Changed But Not Defeated

Photo of Amberley
Photo of Amberley

“At one point after my accident I developed a pressure sore from time in the saddle and my doctor told me I couldn’t ride [my horse] any more. Well, that wasn’t going to happen!” This declaration by then 19-year -old Amberley Snyder perfectly illustrates the grit and determination that has taken her from a life-altering automobile accident eight years ago to the fierce competition of the pro-rodeo circuit today. Amberley’s love of horses began when she was a child and by the time she was a teenager she was competing in barrel racing, pole bending and breakaway roping. In 2009 the high school senior qualified for the National High School Finals in pole bending and won the National Little Britches Rodeo Association All-Around Cowgirl World Championship. The hard work and competitive spirit that helped Amberley soar in the rodeo arena also made an impact on other areas of her life. She was elected the Utah FFA State President for 2009/2010 and was looking forward to fulfilling her leadership responsibilities, preparing for college and the competition of college rodeo events.

In early January of 2010 Amberley was on her way to Denver, Colorado to a rodeo event and while driving through a small town in Wyoming glanced down at the map on the seat beside her. When Amberley looked up a few seconds later she realized she had drifted into the other lane and was headed towards a metal beam. She overcorrected and her truck veered off the road and rolled over. Amberley was ejected from the truck and forcefully thrown into a fence post. She immediately lost all feeling in her legs. “I always wore my seat belt but had taken it off because of a stomachache. This one time of not buckling up cost me everything,” Amberley said. “I saw my life in pieces around me as I was sitting in that snow bank. I felt like I was sitting in warm water from the waist down. I knew right then that something was definitely wrong.”

Following hours of emergency surgery, Amberley received the sobering news that she would never regain use or feeling below her waist. The young rodeo star was also told she wouldn’t ride or rodeo again. “That was more devastating for me than learning I wasn’t going to be able to walk,” Amberley

Two months after her debilitating accident, with every intention of reclaiming her life, Amberley spoke at the Utah State FFA Convention. Two months later, using a seat belt from a junked car, some Velcro to secure her legs and a strap to center her in the saddle, Amberley was back on her horse. But the experience was not the triumph she expected. In an interview for People magazine, Amberley described this as the worst time of her life. “I was devastated. I couldn’t feel the horse’s heartbeat through my legs and my balance was off. I realized that every single part of my life was different on that day. Horses had always been that peaceful place. That place that feels like home. And suddenly, I felt nothing. I was a stranger on that horse’s back.” Months passed before she would try to ride again.

True to form, Amberley didn’t give up and did ride again reclaiming the joy of competing. “When the doctor told me I couldn’t ride because of the pressure sores I had experienced, my dad set to work to fix that problem,” Amberley said. “He cut the seat out of one of my saddles and mailed it into Roho. They used the seat as a diagram to customize an air pressure seat that would match. They came up with the prototype, I approved it and then they made it. Roho provides the seating for my saddle and my wheelchair.” Amberley continues to gain independence caring for her horses and can now saddle her horse from her wheelchair. She effectively competes at a professional level in a high speed rodeo event where every second counts.

In 2013 Amberley was chosen as the runner-up for Wrangler’s “Ultimate Cowgirl” and the following year she posted a 5th Place Overall Finish for the Rocky Mountain Region Intercollegiate Rodeo. In 2015 she received a Bachelor’s degree in Agriculture Education and that same year, was voted the fan exemption contestant at the world’s richest one-day rodeo, RFD-TV’s The American where she competed with the best in the field. In December, 2017 Amberley received her Masters in School Counseling from Utah State University in Logan, Utah.

Celebrating her 27th birthday in January of 2018, Amberley reflected on how she has changed since her accident eight years ago. “I have learned a lot of patience and I have also learned to appreciate the things I can do instead of focusing on what I can’t do,” Amberley said. “I’ve definitely developed a great appreciation for those who have helped me, and will continue to help me, accomplish my goals.”

My family has been a huge support through everything I’ve had to deal with,” Amberley said paying tribute to her parents and five siblings. “We are all competitive in our sports so we understand the dedication to what we love. My mom and youngest sister are the only ones involved with horses so we share a deeper understanding.” Amberley also acknowledges her best friend, Emmy Peterson. “Emmy served in a Utah FFA state office along with me and has not left my side since the accident. We both attended Snow College and then Utah State University. I definitely would not be as far as I am without these people!”

In addition to a very full schedule competing at the professional level in rodeos, through the spring of 2018 Amberley will travel to a half-dozen states to hold barrel racing clinics and is planning for more. “I began offering these clinics after my accident,” Amberley said. “Because of my experiences I can better relate to challenges in the arena. Everyone has challenges even if they aren’t in a wheelchair.”

Amberley has also developed a successful career as a motivational speaker. “I believe motivational speaking picked me after my accident and I’m glad it did!” Amberley said. “I had no way of knowing that my experience as State FFA President was preparing me for this.” She shares her message to students at all levels as well as at corporate conventions and other gatherings. “I tell my journey from the accident to competing at the pro level and share goals I’ve accomplished along the way. Each person has challenges. We get to decide how we face them.”

A children’s book, Walk Ride Rodeo, written by Amberley was recently released and is available through her web site (www.amberleysnyder.org) as well as from other online book sellers.

Offering practical insight into the everyday challenges in her life, Amberley produces videos, “Wheelchair Wednesdays,” illustrating a variety of topics from navigating escalators in a wheelchair to how to saddle a horse.

Before her debilitating accident, Amberley says her source of self-worth came from her awards and titles. “I realized my life couldn’t be about that anymore. I had to show myself and others who I really am. I believe that when the times are the hardest is when you are the closest to what you want to accomplish. I am very content and feel at peace when I’m on my horse. That is when I truly feel like everyone else. I get to leave my wheelchair and be on my horse. And I feel free because my horse is my legs.”

You can contact Amberley at amberley.snyder@hotmail.com.

Amberley Snyder is a consumer advocate from Utah. Readers may learn more about Amberley by visiting http://www.amberleysnyder.org/amberleysnyder/my-story/.

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