If you’re recently been diagnosed with diabetes you might be worried about whether or not you’re able to continue riding or if you’re okay to take it up as a hobby but the good news is that yes, in theory, you can still ride or begin learning to ride. The reason I say in theory though is that if you’re living with diabetes you’ll know that you while the diabetes itself won’t prevent you from doing something, conditions such as neuropathy (Sometimes referred to as diabetic neuropathy, its nerve damage that is caused by high blood sugar injuring the body. It’s most common in the legs, feet, arms and hands but isn’t exclusive to those regions), maculopathy (Damage to the macula (the part of the eye that gives us our central vision), the damage is often caused by the build-up of fluid on that area) and hypoglycaemia (Often referred to as hypo, this is when your blood sugar level drops too low) can affect your ability to do certain activities.
Recent research published in The Lancet has suggested that far from being just two types of diabetes there are actually five types and the current two are misleading. That said because that method of classification hasn’t been officially adopted yet for the sake of this article I’ll keep to the two types.
Can I go horse riding if I’ve been diagnosed with type 1 diabetes?
No two diabetics will experience the same issues and symptoms and nor will they react in the same way to things so while generally the answer is ‘yes, of course, you can go horse riding if you have diabetes‘ there is no simple blanket answer to this question.
As I say the general answer is yes you can ride if you have diabetes but you will need to do a little bit of pre-planning beforehand. You’ll need to check your blood sugar before every lesson and if necessary take a glucose tablet or insulin injection. It’s also important to make sure that other people around you know what to look out, for as well as how to react if a hypo (A hypoglycemic episode, generally when your blood sugar levels drop to below 70 milligrams per deciliter of blood (normally around 100 mg/dL depending on the time of day and how long ago you last ate)) does occur during your ride.
Can I go horse riding if I’ve been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes?
As a general rule (although I know there will always be the exception) type 2 diabetes is controlled and managed with diet (as well as often with medication such as metformin) so the need for insulin injections and glucose tablets isn’t so much of an issue. This means that the diabetes itself is unlikely to pose any real problems when it comes to horse riding. Of course, things such as neuropathy and maculopathy can still prevent you from being able to ride.
You know your body better than anybody else and if you feel that you can go horse riding then there’s absolutely no reason at all why you shouldn’t.
Do I need to take any special precautions because of my diabetes when I go horse riding?
Before you ride it’s important that your riding instructor knows that you’re diabetic, you should also tell them what symptoms they need to look out for and the best cause of action. If you’re lucky enough to have your own horse and ride out with friends then you’ll need to let them know too, if they know what to look out for then they may notice symptoms that indicate the onset of a hypo that you hadn’t noticed because you were concentrating on riding.
While it won’t work for everybody all of the time eating 25 grams of fast-acting carbs with some fat in them will greatly help. As I say this won’t work for everybody and you may find that eating more or fewer carbs will help more. This works because the carbs help to keep your blood sugar up while the fat will help to slow the absorptions of the carbs down.
I know it’s easy to say and much harder to do but try and stay as relaxed as you can when riding. Adrenaline plays a big part in your blood sugar levels after all have you noticed how after a relaxing lesson your blood sugar levels can be normal but after a tense lesson, they’ve skyrocketed. You might think this is a rather daft idea that won’t work, but a lot of people find that meditation or just simple relaxation exercises before a ride can help to keep them relaxed during the ride. Give it a try and I bet you’ll be surprised by the results – there are plenty of apps out there that can help you to do this.
How to prepare for a trail ride
If you’re a type 1 diabetic or type 2 insulin dependant then you don’t need to me tell you that you need to check your blood sugar levels before you go for a long trail ride, nor do you need me to tell you to make sure you’ve got enough glucose tablets and insulin injections with you. But it’s also important to make sure you’ve not only got your glucometer with you but that you actually use it regularly. I would also suggest taking a fully charged phone with you too but that does depend on whether you’ll have any signal or not.
While out riding it can be all too easy to lose track of time and not check your blood sugar levels as often as you would normally (and as often as you know you should) which is why it’s a good idea to have a smartwatch or fitness tracker with a built-in silent alarm. You can then set it to remind you at various times. If you don’t have a fitness tracker then you can set an alarm on your phone to remind you, but just make sure you set your phone to silent otherwise it could startle the horse.
