A helicopter flies overhead as we push forward. With a spotlight under its belly, the chopper illuminates our path. It is 9:30pm. We ride towards the lights and sounds spewing out of the largest rodeo in Latin America. My ponies’ manes blow uncontrollably in the breeze…
After having crossed ten nations in North, Central, and South America, we were but 500 meters off our welcome home party. Invited were more than 60,000 loud Brazilians who migrate to the city of Barretos every night for ten days in August to visit this renowned rodeo.
After arriving behind an arena the size of a soccer stadium, we waited our turn to finally enter. Behind the bucking shoots and under the stage where Brazil’s country singers perform, my ponies fidgeted nervously, just like their father. My heart beat a million times a minute. My eyes were permanently filled with tears as they had been for the past three days. Bull riders Adriano Moraes and Guilherme Marchi, two of the best who ever lived, shook my hand and congratulated me. I was star struck.
“Thank you so much Gulherme, I’m a huge fan of yours,” I said to him as I leant down on Bruiser. We held onto each other’s hand with a tight grip.
“And I’m a huge fan of yours, I can’t even imagine everything you have lived these past two years,” he said.
As I looked out into the stands I saw more and more people arriving for the big moment. Slowly but surely, this giant was filling up with cowboys and cowgirls from all over the country. Just before the clock struck ten the announcer yelled into the microphone, “Ladies and gentleman, tonight we welcome a hero into this arena. Put your hands together for Filipe…. Filipe Leite.”
Just like that the arena caught fire as I rode in with my three kids. Tears ran down my face as everyone stood on their feet holding their hats up saluting me and these three heroes. As I looked up at the heavens I thanked the universe for helping me reach this impossible goal. I thanked all of the people who made rough times into a pleasant stay. I thanked Aime Tschiffely for having inspired a child to dream and ride into the wild. I thanked Naomi Lisker whose ashes I carried all the way to Brazil – whom I believe became my guardian angel along my route south.
Riding around the arena, seeing many people shed tears just like me, a movie played in my mind. The smiles of the children met along the way. The gigantic mountains we crossed. The lonely nights in the middle of the desert…
As I rode into the middle of the arena, a ceremony began with the playing of the Canadian and Brazilian National anthems. This was followed by performances from different artists, and many fireworks. The ponies were nervous but I reassured them this party was for us and we didn’t need to fear it. As I climbed off Bruiser to take the stage, I made a pit stop.
Facing my three children, my heroes, my everything, I kneeled in the dirt, and with my arms spread out, I thanked them. These horses have carried me 16,000 kilometers home. They have given me the greatest present a man can ask for – the fulfillment of living out a life dream. I bowed to Frenchie, Bruiser and Dude and thanked their untamed spirits.
As I made my way to the stage I was met by family and friends who had all come from afar to celebrate my Long Ride. We hugged and cried together. The president of the rodeo, Jeronimo Muzetti, congratulated me and gave me the most beautiful belt buckle I have ever seen.
“You are a hero to many people Filipe, thank you for choosing Barretos to be a part of your terrific journey, we are very proud of you,” he said.
The announcer then called me over and after saying some very nice words passed me the microphone. I was so emotional I could barely speak.
“I am here today as living proof that when you want something with your heart, your mind, your soul, your everything, anything is possible… dreams do come true,” I said as the tears stopped my speech short and the arena exploded with cheers.
After leaving the arena I made my way to an even bigger surprise. The rodeo hired one of Brazil’s best artists to build a statue of me and the horses! Standing five feet tall, the artist made our journey come to life in a way I never imagined possible.
“I have never worked on a project with so much humanity behind it, thank you for allowing me to be a part of this dream,” Juvenal Irene said to me as we hugged for what seemed like an eternity.
The statue will stay in the rodeo grounds forever and will be where Frenchie, Bruiser and Dude will one day be buried. I can’t thank Os Independentes, the organizers of the rodeo in Barretos, enough for all of their help and support these past two years. My welcome home party was as epic as this Long Ride itself, and if I live another hundred years I will think about it everyday.