One of the many ways late winter and temperamental early spring weather makes me crabby is by forcing me indoors to do things I would normally do outside, like, say, dehorning a baby goat and running. 


There’s an office set up for the former, but the latter forces me into our dark, gloomy basement where the treadmill lives. This workout area (and I use that term VERY loosely) is drab beyond all hope: instead of a TV to watch while pounding out the miles there is the annoying spectacle of my two cats, who take turns casting me disapproving glances and swatting at each other, knowing full well that I’m not about to hop off my contraption to reprimand them.


Given this bleak basement running existence, I am forced to conjure up visions of inspiration to keep one leg moving in front of the other. Given my background, these visions take me back to vet school where, hidden in a large secret room at the back of the large animal hospital, there was a treadmill ten times bigger than the one I own and it was used for horses. 


My classmates and I first found out about this secret treadmill in our equine lameness class junior year. Our instructor for this class had a habit of telling us about really cool things, and then saying: oh yeah, if you just go to such-and-such place and ask so-and-so about it, they’ll let you do this-and-that.


To tell such things to impressionable vet students looking for adventure or just plain mischief to break the monotony of studying the intricacies of various biochemical pathways is almost guaranteeing that someone’s going to look for these things. It’s common sense.


One day this instructor told our class about the treadmill out behind the large animal hospital. It’s great, he said. You go in there and get to stand right next to a horse running full tilt, 30 mph! It’s an amazing experience.


We sat there goggle-eyed. What? Here? When? How? He assured us that on certain days of the week at lunch, one of the hospital technicians goes out there to train research horses to run on it and if we pop our heads in, we are free to watch. 


Sure enough, a few weeks later, we were there, ready. We located the technician, followed her out behind the hospital, and low and behold, behind a huge set of very heavy, soundproof doors was the biggest treadmill I’d ever seen. A horse was there, jogging at a slow speed, warming up. The technician nodded and we silently slipped into the room and lined up against the wall to stay out of the way. 


There was a large digital display on one wall that reported time and speed. As the tech ratcheted up the speed, we watched as this gorgeous equine specimen started to go faster, then faster still as the speed on the display went higher and higher.  Soon the horse was at around 20 mph — not a full-out gallop, but fast enough to see the nostrils flaring and the hooves flying; all about five feet from us. 


We left the demonstration thrilled and I will always remember that experience. So, when I’m on my own treadmill in my dungeon workout room, sometimes I recall that horse on the treadmill with legs flying and the wind whipping around. My ponytail is not exactly the same thing as a horse’s mane flying in the wind, but for my purposes, it’s close enough.


Dr. Anna O’Brien


Image: Horse on a Treadmill, Virginia Tech Marion duPont Scott Equine Center / YouTube