Riding Star Ranch, a nonprofit organization, aims to heal people and horses with the physical and emotional benefits afforded by trail rides and riding lessons. The ranch’s team takes in unwanted, neglected, or abused animals and rehabilitates them, transforming them into confident, happy horses that students can ride.
During lessons, riders earn ribbons through the American Association of Riding Schools program, collecting them for learning how to properly groom and ride in disciplines such as hunter/jumper, English pleasure, and Western pleasure. And although taking a trail ride to the Carlton Reserve and the Myakka River will not win riders any ribbons, they are welcome to pin themselves with their own awards and medals before climbing aboard trusty steeds.
Pine flatwoods, 17 miles of trails, and a long stretch of shoreline characterize the 14,000-acre Rock Springs Run State Reserve, certified as a sand pine scrub ecoregion by the World Wildlife Fund. This diverse terrain awaits horseback riders as they push off from the trailhead alongside guides from Rock Springs Run Trail Rides. As guides lead the way, horseback riders can enjoy the sights and sounds of Florida's wilderness or their horse's passive-aggressive GPS directions. Newcomers and seasoned riders alike can also improve their saddle skills through lessons with the outfit's Lorrie Clark, who instructs riders on how to improve their horsemanship, English and Western riding technique, or basic horse care.
An FAA-certified commercial pilot, Eric is well-versed in the operation of tandem hangliders, helicopters, firefighting aircraft, and light-sport weight-shift-control aircraft. As the head instructor at FlyPhibee, he demonstrates a different skill: piloting the amphibious Cygnet 3. Designed and approved by the FAA, this open-air machine features wheels and pontoons for a water or shore landing. Its paraglider-style wings help it climb approximately 1,000 feet per minute. On teaching flights, Eric charts a leisurely course along the coast?giving students a chance to soak up the scenery or helm the amphibian's controls.
During a round of golf in this region, it’s not uncommon for players to see the occasional alligator sunning itself on the banks of a fairway pond. The same, however, cannot be said for miniature-golf courses, unless you’re playing at Congo River Golf, where the civilized sinking of putts coexists with the visceral carnage of live-alligator feedings. More than 25 alligators wait for patrons to feed them morsels of gator food in an exhibit beside the course. Though the course offers no chance for an encounter with the ancient, scaly species, it enchants players with waterfalls, safari-themed artifacts, and towering rock faces. In addition, Congo River Golf encompasses an indoor arcade and a gemstone-mining station, where guests dig through dirt for fossils, arrowheads, and Neanderthal’s kindergarten time capsules.
At Dance Centers of Orlando, instructors work to foster an atmosphere of inclusion and support, helping kids to develop a strong sense of self-confidence to complement their fancy footwork. In each of the three studios, instructors fuse choreographed routines, dance combinations, and technical exercises into curricula focused on styles ranging from ballet and tap to hip-hop and martial arts. The studio's Marley sprung floors support little twinkle toes, helping to prevent injury. As the youths hone their skills, their parents can observe their progress on closed-circuit TVs or search the web via free WiFi to find the best ways to make nutcrackers come to life.
The gym looks like equal parts Olympic training facility and old warehouse—here, exercisers hoist themselves up rows of pull-up bars, grunt around a collection of kettlebells, and hop through jump-rope routines. On a power-lifting platform, a lifter explodes from a squat, hoisting a plate-loaded bar up to his shoulders and then dropping under it to catch the weight over his head. Elsewhere, athletes do dips on gymnast rings and build a sweat on rowing machines.
This low-tech setting is typical of all true CrossFit gyms. Though the equipment may be basic, the results are not: CrossFit workouts develop all measures of physical fitness—from power to cardiovascular endurance—through workouts that are broad, general, and inclusive. This approach is often described as specializing in not specializing: it develops physical fitness in ways equally beneficial to everyone, from professional mixed martial artists and police officers to weekend softball players.
CrossFit gyms typically start clients in a foundational program where trainers teach the basic movements, such as the squat, dead lift, and pull-up. Every exercise is scalable to a version that clients can complete—a pull-up, for example, can be scaled back to a negative pull-up, a static hang, or body-weight row with gymnast rings. It can also be scaled to a more challenging version, such as the kipped pull-up. After students learn CrossFit's basic movements, they move on to open group classes, which follow the ever-changing WOD, or Workout of the Day. These workouts are short and intense, and they foster camaraderie through frequent team circuits. In addition to supervising WOD class, trainers coach members on nutrition, advocating a caveman-style diet of low-glycemic carbohydrates, monounsaturated fats, and lean proteins such as raptor meat.