Horse News

Space Shuttle Columbia: Like the Horses, We Shall Never Forget

Forward and Story by R.T. Fitch ~ Co-Founder/President of the Wild Horse Freedom Federation

“Feb 1st 2003 changed the lives of millions of people.  As a country and a human community we lost 7 brave souls over the skies of north Texas and Louisiana, that day.  The space shuttle Columbia came apart as she attempted to re-enter the atmosphere and the course of space flight was changed forever.  And likewise that day the experience was my very first glimpse into the soul of the horse.  Take it any way you want but I began to seek, explore and delve deeper into the equine/human relationship just 10 short years ago this very day.

The passing of the seven angels perhaps saved many future lives with the their sacrifice by highlighting safety as a major concern in future space flights, but their ultimate gift also opened up a few humble eyes to mysteries unknown, my own being one such pair.

Below is the story and excerpt from our book, Straight from the Horses Heart: A Spiritual Ride through Love, Loss and Hope that was written in the cool, crisp dawn after the events of Saturday, February 1st, 2003.  It is the first equine insight I ever penned and because of that it will always be special.  We offer to you, today, in memory of those who lost their lives that day and to the memory of all those I have loved and lost since.

I mean it most sincerely when I say, ‘May the Force of the Horse® be with You!'” ~ R.T.


I Sit in Wonder

It started out as any other Saturday; up before the sun, make coffee, check email, say ‘hello’ to the dogs, greet the horses, and review the list of projects that needed to be accomplished before the sun set in the evening; however, this Saturday had a few dramatic twists.  I needed to be several places at one time during the same time frame, so there would have to be some fancy juggling.  The electricians were coming out to wire the new horse barn; at the same time, the farrier was arriving to trim the horses’ hooves; plus, we needed to pick up a load of hay prior to noon.  So, it was time to dance.

On the morning of Saturday, February 1st, 2003 all of Lafayette Parish, Louisiana was under a dense fog warning.  I stepped out of the house at sunrise, it was obvious that things might be moving a little slower until the fog lifted.

Ethan ~ by Terry FitchI was immediately greeted by the pair of happy-go-lucky German Shepherds who are always excited on Saturday morning as they get to go for a ride in the Big Red Truck to get hay.  Oh what fun!

As I gazed out into the pastures, I could not make out the four pampered ponies, as the fog was too thick.  I walked out through the back of the barn and no one was to be seen, so the odds were pretty good that they were in the back pasture munching down on their round bale.  I stepped out several yards, gave a call, and waited.  The mist swirled around me like foam in the surf as I listened intently for rumbling hooves, but the morning maintained its silence.

Unhurriedly, like dolphins slipping through the depths, the phantom shadows of the horses gradually began to materialize before me.  One at a time, in order, in line, they calmly walked up to me in formation for their rub on the withers, pat on the chest, and scratch on the belly; each taking their turn at receiving their morning hello, until all four circled me.  Together, we walked back to the barn.

At the barn I stopped and surveyed the new side gates that lay in place, waiting to be installed by the part-time ranch hand – me.  While Harley gently mouthed my cell phone in an effort to steal it from my belt, I began scratching down a list of hardware that I was going to need to accomplish the gate project.  I dropped my pen which meant Harley hit pay dirt as he quickly grabbed my cell phone and gracefully twirled it above my head by the antenna.  A big grin emerged on his face as this is his favorite game and he managed to accomplish the cunning feat without my interference – Harley one, Human zero.  I carefully retrieved my phone and bent down to pick my pen up when suddenly I heard a distant pop, bang or shot.  Immediately, I became alert to the fact that I was standing amidst a small herd of horses, in limited visibility, with “scary” noises occurring.

Quickly, I looked at the horses and then relaxed as they did not spook; they were not flustered or even nervous.  In fact, they were standing in an alert stance, heads held high and ears at full extension looking to the north/northwest, the opposite direction from whence the sound had come.  I wondered if it was a gun shot.  The thought slowly slipped away into ‘LaLa Land’ as I proceeded with my tabulations.  After all, who in their right mind would be hunting in the middle of a fog bank?

I remember concluding my list, walking back into the barn, and turning to gaze at our equine children – they were still there, standing in place.  In fact, they were in formation, one in front, three in back staring ever so intently to the northwest.  Their formation reminded me of a delta, a triangle pointing into the direction of their labored glare.  I was confused.  How could they be so interested in looking in the wrong direction; what were they hearing; what did they think they were seeing; and what was going through their minds as they appeared to be mesmerized and in a trance?

The sight of them there, standing in the mist looking off into nowhere, disturbed me to the point that I called to them.  No one budged.  I called again and the head of the Appaloosa slowly turned in my direction just enough so that one sad eye could look at me.  I motioned to him and he slowly turned around, walked to me with his head lowered and nuzzled my hand.  I scratched his forehead and noticed that his right eye had just formed a tear, one lone solitary tear.  I asked if he was sad; I asked if he wanted more food; I asked what the problem was and only heard a gentle sigh in response.  I dusted it off and went back to work.

At the time, I did not know that to the north of our quiet farm, a comet named Columbia was passing overhead, a bright meteor carrying the souls of seven courageous and generous human beings home.  I did not know.  I had no clue that seven souls of my species were headed across the bridge high over heads.  I did not know.

Four horses, however, stood gallantly at attention; four horses looked to the sky; and four horses felt something that I did not.

In reflection, I wonder if I did not miss something else that morning, something that my single-minded human brain did not hear, something special, something wondrous; yet, I was not listening.  I now sit in wonder and roll it over in my head time and time again, that gentle sigh, that horsy response, and the tear in that eye.  What did it say; what did it mean?

