The Sunshine State is filled with options for those seeking a nature getaway, especially in the rural middle and northern areas. However, if you want to taste Old Florida but still be within reach of bigger-city attractions, a quick getaway to a horseback-riding ranch can fit the bill.
In The Breeze horse ranch in suburban Tampa, one of several places to ride in Hillsborough County, is located within relatively easy reach of a variety of activities. It's near the Upper Tampa Bay Trail; about 30 minutes west of Busch Gardens and the Lowry Park Zoo; and 30 minutes northwest of downtown Tampa offerings such as Riverwalk, Curtis Hixon Park, the Glazer Children's Museum and the Tampa Museum of Art. The closest beach, the beautiful Honeymoon Island State Park, is about 45 minutes west.
During a recent visit to the ranch, I chose the easiest ride, Nature Trail ($39), about an hourlong saunter through mostly shady woods. A "Giddy Up & Go" jaunt for $49 includes trotting and cantering; and the advanced trail ride for $59 adds galloping. Riders are matched with horses based on the visitors' experience levels and given basic instructions, such as how to hold the reins, steer and stop their horses. Helmets are available for use, though no one in my group wore one.
My companion for the afternoon, Miss Apple, clomped gently along the sand path, needing only occasional steering so I could avoid getting poked by tree branches whose leaves she occasionally wanted to chew. Otherwise, like most of the horses in our group, she simply followed the string along the familiar trail. Our route crossed a creek and hugged a lake, which was dotted with a row of newer townhouses on the other shore. (The creek provided the only heart-pounding "excitement" of my visit, when Apple stumbled climbing an embankment at one point and I had the sensation that I may fall off, but she quickly regained her footing.)
Newness has sprung up all around In The Breeze, which is "hidden" across 320 acres at the end of a dirt road. Bustling suburbs, shops and restaurants have closed in on all four corners of this once-rural section of the county, especially in the past 15 years or so. The ancient wilderness of this ranch, choked with palms, oak and pine, spreads out beneath the curve of a toll road exit ramp, the occupants of its whizzing vehicles oblivious to the quiet and green treasure under them.
IF YOU GO
In The Breeze horse ranch
7539 Gardner Road, Tampa.
About Hillsborough County
Population (as of 2015): 1,376,238
Major cities: Tampa, Plant City, Temple Terrace, Ybor City
Tourism bureau website: visittampabay.com
Oxford Exchange: oxfordexchange.com
Wright's Gourmet House: wrightsgourmet.com
Bern's Steak House: bernssteakhouse.com
James Joyce Irish Pub & Eatery: jamesjoyceybor.com
Gaspar's Grotto: gasparsgrotto.com
Ferg's Live: fergslive.com
Busch Gardens: seaworldparks.com
Tampa Riverwalk: thetampariverwalk.com
Parkesdale Farm Market: parkesdale.com
Grant Hyatt Tampa: tampabay.grand.hyatt.com
Hampton Inn & Suites Ybor City: Visit website