Tjisse was a Friesian. They are large black draft horses with “furry” feet. They almost went extinct, but passionate Dutch breeders allowed them to make an explosive comeback. Now, you see them everywhere in historical or fantasy television, gracing the screen with their distinctive movement and elegance. My mother fell in love with Friesians due to the movie LadyHawke (If you haven’t seen it, you should. It’s one of those unexpected gems). From the moment she saw Goliath (the horse in the film), she wanted one. And in 2003, her wish came true.
I was three years old when my Mom told me about Tjisse. I actually remember that conversation. My memory is long like that. I remember her telling me that he was from Holland, that my name was also on the ownership paperwork for him and that he was six. Him being older than me always was a point of novelty. I remember being confused by his name. Tjisse just did not seem like a reasonable spelling for something pronounced “Chissa” to me. Why didn’t it end in “a”!? My toddler mind struggled to justify it. I kept forgetting he wasn’t a girl all the time in the beginning. I kept forgetting it was a Dutch name. He was hand raised there.
That loving childhood really showed in his personality. He was a sweetheart, and that was always such a striking contrast. He was tall and powerful and had the strength to kick a man to death, but he was always so gentle, especially with kids.
I remember many times when I would have birthday parties at the barn he was staying at. We would put lavender ribbons in his hair and let my friends ride him around a sandy riding ring. He was always so careful. A lot of kids would be frightened at first at how grand and imposing he was, but, he usually won them over in the end.
I think of those parties with such intensity now. Memories of him are suddenly a finite resource. I wish I remembered the first time I met him. I wish I remembered how I felt. But unfortunately, I was three, and sometimes what sticks in your head as a toddler isn’t the recollection you want. Who am I kidding? Adult memory is just as inconvenient. The images of Tjisse’s final days are not how I wish to remember him, even though they remain vivid in my head.
I’m writing about the past joys to take mind off the more recent unpleasantness. So I guess the moral of the story is to cherish your memories of your beloved animal companions. There may come a time when that is all you have.