Riding with T1D

WRITTEN BY: Morgan Panzirer

The first time I rode a horse, I was 2 years old. It was nothing special, just one of those pony rides they do at carnivals. Besides that, the first time I legitimately rode I was 6 years old; it was two weeks after I was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. My pediatrician lived on a farm so my riding career started at her house with my doctor’s daughter teaching me. One Thursday, I went for my first lesson and absolutely fell in love with the sport. We set up weekly lessons on a pony they had named Snoopy.

When I was first learning to ride and just walking and trotting for thirty-minute periods, it wasn’t too difficult to manage my blood sugars. But after four years at my pediatrician’s barn, I moved to a new barn where I could progress further. As the skills I was learning became more difficult and more intense, so did managing my blood sugars.

At my new barn, Rhiannon Equestrian in North Salem, New York, I rode a horse named Freddy. After Freddy took me as far as he could, my parents bought me my own horse named Vancouver. Vancouver enabled me to ride at a much higher level. However, along with that higher, more intense level of riding came more challenges managing my blood sugars while I rode. Jumping longer and more challenging courses were especially hard when it came to managing my diabetes.

Whenever I had lessons and jumped courses with Vancouver, my blood sugar dropped rapidly. If I got on to ride when my blood sugar was under 180, 15 – 30 minutes later I would be low and have to get off to take a break and drink a juice box. It was extremely frustrating because I felt like I was being limited by my disease. There were also days where I would experience delayed low blood sugars. I would be fine all day, including while I was riding, and then I would plummet at night while asleep. That was scary for both me and my parents. The worst part is that we could not figure out the pattern of when this would happen.

After a while of doing lots of trial and error, I finally found the right balance between carbs and insulin while riding. Turns out I have to do a -75% temporary basal rate two hours before I ride and eat 25 grams of carbs before I get on each horse. The carbs that I eat are not just fast acting carbs but something that has some fat in it too, in order to slow the absorption down. As a lot of you know, that doesn’t mean this formula works all of the time, but it is a good starting point for me. It is also interesting how much adrenaline plays a role in my blood sugars; I run low while doing training rides, but at horse shows due to the competition and adrenaline, my blood sugars and insulin requirements go up dramatically.

When I was 13, unfortunately Vancouver got hurt and we found out that it was an injury that he would never be able to recover from. I was devastated. We sent him to a boarding school for girls in Massachusetts where he could live a more relaxed life. We then bought a new horse who was younger and had very little experience. His previous owner was an older woman who had a bad experience with him so she didn’t want to keep him anymore. His name was Gideon. He was exactly what I needed at the time because he gave me a project to work on and train all on my own.

After training Gideon for about a year and a half, I started showing him more competitively. We accumulated enough points to qualify for Marshall and Sterling National Finals in Saugerties, New York. The way these finals work, is they invite the top 50 riders from all over the country in each division to compete, and then they place 12 in the actual final. I have qualified and placed twice in these finals. The first time I qualified was with Vancouver in the 2’6” equitation division when I was 12 years old. Out of the top 50 riders, I came in 4th. The second time was with Gideon in the 3’ hunter division in 2015.  Taking Gideon to Marshall and Sterling Finals was nerve-racking because he had never been to any sort of final before. You can imagine what my blood sugars were doing that week with all of the nerves! But despite all of the nerves, Gideon was a rockstar and we came in 7th. It felt so good knowing that I had made Gideon the horse he was in order to place in a national final.

Since then, Gideon suffered from an injury in his hoof. He spent a year recovering, and now he is back to work and doing great. I ride him six days a week along with any other horses that my trainer asks me to exercise. Sometimes that can mean up to 5 or 6 horses per day so between riding and school, my life is definitely busy, but that is what I love about it! I took Gideon to his first show since his injury a few weeks ago and he placed first out of 45 people! I am thrilled that he is back and doing well.

All in all, it has definitely been really hard dealing with type 1 while riding. It’s difficult to find the right balance between insulin and carbs because nothing is ever the same. The only thing consistent with T1D is the inconsistency, but with hard work and lots of trial and error, you can succeed. I’ve found that people with T1D can do anything they set their mind to no matter how difficult, and I am proof of that.

Read more from Morgan on her blog Got Insulin?

Read more stories from those affected by Type 1 diabetes.

Morgan Panzirer

Morgan Panzirer was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes in 2007, just weeks after her sixth birthday. Shortly after her diagnosis, Morgan’s pediatrician - who owned a farm and knew she loved horses - invited her to come over for a pony ride. She began lessons the next week and by the age of 12 was competing in her first national final. Now a nationally ranked equestrian and a junior in high school, 16-year-old Morgan not only rides six days per week, but serves on the school governance committee while maintaining a 4.0 GPA. You can read more of Morgan's writing on her blog, Got Insulin - gotinsulin.blog