He was never truly mine, but a horse named Tjitze taught me that life is too short to ne­glect a pas­sion.

EQUUS - - Equus - By Theresa An­der­son

Find­ing my way: He was never truly mine, but a horse named Tjitze taught me that life is too short to ne­glect a pas­sion.

Along­ing to re­turn---that’s what brought me to the barn that day. A long­ing to re­turn to the time be­fore col­lege, ca­reer, fi­nances, ill­ness in the fam­ily and the even­tual loss of my mother. I wanted to re­gain some­thing of the old me, the me from be­fore life got so … com­pli­cated.

I’d had the priv­i­lege, the joy, of own­ing a horse when I was grow­ing up, and I knew my mother would have been thrilled that I was re­turn­ing to one of my first loves. I needed to. Among the many things the loss of my mom had taught me was: Life is short, too short to ne­glect a pas­sion.

So, filled with ner­vous ex­cite­ment, I vis­ited a sta­ble in a nearby town. The place was, and is, world class. Just step­ping through the door put all my senses on high alert---I mo­men­tar­ily dropped into slow mo­tion as I took in ev­ery­thing at once: the im­pres­sive­ness of the fa­cil­ity, the beauty and di­ver­sity of the horses housed there, the mem­o­ries trig­gered by all the smells and sounds that ev­ery horse lover cher­ishes. I was thrilled.

As best as I could, I tried to act nat­u­ral, as if I was a part of this world and not a long-lost prodi­gal. I toured the barn, chat­ted with the head in­struc­tor and made an ap­point­ment for my first les­son. I was soon to be back in the sad­dle!

I en­joyed that first les­son, and sub­se­quent ones as well, but I wanted more time just be­ing with the horses---a horse. As it turned out, the farm had a horse avail­able for lease. He was ac­tu­ally for sale, but with no in­ter­ested buy­ers and lit­tle time to work with him, the own­ers would agree to a lease un­til a buyer was found. Al­though I had vis­ited the sta­ble many times, I had never seen this horse. He and oth­ers owned by the farm were kept in a sep­a­rate area from the main barn. My in­struc­tor of­fered to get him so I could have a look and we could dis­cuss the lease fur­ther.

I will never for­get the mo­ment when this horse was led through the arena door. He was a Friesian---big, black, baroque, with mane and tail flow­ing, all fire and thun­der. “Wow” would have es­caped my lips had I breath to speak. His name was Tjitze (pro­nounced Chit-ze). I could not be­lieve the own­ers were go­ing to trust me with this amaz­ing an­i­mal. But they did.

And so we be­gan. As stun­ning as Tjitze was, he was over­weight, out of dis­ci­pline and rusty at ev­ery­thing, from ground­work to un­der

sad­dle. What a co­in­ci­dence, so was I. With no end goal, I brought him along as lov­ingly as I could. Truly, I just en­joyed bond­ing with him and mak­ing progress of any kind. Grooming him was ther­apy to me.

And, in fact, Tjitze was bring­ing me along, too. He was help­ing me step back into the horse world, re­mem­ber my old horse­man­ship and rid­ing skills, and learn new skills---be­cause since my early days, nat­u­ral horse­man­ship had over­taken the time of “show him who’s boss.”

But Tjitze’s most im­por­tant job was help­ing me re­turn to, well, me. My old self. I don’t think there was a time that I rode him when it didn’t oc­cur to me that Tjitze was car­ry­ing me as well as what­ever bag­gage, emo­tions, nerves or lack of skill I brought along. And he car­ried some­thing far heav­ier: my sor­row at los­ing my mother far too soon.

We con­tin­ued for many months in a blur of evening vis­its, he and I, where I was al­ways the last per­son to leave the barn. Some­times, I would bring my tod­dler son and niece to love on Tjitze, both of them tow­headed blondes. Tjitze would test, and retest, that yel­low hair to make cer­tain it wasn’t hay. He was just so sure it was! The kids would help groom him (up to about his knees) and feed him treats. He was so gen­tle with them.

Other fam­ily mem­bers would come to watch us work. Re­ally, they came to watch Tjitze move. Oh, that sus­pended trot! The lit­eral ground-shak­ing power of his can­ter!

Even­tu­ally, oth­ers around the barn took no­tice of his progress, and there were mur­murs of po­ten­tial buy­ers.

I was away on a fam­ily va­ca­tion when Tjitze’s new owner fell in love with him and took him home. As hard as it was to find out he was gone, and I’d missed my chance at a good­bye, I was com­forted by hear­ing that his new owner was “over the moon for him” and that he had moved to a nearby farm. Maybe I would get to see him again. Shortly there­after, how­ever, my hus­band’s work moved us far away.

Years later, on a trip back to visit fam­ily, my brother and I went for a drive so I could take in the old, fa­mil­iar sights. We found our­selves near where I thought Tjitze had moved and pulled over next to the fence of a farm that looked like it might be the place. There he was. As soon as he saw me, he came to­ward me--straight line, eyes locked. It was won­der­ful to visit him again and to see that he was so ob­vi­ously loved and well cared for.

Since then, I’ve vis­ited Tjitze sev­eral times, al­ways over the fence. Each time he knew me and wouldn’t let any of his pas­ture­mates ap­proach. The last time I saw him was this past fall. Ever mag­nif­i­cent in my eyes, age was catch­ing up with him. Me, too. I thought about snap­ping a pic­ture this last visit, but de­cided against it. I want to cher­ish the im­age of him in my mind from that first day. Tjitze, all strength and thun­der.

How I do wish, though, that I could put my arms around him one last time and thank him for car­ry­ing me.

Have a spe­cial horse story to tell? Sub­mit it to EQUUS True Tales, 656 Quince Or­chard Road, #600, Gaithers­burg, MD 20878; EQLet­ters@aim­me­

I will never for­get the mo­ment when Tjitze was led through the arena door. He was a Friesian—big, black, baroque, with mane and tail flow­ing, all fire and thun­der.

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