Amberley Snyder shot out of a chute Wednesday night at the Hailey Days of the Old West Rodeo with the confidence and know-how that’s telltale of a seasoned rider. The slim 23-year-old from Utah has been riding horses since age 3 and doing rodeos since she was 7. When Snyder lost all feeling below her waist in a 2010 car accident, her competitive spirit outsmarted her disability, and her career was merely delayed instead of finished; she got back on her horse a year and a half later.
Despite the rodeo announcer’s lengthy accolades and testaments to her courage in the face of extreme physical limitations, an audience member in the arena would have to squint to see that Snyder’s legs were belted to her horse.
She is an athlete before she is an inspiration. She competes against regularly-abled athletes and ranks up with the best of them. When her barrel-racer horse Power didn’t go as quickly as she wanted him to, she was as disappointed as any rodeo competitor. In short, Snyder isn’t “good for a disabled person”—she’s good on any level.
Snyder brushed Power down after the race and rubbed an ointment on his legs. Circling around him on her wheelchair with ease, Snyder requires a helper to get on and off her horse, but not much else.
“When I get on my horse, I strap on and forget about my legs,” she said.
After her accident, Snyder became a motivational speaker after delivering a speech to the Utah Future Farmers of America two months after her accident—she’s the organization’s president—and captivating the audience.
Snyder also has a busy life outside of rodeo.
“Right now, I have a summer class that I’m taking and I’m a motivational speaker and I also work for an animal health-care company running its social media, and then I ride,” she said.
A student at Utah State, Snyder said she’s happier when she’s busy and always needs to be working toward a goal. This week, she’s hitting seven rodeos throughout Idaho, Utah and Wyoming. Hailey was the first stop on her journey, and she said she was heartily welcomed by the community.
After her performance Wednesday, she drove right back down to Utah. Snyder had a test to take and two rodeos to compete in the next day. She’s studying agriculture education and school counseling in university—but nothing will get between her and the rodeo.
“Hey, as long as I can get in a saddle, that’s as long as I’m competing,” she said.
Snyder had to adjust to a new way of riding after rolling her truck in January 2010. Despite the fact that doctors told her there was a slim-to none-chance of recovery, Snyder has made strides.
“After my accident, getting back on was definitely a hard situation because I felt like that was going to be the one place that would never change and it did,” Snyder said. “I’ve got the seatbelt that I hook on my saddle—I’ve got Velcro straps around my legs.”
Snyder has hopes for her continued recovery, and cites improvements over the past four years.
“I’ve regained sensation to a bit below my knees,” she said, showing how she could move a muscle in her thighs.
Her horses are in tune with her situation, she said. They are “totally aware” of her wheelchair and don’t get spooked. When she’s riding, they take care of her.
“I just worry about what I can control,” she said. “I worry about my hands and my voice and my balance.”
Snyder is a born conversationalist as well as a rider; she has a natural ease talking with people of all ages. She takes time to meet kids and take pictures with them, answering any and all questions posed to her.
“We don’t always get to control what happens to us, but we can control how we’re going to handle it,” she said.