The diabetic equestrian: Preparation the key to a safe ride


Certified Diabetes Educator Elisabeth Almekinder tells of the extra preparations equestrians with diabetes should make before setting out on horseback.

Horses are amazing animals. I grew up riding horses from the age of 12. My best friend, Kelly, who had Type 1 Diabetes, also rode with me on occasion, and had a great love for these large, but gentle and mystical animals. I remember Kelly’s diabetes routine from the trail rides we would go on. She had to do some extra planning, so that she would have an enjoyable ride without any incidences of low blood sugar.
Hitting the trail means different things to different people.

Kelly’s story

Before heading out on a long trail ride, Kelly would check her blood sugar in the tack room. Sometimes, she would eat a snack, and sometimes she wouldn’t. She took insulin injections. One time before going on a particularly long ride through a mountain gorge, Kelly stopped her horse on the trail, pulled out her glucometer, and tested her blood sugar. She then gave herself a small injection of insulin, and we rode up the mountain gorge, with no incident.

One summer, with a group of summer campers, things on our trail ride went the wrong direction, and quickly spiralled out of control. I was on the lead, and Kelly had the camper’s backs. She was riding behind the last of six campers, taking up the lead, as we followed the creek, down the mountain; each horse carefully placing each hoof, so as not to slip, and slide down the steep bank. It got so steep, we all had to cut an angle down and across the mountain. Briars were thick, and we were moving slowly.

My horse’s hoof came out first, landing squarely in a hole, until he sunk down to his knee, with his leg lost in the hole. Out came the swarm of bees, quickly like an army, up the line of horses; riders flying off, reins waving in the air, horses rearing and bucking, and running off down the gorge. It all happened so fast. I looked behind me where I saw campers and Kelly running through the woods, swatting at ground bees hot on their heels.

Elisabeth Almekinder
Elisabeth Almekinder

After we had all calmed down, rounded up the horses, and treated our bee stings, Kelly realized how long it had been since she had last eaten. She was feeling a little weak. She checked her blood sugar, and sure enough, amidst all the commotion, her blood sugar had dropped to 50 mg/dl. Kelly took three glucose tablets. After an hour, we cooked spaghetti over the campfire, as we settled in to sleeping bags and tents under stars, with horses in the paddock nearby.

In all the times I rode with Kelly, she never had another incident related to her diabetes and horseback riding. The moral of Kelly’s story is that it doesn’t matter if you have diabetes or not, you can still go horseback riding. Sure, there is extra planning that goes into it, and steps you must take to stay safe on long rides, but it is all worth it.

With careful planning, and a few tips in your pocket, you can be an equestrian with diabetes. You could pleasure ride, compete in events, dressage, jumping competitions, fox hunts, or any number of enjoyable riding activities. It’s good exercise, too. We shouldn’t underestimate the power of exercise to bring our blood sugars in control.

Article courtesy The Diabetes Council

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