Did I really hear something in the gentle escape of air from those equine lips, a sound so profound that it did not compute at the time it happened?

Was that a gentle whisper, a thought, a suggestion?

Was my soul, and not my ears, hearing those quiet words?

Was the meaning really what I now believe it to be?

Was my heart touched by the souls of the four horses when I still failed to understand; yet, admittedly heard the whisper, the soft voice that spoke on another level. “We are so sorry; we are so very, very sorry.”

I sit in wonder.


11 replies »

  1. I remember that day. I was standing on the practice tee waiting for friends to join me for our weekly golf outing. The road entering the parking lot passed just behind the tee box and one of my buddies pulled up, stopped, got out and yelled “Have you heard?’

    I had been keeping an eye on the sky as the weather was crystal clear and the path of the shuttle was directly overhead. I looked again and rather than seeing a single trajectory I saw several. It seemed the entire world went silent.

    Two events happened that day that have changed the world in their own way. The loss of the Shuttle and the seven souls on board was tragic. But where there is tragedy there is usually something good that comes as well. In this case the creation of a mighty warrior, an advocate beyond compare, to fight tirelessly for the horses.

    Thank you R.T.! You are an inspiration to many.


  2. As much as the world seems to adore the dustycowboy up out in the wildnerness and the gritty macho leather clad tough love attitude towards horses – it is these words here, words connecting us to the empathic bridge to horses in our world – that show us all we have a horseman woken to his real nature as one of our leaders.

    Thank you R.T. – your respect for those who strive and push themselves to make this a better adventourous world brought a tear to my eye.


  3. Its amazing how intuned they are with us if we just listen. Open your heart and stay very quiet…Drowned out their comments are quite funny. Once I began to listen thru my Reki therapy training I was amazed. They are all such characters – Some talkers and others very quiet.
    Thanks RT, you have been given the gift.


  4. Gabby PAC shared a link via Gabrielle Giffords.
    October 18, 2012
    Congratulations to Captain Mark Kelly whose book Mousetronaut is #1 in the New York Times Best Sellers Children’s Book category. Check it out!
    Mousetronaut: Based on a (Partially) True Story (Paula Wiseman Books)
    A heartwarming picture book tale of the power of the small, from bestselling author and retired NASA astronaut Commander Mark Kelly. Astronaut Mark Kelly flew with “mice-tronauts” on his first spaceflight aboard space shuttle Endeavour in 2001. Mousetronaut tel… Gabby is a horse rider
    206151Like · · Share


  5. I know this has nothing to do with this article but I want to alert you guys about hb 90 authored by paul bandy, he’s trying to use this bill to authorize opening horse slaughter plants in new mexico, and he knows that susana martinez is opposes horse slaughter which is probably why he and the livestock board is passing this behind closed doors, It’s passed the ag commitee, I tried to alert john holland but I didn’t get a response, you know the last time a board in new mexico did something that susana martinez opposed she fired everyone one of them.


  6. Poetic, compelling and real. Stunningly honest. Thank you, Mr. Fitch, for besides all the hard work you do, you are also generous with your intellect and insight. You give me strength just to know that there is at least one man on Earth today that has the “right stuff.” Maybe I just say that because the words you speak ring true and familiar on every level. You are just one of the people in this world that truly deserves to be here. You remind me that being a human is a privilege and I am honored to know of such a man as you.


  7. I remember it as though it was yesterday. RT, this was a most touching story. They knew, they felt, they heard. In the Apps eyes, you saw his soul that day. And he opened up to you. My Apps have been like that…thinking horses who are very in tune with things, especially their people. I love all horses butt the appaloosa is by far my favorite. It was his gift to you, something you will never forget..


  8. Living in Florida, I remember seeing the space shuttle in the sky outside by my mobile home at the time. I was struck with a sense of horror as I looked up in the sky and I could see the shuttle explode before my eyes. Today these brave young men and women shall not be forgotten. We must keep their vision and souls alive and we will not forget. We have seen so many people perish so quickly and even 9/11 comes to my mind also the images of that day shall never be erased from my memory.
    Thank you R.T. for your beautiful words of wisdom and loving spirit. You always come to share your beautiful thoughts with the world. I am but one individual who will continue on the path to change this world to make it a better place than I will leave it when my time comes many years from now.
    I pray for the vision to help our wild horses get back out on the range with their horse families intact if possible. Visions are important and we must help each other along the path of life. Encourage others like these brave and beautiful men and women did on that beautiful day.

    We will make our mark on this life and so I have incredible friends like you to help me along and my wonderful rescue horses that add so much to my life everyday. along with my rescue cats. Each friend, animal and family member has added to my life in so many ways. Most of my animals have been rescues. I thank all of you and them for planting the seeds of grace, love and faith to carry on. Let us carry on for all the ones that have passed over the rainbow bridge, We must protect them. We must not forget them. I miss them dearly and remember every day how they added to my life. Thank you for all you do and continue on my dear loving friends and furry friends. We must help them. It is up to all of us to do this for them. We are the keepers of the land and the wells. We are. You and I.


  9. This brought tears to my eyes. I’m a UK horse lover – and like most people, was shocked and saddened by the loss of the crew of the Columbia. I truly believe that animals know and sense things we don’t and it breaks my heart to think how some humans treat them. Thank you for this beautiful tribute not only to the Columbia crew, but to the soul and heart of the horse, and thank you for all you do for the horses and for your beautiful words.


Care to make a comment?

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.