As well as glucose tablets and insulin injections it’s a good idea to carry something like a small packet of peanut M&M’s or Skittles with you (source). This will help your body get the carbs it needs but also help to bring your blood sugar levels back up. You can also carry some chopped apples with you, if you don’t need them while you’re riding then your horse will happily ‘dispose’ of them for you!
Nobody knows you better than you know yourself so be sensible and don’t overdo things. If you need to stop to eat while riding then do so.
What should I do if my blood sugar level drops while I’m riding?
When riding you may be concentrating on what you’re doing so much that you may not notice the early warning signs of a hypo which is why it’s important to let the people around you know what to look out for, that way even if you’re not aware of it other people will be. If you do have a hypo don’t worry, stay calm and stop for a minute to sort yourself out. Everybody’s method for dealing with a hypo is different but there’s no reason why you can’t either deal with it on the horse or dismount for a few minutes and then remount. If you’re riding in an arena then you can simply separate from the rest of the ride and pull into the center, if however you’re on a trail make sure you let the other people on the ride know that you need to stop. Then when your levels return to normal you can carry on again.
Don’t let diabetes rule your life!
I know that’s very easy for me to say but I’ve spoken with so be diabetic equestrians and while some of them do worry about riding they all say that they’re not doing to let their diabetes rule their lives. It can be difficult sometimes to know what the right thing to do is and it’s only natural to worry but as long as you’re sensible there’s no reason at all why you can’t continue to ride, or even start learning to ride.
I hope you found this article helpful. If you did I’d be grateful if you could share it please as it would really help me.
Over the years I have tried hundreds of different horsey products, from various blankets and halters to different treats. Some I’ve loved, others I’ve hated but I thought I’d share with you my top all-time favorite products, the ones I never leave the yard without. I’ve included links to the products (which are in no particular order) that I really think are great.
- Horse Knots by Reference Ready – If you’re like me and enjoy pocket reference guides then you’ll love this knot tying guide. These handy cards can easily fit in your pocket or attach to the saddle for quick reference. They’re waterproof, durable and are color coded to make them easy to follow.
- Mane ’n Tail Detangler – Even if you never show your horse you’ll need to detangle his tail from time to time (and possibly his mane too) which is always a challenging chore! I’ve found that if I run a little bit of detangler through my horse’s tails every few days it stops them from getting matted up and makes combing them easy, even if they’re coated in mud. I don’t know if I should admit to this or not but it also works wonders on my hair.
- TAKEKIT Pro clippers – Over the years I’ve tried a lot of different clippers and while some were obviously better than others I found these to be by far the best. They are heavier than a lot of other clippers but for me, that’s a good thing, it makes them feel more sturdy and hardwearing. On top of that they have a range of speeds so are just as good for clipping your horse’s back as they are his face. I also like the fact that they come in a handy carry case but that’s not for everybody. The company that makes them is super good and incredibly helpful too, a real bonus these days. The only thing I wasn’t keen on was the fact that it doesn’t come with any oil, but that’s not a major problem as it’s not difficult to buy lubricant.
- Shire’s ball feeder – There are so many boredom buster toys out there but I like to use these every day, regardless of whether or not my horses are bored. I find that it helps to encourage my horses to problem solve by rewarding them with treats (or pieces of fruit) but it also mimics their natural grazing behavior which helps to keep them calm and de-stressed.
- Horse safe mirror – This is a strange one that many people are surprised about but I like to put horse safe mirrors in the trailers as well as in the quarantine stalls. It helps to prevent the feeling of isolation by giving the impression of other horses being around. Being herd animals horses can get extremely stressed when they feel that they’re on their own but with these stick-on mirrors, they believe that at least one other horse is with them.
- Rectal thermometer – I know this isn’t glamourous at all but it’s vital for your horse’s well-being to be able to check their temperature and a rectal thermometer is the easiest way of doing this which is why I’ve added it to the list.
I’ve also put together a few shopping lists of essential items that I’ve found helpful over the years. I’ve broken the lists down into different categories rather than put everything in one massive list 😉