The horseback lesson takes place at Sunflower Farms, which boasts 170 acres of pristine wooded lakefront farmland, ideal for galloping horses and running a mildly successful Internet business. Start the two-hour session with an hour-long ground lesson that helps riders get to know their horses, covers the basics of riding equipment, and teaches horse-grooming methods. Once riders feel comfortable enough around a horse to not be overwhelmed with the desire to challenge it to a staring contest, they'll saddle up and ride for a full hour, outfitted with a certified helmet from Saddlers Row. Sunflower Farms instructors will work with riders of any skill level, from beginner to competition level.
At Go Chicago Golf, group and private indoor lessons are available year-round so students can hone their craft even in winter's foulest depths. Players take most of their lessons in front of a projection screen that simulates a sunny day out on the links. They can play their choice of 9 or 18 holes on a 100- or 300-yard practice course, or, if they fear spending another 20 years trapped in an arcade game, practice on the learning center's nonvirtual targets. Students can also use an onsite video-analysis room to objectively check their swings and postures.
Since 1989, Play It Again Sports has been keeping sports green, recycling gently used athletic equipment into new-to-you gear. Products from brands such as Nike, Adidas, and Wilson make up each store's enormous selection of new and recycled gear, which is replenished daily with goods for a wide selection of sports that ranges from baseball and football to snowboarding, skis, and ice skates. Treadmills and exercise bikes equip bodies with muscular suits of armor, and pintsize and adolescent equipment arms youngsters with protective padding until they eat enough bologna to grow muscles of their own. Knowledgeable staffers man each location, ready to answer questions, arrange gear deliveries or pick-ups, and even sharpen skates or wax snowboards. To ensure their stock remains robust, they also encourage athletes to collect their lightly used gear—including bicycles—and bring it into a local store to either sell or trade.
Bike Connection's mechanics keep two-wheelers in road-ready shape in addition to maintaining a broad inventory of cycles, parts, and accessories. The shop stocks fully built bikes from brands such as Specialized, KHS, and Surly, plus an abundant supply of wearables such as Giro and Bell helmets and Pearl Izumi gear for men and women. And in the service department, technicians tune up and clean up parts ranging from tires and brakes to headsets and clipped-on baseball cards with numerous, tiered maintenance packages.
A five-star PADI instructor-development center, Sea Lions Dive Center gathers a team of friendly instructors who train aspiring divers and budding dive instructors toward their certification. They help students plunge into the water at local quarries and in Lake Michigan for technique-refresher courses and open-water-dive certification, as well as specialized training in cavern and ice diving, underwater digital photography, and advanced fish heckling. When not leading local classes and helping to maintain the dive shop's relaxed atmosphere, staff instructors also lead monthly trips to regional destinations, such as North Carolina and Florida, or the far-flung waters of the Maldives and Indonesia.
Golfsmith's online and in-store showrooms house an almost endless list of golf gear for men, women, and children alike. Clubs, balls, and accessories from brands such as TaylorMade, MacGregor, and Callaway give players precise control over their game, and polos and long-sleeved shirts from Nike and Snake Eyes garb players in course-appropriate attire now that tuxedo T-shirts no longer qualify. Along with the extensive collection of equipment and golf bags, Golfsmith also carries GPS systems to give players a high-tech edge.