She’s a household name, the subject of a 2019 Netflix biopic, and a source of inspiration to hundreds of thousands of people around the world. Her name is Amberley Snyder.
Had you met her when she was 18, Snyder likely would have told you that all she wanted in life was to be a professional barrel racer, an agricultural education teacher, and a good sister to her five siblings. Then, at 19, her life changed completely when she was involved in a car accident that broke her back. But while the accident may have cost Snyder the full use of her legs, that life-changing event gave her a new mission to pursue along with all her original dreams.
Now 32, Snyder is a professional rodeo rider, a goal chaser, a full-time motivational speaker and an inspiration to her family and countless others. Traveling the country as a professional keynote speaker isn’t always a cakewalk, but she loves helping others who are grappling with difficult circumstances.
“Honestly, I try to simplify what I do and say I am just telling stories of what I’ve done and how I’ve done it, and I’m lucky enough to get to inspire and motivate people along the way,” Snyder says. “But I think that God gave me this opportunity and has allowed it to unfold. Even when there are times that I feel overwhelmed, I remember, ‘Nope, I’m serving the purpose I’m supposed to serve.’ When that happens, I’ll take a second for myself, reboot and come back out.”
Barrel racing is a sport Snyder has always felt born to pursue, and she wasn’t about to let her accident stop her from enjoying the thrill of riding a fast horse in good dirt.
“I think that once horses are in your blood, they’re never not in it,” Snyder says. “With barrel racing, I was able to combine my love of horses with my love for speed and my competitive side. It’s the perfect combination.”
Catalyst for Change
On the day of her accident, Snyder was driving through Wyoming on her way to work at the 2010 Denver Stock Show and Rodeo. She glanced down to check her map, and the next thing she knew, she awoke in a snowbank with her back against a fence post, trying to figure out why she could wiggle her fingers but not her toes. After she was Life Flighted to a Rawlins, Wyo., hospital, doctors told her she’d likely never move her legs again.
But within four months of her accident, a determined Snyder was in the saddle again aboard her beloved horse, Power. While the occasion was joyous, she says it was also sobering, because it was at that moment that she realized that nothing, not even riding horses, was going to be the same again.
“Honestly, after I got back on Power for the first time, there was a spot where I quit for nine months because I didn’t think I was going to be able to train anymore,” Snyder reflects. “Questioning my abilities is what made me take a step back and re-evaluate everything. Later, I realized it would be fine if I couldn’t train. I was just going to have to make it work, and if that meant buying broke horses from there, that’s what I’d have to do.”
While Snyder adjusted to life riding in a saddle with Velcro straps across her hips and around her legs, Power learned to adjust to a new way of cueing. Fortunately, the black gelding was already equipped to handle everything Snyder had to teach him.
“Power was the last horse I trained before my accident happened,” she says. “I had taken him to a clinic in the fall before the accident with Shirley Ankrum. She was telling us the importance of being able to communicate with your horse through your hands and your feet. With her influence, I actually retrained Power prior to my accident, because I realized how important it was to talk to him with my hands as much as my legs during a run at barrels. It was totally an ‘everything happens for a reason’ thing.”
In 2015, Snyder competed at the richest one-day rodeo in the world, RFD-TV’s The American, as the fans’ exemption contestant. After her run on Power, over 40,000 fans gave her a standing ovation.
“That experience is hard to put into words,” Snyder says. “It was surreal. From the time we woke up in the morning to the contestant meeting to practicing to competing, surrounded by a bunch of world champions the whole time—all of it was magical.”
Once Power retired, Snyder conquered another milestone by training a new horse.
“Legacy made me realize that I could [still] train,” Snyder says. “Not every colt is as willing to learn or as athletic or smart as he is, but he was definitely meant to be mine. He has given me my confidence back to train horses. I’ve also seasoned a mare named Penny, and she has pushed me to new limits.”
These days, Snyder competes at professional rodeos and in barrel racing jackpots around the country with her little sister, Autumn, who also rides and competes.
Made for This
In addition to achieving milestones with her horses, Snyder graduated from Utah State University with a bachelor’s degree in agriculture education in 2015, then earned her master’s degree in school counseling in 2018.
“When I was taking my ag ed classes, I realized that my favorite discussions with kids were the ones where we got to talk about real life and how to face challenges and what they were going to do in the future,” she says. “I wanted to pursue that, so I decided to get my master’s in counseling. Now as a speaker, I’m using the skills I learned to help others. I feel like my education helps me to communicate with people on a better level.”
Snyder attributes her inner strength to the love and support of her family and to her belief that God always has a plan.
“My family is the reason I am who I am,” she says. “My parents taught me so much about compassion, love, hard work and perseverance. My siblings have also helped shape me into who I am with the support they’ve given me. Even when I was sitting in the middle of it, thinking, ‘There’s no way this is how it’s supposed to play out,’ I had to realize that God had a plan and I had to trust that He’s always got it figured out, because He has so far.”
Eyes on the Future
While she already leads a busy life on the road speaking and competing, Amberley Snyder has big plans for her future.
“I really enjoy the life I live right now,” she says. “I want to continue to inspire and motivate and grow my platform as a speaker. I’d also love to make it back to The American. I’ve made it to the semifinals a few times. I also want to make it to the National Finals Rodeo, rodeo full-time, and all of that amazing stuff.”
In 2020, Snyder started her own charity, the Amberley Snyder Freedom Foundation.
“The goal is to provide pieces of freedom for people, whether it’s people who are injured like me or who grew up this way,” she says. “I understand how important independence and freedom are to everyone. I realized what it felt like to lose all of that and then have to try to earn it all back.
“I want to help people with that, whether that’s putting hand controls in somebody’s car or a ramp at a house or buying someone a car. I don’t know how big it’ll become, but that’s the goal.”
This article about western dressage appeared in the 2021 special edition of Western Life. Click here to subscribe!