help_outline Skip to main content

News / Articles

Annual Golden Oats Essay Winner Announced

Noelle VanderBrink | Published on 10/31/2022

AJ’s Rose


After my first horse from my youth passed away, I had a couple of horses that I had great difficulty with. I had some violent unplanned dismounts, and my confidence was severely shaken. I purchased an 18-year-old Arabian that looked like Black Beauty as a horse for my children to ride. He was so quiet and sweet, and he is the horse that helped me regain my confidence. He did not know he was a horse, he thought he was a puppy, and I am sure he would have sat in my lap if he could have. My children showed him in 4H. I competed with him in Mounted Orienteering, we brought him to the reenactment of the Battle of Monmouth, NJ and he was ridden in the battle reenactment successfully. He was my faithful buddy. As he grew old, he lost teeth and I had to feed him a mash. The harsh winters in Pennsylvania were very hard on him. Our last winter there, 2014, the temps were single digits 24/7 for all of January. One day, I had both horses closed in their stalls with blankets on due to the extreme temps. I went out to feed lunch and poor AJ was shivering terribly. I ran towels thru the dryer, put a sheet with 3 blankets over it and a hood with ears on him and stuffed the warm towels under the sheet. I wanted so much to get him to a better place and was thankful we were able to move to FL in Sept 2014 with our horses. At the first place we brought them to before buying our own farm they were in a 10-acre field, and walked around with wonder, I think they thought they were in heaven!


I cared for him meticulously hoping he would make 40 and planned a big party for him. But sadly, we had to put him down on January 17, 2021.


On the one-year anniversary of AJ’s death, I watched an episode of Wagon Train that I had never seen before. It was about an old man that had one old horse pulling his wagon and he joined their train mid-trip as other trains threw him out for being too slow. You found out it was the horse being slow because he was old. The

man had no one else but the horse, they had lived in the north and the horse had slipped on ice and had difficulty getting up, and the old man promised him he could live out the rest of his life where there was no snow, so they were going to CA. People on that wagon train became angry that he was slowing them down and one man snuck away with the horse during the night and was going to shoot him in the desert. As he raised his gun,

an Indian shot him with an arrow and killed him. The next day the Indians brought the horse back to the wagon train. The man was so happy he cried, and they rigged up one of the wagons to be a trailer for the horse to be pulled along in so he could make the journey and not slow the train down. So, it had a happy ending.


It reminded me of how well I took care of AJ, obsessing over his food and medical care, lovingly tending to the many summer sores he got his last couple of years, and that last winter in PA. How I too got him out of the harsh winters and brought him to FL for a better life. I have no doubt that the move added quality of life and years to his life that he never would have had if he stayed up north.


I thought how odd to see an episode like that, and on the anniversary of his death. It made me teary eyed, and I believed it was no coincidence.


Then we went outside to feed dinner, and in the back yard, was a rose bush that blooms every year right around Mother’s Day. It has bloomed again later in the year only once. This was January, it has never bloomed in January, and there was the most beautiful, large red rose! I knew then, AJ sent me that rose. That was no coincidence.

I cut the rose and put it in a vase next to his ashes and saved it once it dried out. I will cherish it always.


This is that rose. He will be in my heart forever, and I look forward, someday, to seeing him again. I know he will be at the Rainbow Bridge waiting for me.