…”
There were moments where I questioned what I was doing. But this dream was stronger than me and my cowboy mentality kept me from giving up.
I kept fighting until one day a production company from Nashville finally said yes. I also managed to convince two ranches from Montana to donate the horses and a saddle maker in Brazil to make a special saddle for the journey.
Finally, on a humid July 8 in 2012, not knowing where I would sleep that night, I rode out of the Calgary Stampede accompanied by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. The rest, well the rest is history!
Determination, motivation, team work and skill are necessary for any project, but planning and strategy are the keys to actual success.