You rode horseback from Calgary to Brazil. What inspired the journey?
My journey was inspired by Aimé Félix Tschiffely’s 1925 Long Ride from Argentina to New York. My father used to read me his book, Tschiffely’s Ride, to me before bed. I spent a lifetime dreaming about undertaking my own Long Ride.
There are a lot of books that parents read us as kids that we will always remember. But what was it about Tschiffely’s Long Ride that was so compelling?
I believe it was my intense love for horses and adventure which (captured) my imagination. Before I could walk, I was riding horses and before I could speak, my father was telling me his many adventures backpacking Europe, Canada and Brazil. Tschiffely’s Long Ride came to life every time I jumped into the saddle and rode my horse around the farm.
What was the reaction you got from family and friends when you told them what you wanted to do?
Some friends thought it was impossible, but the majority, along with my family, supported me.
What was the pitching process like? How did social media help you?
Pitching the project was by far the hardest part of this entire project. I was only 24, fresh out of school and proposing to ride the 16,000 kilometres that separate Canada from Brazil by horseback. People hung up phones on my face, didn’t answer my emails, wouldn’t agree to see me. They thought I was crazy. But I believed in myself enough to keep fighting. It was only two months prior to leaving (Ryerson) that the universe finally opened its doors. I actually got OutWildTV’s attention through Twitter. So yeah, social media was a huge help.
Social Media also allowed me to tell this story in real time. I live-tweeted and Instagrammed the entire journey. People had the ability to come along for the ride as we drew black dots on a crumpled map of the Americas.
How has your experience at Ryerson helped you in this project and in your career?
My experience at Ryerson is a huge reason why this project ever got off the ground. I used all of the skills I learned at Ryerson to write a pitch and produce videos to sell the project to production companies. It worked — OutWildTV, based out of Nashville, bought the project. I also used everything I learned at j-school while out on the road. I was the reporter, cameraman and producer. It was the time I spent shooting on those Toronto streets for our daily newscasts that allowed me to pull this off. Ryerson also sponsored me and a few classmates to shoot two international documentaries before I graduated. I shot and produced Gringos with Guns in Peru and The Road to Dago in Kenya.
I read that you also wanted to use the trip to raise awareness about drugs in Latin America. How did the journey accomplish that?
On my blog and online video series with OutWildTV, I shared several stories of the effects the “war on drugs” has on people’s lives throughout the Americas. I think a lot of people, who even use drugs regularly in Canada, the U.S. and other countries, have no idea what is going on in Central America and Mexico today.
Was it dangerous? Was the journey worth the potential risk?
I never felt in immediate danger, but that’s because I’m stupid. While on busy roads, I would have transport trucks flying at an arm’s reach next to myself and the horses. I road by two men shot dead in Guatemala. [I also] witnessed a man trying to murder his wife with five bullets. The man who tried to murder his wife was drunk and jealous. He shot her several times but thankfully didn’t kill her. In Central America, people can apply for a licence to carry a handgun. This is very dangerous because when they are under the influence they often times start firing.
Was there ever a moment when you thought you couldn’t finish the trip?
There were two major moments when I questioned if I would be able to finish the trip: When [my horse] Frenchie got hit by a truck in southern Mexico, and when bureaucracy stopped us from entering Panama. My horses’ health and Latin America’s bureaucracy were the biggest challenges on this trip.
Talk about the last few days of the journey? What was it like?
The last days were extremely emotional. I cried a lot and a movie played in my mind with so many moments my ponies and I had lived together. It was bittersweet because as much as I was excited to be done, I was sad to be breaking this extraordinary bond with my horses. We had become a herd! I slept next to them, woke up to their snoring, rode all day with my kids.
An intense emotional bond is created on a Long Ride which will never be matched. And as soon as the ride was over, I retired my ponies in my family’s farm and that was it. I go see them almost every day, but it’s not the same. I sleep in the house and they sleep outdoors – we are no longer a herd.
What are you up to now days? How are the horses doing?
I am currently writing a book on my Long Ride which will be released in 2015 along with a feature documentary. [The horses] are fat and bored. All they do is eat!