Space Shuttle Columbia 15 Years Later: Like the Horses, We Shall Never Forget

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 15 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.

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