Diabetes Forecast

People to Know 2017: Eugene Spotted Horse

By Ty Reidhead, MD, MPH ,

Eugene Spotted Horse
Photograph by Chris Douglas

Horsemanship and rodeoing are huge parts of American Indian culture. When I was a kid, I’d go to Indian rodeos to watch my dad compete. 

So when Eugene Spotted Horse talks about the appeal of riding Indian relay races, I get it. Some American Indian kids get to ride horses before they learn to walk. Eugene was just a few months old the first time he sat on a horse.

“My grandpa would put me on horses that hadn’t even been broken yet,” says Eugene, 16, a member of the Crow Tribe in Montana and the youngest rider to compete in the 2015 All Nations Indian Relay Championships, the Super Bowl of Indian relay racing. In this uniquely American Indian event, a rider circles the track on the bare back of a horse, going up to 25 miles per hour. After completing one lap, he slows enough for a teammate to take the reins and help him jump onto a second horse for another lap, and then repeats the process for a third and final lap.

He’s approached type 1 diabetes with the same fearlessness. Diagnosed at age 8—four years after his younger sister was diagnosed—he wasn’t sure how diabetes would impact his life, but he wasn’t about to let it get in the way of his goals. “Seems like other people who have diabetes think they can’t do anything,” he says. “But I have it, and I’m riding bulls and doing relay races.” 

Although he rarely wears his pump during an event, he is careful to check his blood glucose before a competition.

Competitors run the risk of being knocked off, trampled, or dragged—and that’s exactly what happened to Eugene last year. He fell off his horse on the final lap, badly injuring his left leg and landing in the hospital for a week. Two months later, though, he was back on the horse—metaphorically speaking. He’d qualified for the National Indian Finals Rodeo in bull riding. Was he afraid? “Not to fall off,” says Eugene. “If he throws me off, he throws me off. And if I get hurt, I get hurt.” Being active is a big part of being healthy.

The Author: Rear Admiral Ty Reidhead, MD, MPH, a member of the Three Affiliated Tribes of North Dakota, is the area director for the Phoenix Area Indian Health Service, a division of the Department of Health and Human Services. Based in Phoenix, he oversees the delivery of health care services to more than 170,000 American Indians and Alaska Natives in Arizona, Nevada, and Utah. Growing up, he rode steers, team-roped, calf-roped, and steer-wrestled. Now he gets to compete with his daughters and watch them compete.



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