I arrived in Barretos on August 23rd and for the next seven days I played a part in the largest rodeo in Latin America. Everyday after the rodeo ended, and before the shows began, I entered the arena to sold-out crowds. It was an amazing experience I will never, ever, ever forget!
My days consisted of waking up early to feed the ponies and then attend some kind of interview. After lunch I would ride the ponies to the booth Barretos built for me where I would sign autographs and meet fans until the time came to ride into the arena.
“Wow I can’t believe I’m getting to meet you, I have been following you on Instagram for two years,” I heard over and over again from loving kids and adults alike.
Everyone wanted to take photos in front of the statue of me and the horses, meet the ponies and hear stories from the Long Ride. It was so heartwarming to see just how many Brazilians knew my story and the impact it had on their lives.
“I have always wanted to learn English but never signed up for classes… after seeing what you were doing, I got so motivated I am now learning English,” an elderly man told me.
Everyday I would sign hundreds of autographs and meet people from all over Brazil. People came from the states of Bahia, Minas and even the south of the country, just to meet me and the ponies – some even came from North America!
“Frank said you would be killed in Mexico by the cartels when I first told him about your trip,” Barb Nettleton, a family friend said as we hugged.
Barb and her husband Frank flew in from Toronto just to see me ride into Barretos. An avid photographer, Barb shot my entire week at the rodeo, plus some shots of my family. I can’t thank her and Frank enough for their support since day one.
Another trooper was Karen Hardy and her daughter Olivia who flew from the United States to Barretos for our big finish.
“Last time I saw you, you were crying and about to ride into Mexico… I thought I would never see you again,” Karen said.
Karen not only rode with me in New Mexico and Texas, she hosted Emma and I for our first American Thanksgiving and helped me obtain Dude, a mustang from the Taos Pueblo aboriginal reserve.
“I’m so proud of you Dude,” she said to the palomino mustang as she was reunited with him after saying goodbye at the US – Mexican border eighteen months earlier.
Karen and Barb’s families were not the only ones to trek south for the finish line. Emma’s parents, Kevin and Jane also flew down to Brazil for the big day!
“I always knew you would make it,” Jane said to me as we hugged tight.
Jane and Kevin have been a huge part of this journey from day one. The day I told Jane my grand idea to ride more than 16,000 kilometers home, she never doubted me for a second! Not only that, but she encouraged her daughter to join me along the way. How many mothers in laws would do that? Only Jane.
The final friends who made the long haul to Barretos were Peter Hawkins and Arnon Mello. These men have played a tremendous part in my Long Ride. Not only were they my first sponsors, Mellohawk, but they continued to send me so much love and support the entire way.
“Filipe we are so proud of what you have done with your beautiful horses,” Peter said as we hugged.
Thank you Jane, Kevin, Barb, Frank, Karen, Olivia, Peter and Arnon for coming from so far just to say congratulations to me and the ponies. And for being such important motivators and supporters of my life’s dream – even when I seemed like I was just some lunatic back in Toronto. The world needs more people like you. Know that your presence in Barretos meant the world to me!!!
I also need to thank all of the people who visited my booth everyday at the rodeo and filled me with positive energy and well wishes. Finally, to my family who drove all the way from Espírito Santo do Pinhal and São Paulo to wave me in. Muito obrigado!!!