When Amberley Snyder, 22, was vaulted through the windshield of her truck as it careened off the road into a Wyoming ditch, she knew that her back was broken, and that her life would never be the same.
At the time of the accident, Snyder, then 18, was on her way to the 2010 National Western Stock Show in Denver, and was the defending champion of the Little Britches All Around Cowgirl competition. Even after a miraculous surgery (26 staples, two rods, and seven screws), the doctors told Snyder that riding wasn’t an option. For the highly motivated teen, however, quitting wasn’t an option either.
“It’s just part of being a cowgirl,” the Utah State student of agriculture and high school counseling explains. “No matter what happens, you dust off and get back on.”
The hardest part of Snyder’s recovery came when she realized that getting back on might not be enough. She says, “I kept thinking after the accident that if I could just get on my horse again, everything would be the same. But when I got on, I knew right away that it wasn’t. I had to put on a smile. But on the inside I was crushed.”
Strengthened by a childhood on the rodeo circuit, and supported by family and friends, Snyder pushed through. A seatbelt and pair of Velcro leg straps were added to her saddle, and with the ability to be strapped in place, rodeoing became a possibility once more.
“It’s so freeing to saddle up and leave my wheelchair at the trailer,” Snyder says. “My horse can be my legs, and together we can leave it all behind.”
Deciding on the right horse wasn’t easy, and Power, the 17-hand off-the-track Quarter Horse Snyder competes on, was her family’s last choice for a post-accident mount.
“The horse has serious ADHD,” laughs Snyder, now standing 7th out of over 70 barrel racers in the National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association. “When I got him as a three-year-old he always ran hot. But ever since the accident, it’s like he understands the situation—it’s like he knows he has to take care of me now. I know that no matter what, he’s going to do whatever he can to stay underneath me. And thank goodness, because as strapped in as I am, I’m in it for the long haul!”
Snyder continues to push toward greater goals. The runner-up in Wrangler’s Ultimate Cowgirl contest competes in the Rocky Mountain Professional Rodeo Association whenever she can, and tells her story at churches and schools across the West, advocating for the power of determination.
“I feel like everyone thinks I’m just naturally positive all the time, and I try to be, but there are minutes or hours or days when it’s just plain hard! I have to choose to pick myself up time and time again by saying, ‘Okay, but what am I going to do about it?’”