NORMAN — Madison Gay's first horse was an orphan mustang her dad bought for all the cash he had in his pocket — $25. Madison spent hours after school with the horse, which was scrawny and wouldn't eat when it arrived at the family's home.
Madison and Gallion had an understanding. Both had challenges, and both were stubborn enough not to let the obstacles stop them. Gallion learned to jump over fences, picnic tables and Madison, who was diagnosed with juvenile diabetes at 9, learned to stick herself several times a day to check her blood sugar and give herself insulin shots. Now 17, Madison wears a pump that infuses her blood with insulin to help keep her blood sugar levels steady. The disease that could cause blindness or kidney failure isn't slowing her down. Madison will be among the competitors this weekend at a horse jumping competition in Ardmore.
Things on her mindWhile most competitors worry about their form or the layout of the course, Madison will have a few more things to consider. Madison has learned the signs for low blood sugar and usually can remedy it. The other thing on her mind will be concentrating on remembering left and right. Madison is also dyslexic. For her, recalling the course and which way to direct her horse is often more of a daunting task than riding a horse with an insulin pump strapped to her riding pants. Diabetes can be controlled and monitored. Dyslexia is an unpredictable factor, and its symptoms are often made worse by stress. "She reverses everything until she gets on a horse,” Madison's mom, Judy Gay, said. "Once she's on a horse, it makes sense. It's a peaceful thing for her.” With an insulin pump covered in a hot pink cheetah pattern strapped to the waistband of her pants, Madison ran through a jumping course Wednesday at the High Hopes Training Center just west of Norman. As the horse took the jump, Madison leaned forward in anticipation and easily cleared it. "I just like horses,” Madison said. "It's like my place between heaven and earth.” Orphaned and ornery horse Gallion has taught Madison about life and given her unconditional love — or maybe it's the carrots and peppermint candies he gets as a treat, Judy Gay jokes. Madison broke the horse, and in turn he bucked her off when Madison was 14, breaking her femur. A few weeks after her leg healed, Madison conquered her fear and was on a horse again. "Gallion has taught her that things happen,” Judy Gay said. "She's not going to get special treatment. You've just got to be ready to try and keep going.”
Finding the silver liningLow blood sugar has affected Madison's riding just once.
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What is diabetes?It's an autoimmune disease occurring when a person's pancreas stops producing insulin, a hormone that enables people to get energy from food. • TYPE 1: Usually occurs in children or young adulthood and lasts a lifetime. • TYPE 2: A person's body still produces insulin, but is unable to use it effectively. Type 2 usually is diagnosed in adulthood and often can be controlled through diet and exercise.
By the numbers•Nearly 21 million Americans have it. •In the U.S., a new case of diabetes is diagnosed every 30 seconds. •More than 1.3 million people are diagnosed each year. Source: Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation
Diabetes' warning signsExtreme thirst, frequent urination, drowsiness or lethargy, increased appetite, sudden weight loss for no reason, sudden vision changes, fruit odor on breath, heavy or labored breathing Source: Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation