By Erika Webb
The sign out front reads Horizon Bay ... Vibrant Retirement Living. The walkway leading to the entrance is lined with benches. On a recent muggy mid-afternoon those benches were filled with residents, talking and taking in the lush views of manicured grass and artfully twisted oaks surrounding the Orange City complex.
Inside, the common area was filled with laughter, more talking and some small birds chirping their two cents from a cage in one corner of the room.
The dining room had mostly cleared out, but two women sat lingering over their après lunch iced teas.
Joan, "Joanie," Floyd has lived at Horizon Bay for seven years. Last month she celebrated her 80th birthday.
Asked about wishes, she had one. Ms. Floyd wanted to ride a horse, as she had done more times than she can count growing up on a dairy farm in Nanuet, N.Y.
"I used to ride in parades and rode in some shows, some small rodeos," Ms. Floyd said.
She reiterated the word small, the first of many indications that would point to her genuine humility.
Confined to a wheelchair as a result of Multiple Sclerosis, she said one of her legs doesn't work at all anymore.
But her memory works fine and it kept leading her to Beauty, a black horse she once owned -- or was owned by -- back on the farm.
"He was just part of me," Ms. Floyd said. "He was a very smart horse. He was five-gaited, but I didn't know how to put him through all his gaits. He was more intelligent than I was."
Her eyes said the rest as she gazed at that middle place where precious memories live. To watch her remember was to envision fields surrounded by fences with plenty of room inside for a sturdy horse to stretch its legs, hooves spraying dirt, mane and tail lifted by the wind.
He proudly carries a laughing girl who doesn't yet know she's experiencing the last real abandon this life will offer. Time will reveal youth's ultimate mirage -- adulthood brings less, not more, freedom.
"We were like one," Ms. Floyd said. "He knew what I wanted and I knew what he wanted."
Back in the present, she recalls a more recent event, days after her 80th birthday, when a bus carrying 13 Horizon Bay residents and staff traveled to Marcody Ranch in Samsula where Ms. Floyd's wish to ride again was granted.
Residents at Brookdale Senior Living communities nationwide are invited to share and submit their wishes to Wish of a Lifetime, according to brookdaleliving.com.
"Through the granting of these lifelong wishes, our residents are able to find fulfillment in the six dimensions of our wellness platform: purposeful, emotional, physical, social, spiritual and intellectual," the website stated.
Horizon Bay Activities Director Barbara Kay arranged the party and picnic, coordinating with Marcody and inviting Ms. Floyd's three regular dining partners, residents she knew Ms. Floyd would want to join them as well as some "select others" to make the trip to the ranch on July 11.
A horse led by volunteers carried Ms. Floyd around a ring.
Adrenaline must have taken over because she said she doesn't remember belting out, "Back in the Saddle Again." Her friends told her about it afterward.
"She looked like a pro," said her good friend and dining partner Martha Gerdowsky who enjoyed petting the other horses and the cats at the ranch.
Ms. Floyd chuckled.
"When I'm in my chair everyone's always hollering at me, 'Sit up! Sit up!'" she said. "On the horse, it just comes naturally."
She described the animal as docile.
"He was a rescue horse, I think. He only had one eye," she said.
"Yeah, but he was beautiful," Ms. Gerdowsky said, "a beautiful white one."
Volunteers at the ranch got Ms. Floyd onto a platform and "drove the horse underneath."
"That's how I got on him," she said.
She rode for half an hour, Ms. Gerdowsky recalled.
And she wasn't the least bit sore the next day.
Ms. Floyd said she'd do it again.
The two women who dine together daily have a strong common bond, a mutual love for animals.
Ms. Gerdowsky urged Ms. Floyd to talk about "Missy".
The calico cat is 22 years and 4 months old and lives with Ms. Floyd, but she's enjoyed, and spoiled, by many other residents at Horizon Bay.
"She's my little horse now and I never liked cats," Ms. Floyd said, smiling. "We had a million of them around the barn."
If Ms. Floyd leaves her door open, Missy is inclined to make a mad dash for the water fountain.
"She loves that Culligan water," Ms. Floyd said.
When asked what the secret might be to Missy's longevity, her owner said, "She's loved, I guess ... little brat."
The statement was followed by her characteristic smirk.
Ms. Floyd is quiet and quick witted with a wry sense of humor, often directed at Ms. Gerdowsky. The two women agree they like animals better than most people.
"Martha and I don't like each other, but we eat together anyway," Ms. Floyd joked.
"She's gotta have someone to pick on," Ms. Gerdowsky said good-naturedly.
"Yeah, I don't think anyone else would put up with the abuse I give her, but she gives it back sometimes so I guess you could say we're the best of friends or something," Ms. Floyd said.
"Or something," Ms. Gerdowsky said, chuckling.
Hope Rosenthal, owner of Marcody Ranch and executive director of Hope Reins Therapeutic Riding said everybody who played a role in fulfilling Ms. Floyd's wish was moved in a dramatic way.
"I was moved to tears, we all were, it was so powerful," Ms. Rosenthal said. "It's one of the best things I ever took part in and I was honored to be part of her experience."