Horses On Treadmills?

Perhaps you've heard the story about Maggie the elephant, the pudgy pachyderm at the Alaska Zoo who, in order to lose weight, will get a treadmill.

If it all sound a little wacky, you should know that treadmills are already in use for horses. Yes, horses. The Early Show resident veterinarian Dr. Debbye Turner got to witness it firsthand for this week's Pet Planet.

In the heart of Bluegrass Country, there is a sense of timelessness, a natural order, a feeling that some things are just meant to be. Horses exercise in the great outdoors.

People exercise on treadmills. So while an image of human legs exercising inside a gym looks perfectly natural, the image of hoofs on a treadmill looks downright weird, at least at first glance.

At the Rood-Riddle Equine Hospital in Lexington, Ky., horses have hit the gym.

"Right now, he is on auto-pilot with his muscles," says Leonie Seesing about a horse. She runs a company called EquiGym, which sells treadmills to veterinary hospitals and universities.

While part of its purpose is to provide a workout, the treadmill also allows trainers a high-tech way to measure speed, agility and heart rate, in a controlled setting, something they can't get outside. They can also simulate climbing at angles up to ten degrees.

A horse plugging away on a raised treadmill may look bad for the horse, but that is not so. "He's just climbing a hill," Seesing says, "Naturally, they prefer to jog up a hill. Maybe not that slow."

No, of course not that slow. What was she thinking? As they pick up speed, the horse starts trotting fast without a problem. And yet, when most horses meet the treadmill for the first time, it's a tough sell.

But soon they get the hang of it, although occasionally it takes a wee bit of tough love.