Amberley Snyder Barrel Racer

Barrel Racer Amberley Snyder: Racing While Paralyzed

How do you think you would respond to a devastating change to your life? One that impacted your mobility, your athleticism and interfered with your ability to follow your passion? Perhaps you know because you’ve lived through such a blow. In the deepest reaches of my soul, I don’t know how resilient I would be. When I first saw Amberley Snyder, paralyzed from the waist down, I was in awe. How could you not be? She not only survived a rollover accident that ejected her from the vehicle, but she’s thriving and rejecting the limitations of what typically can be accomplished with a T11/T12 spinal cord injury. Amberley’s accident happened 7 years ago, when she was just 18. Her life stretching before her like an open highway to endless rodeo wins. But in the time it took for Amberley to overcorrect the wheel, that life ended and a new journey began.

Although the first doctor to treat Amberley told her riding horses would be out of the question, her resolve was firm in that she’d be back in the saddle. She felt sure that in all the ways her life would be different, her life with horses would remain. Sure enough, she was back on horseback by April, just four months after her injury. But that resolve was tested one day in August, eight months after her accident, on a trail ride with her mom. Her mom’s horse started acting up, being a bit naughty. In her old life, she would have traded horses with her mom and schooled the naughty pony. But with her new limitations, she could no longer play that role. In that moment she felt she had truly lost her ability to have horses. She told her mom to sell them. If she couldn’t train her horses to her liking, then she didn’t want to have them at all. But her mom didn’t sell the horses, and Amberley didn’t give up on her dream to keep riding and competing.

Amberley Snyder Barrel Racing on Faith

And compete she did. Winning her first buckle in 2016. Her first since the accident. I asked if she was nervous to be strapped to her horses (she rides seat-belted into the saddle, her legs secured into the stirrups). She hasn’t been nervous because she’s been careful to get on horses she trusts, the surefooted and well-behaved ones. Her mom did catch flack, however, at the races for “letting her daughter be strapped to a horse.” If I could see Amberley I’m sure she’s shrugging at this. As if her mom could have stopped Amberley if even if she wanted to.

It took a bit of time between the accident and winning at a race. I asked if she ever doubted herself, how she stayed motivated. She credits her hardworking family for bringing her up with a resilient attitude. She was brought up to work hard and dedicate herself to her passion. Although this new set of challenges were not what she pictured for herself, her dedication to achieve her goals was already a part of her spirit before the accident.

Amberley Snyder Horse Love

What the accident did bring out of her is a deeper understanding and empathy for other people’s struggles. She’s come to understand that everyone has some kind of trial they are working through. She has brought that deeper level of empathy and encouragement to her public speaking events. Encouraging the idea that people need to focus on what we each are capable of and not put limitations on ourselves or others. She heard three different physicians at three different points in her recovery tell her she would never barrel race again. But they had never met Amberley before. They didn’t realize it wasn’t a question of if, but rather how she would ride and compete again.

Do you get a sense of just how fierce and faithful she is? Those traits are driving her work to walk again. In December, while in Las Vegas for the National Finals Rodeo, she worked with Project Walk. Physiologically you can’t make a muscle fire that doesn’t have an operational nerve, but they worked to identify previously undiscovered firing nerves that she can continue to develop and use to make her muscles work and grow.

Amberley Snyder Horsewoman Inspiration Horseback Rider

She knows that one way or another, either through miracle or medicine, she will walk again. I don’t doubt that she will make this dream a reality as well.

Currently she is working on her masters in school counseling, traveling each week for public speaking engagements. Any free time she has is spent cooking or catching up on Netflix. Although, as you can imagine, she doesn’t have much free time.

Amberley is a brilliant example of how we get to decide what we are capable of. Whether we remain trembling beginners in our sport, in our jobs, in our dreams, or if we stretch and push and grow in order to make our desires reality. She certainly makes an excellent case that the choice is ours.

You can follow Amberley’s exploits on Facebook

I’m clearly not nearly as awesome as Amberley, but you can also follow me as well on Facebook

Do you have your own story of resiliency and pushing through the limits you thought you had? I’d love to hear it.

All photos courtesy of Amberley Snyder.

Published by

Theresa Rice

Writing a modern day western and telling my daily stories of humor, sadness or inspiration. Depending on the day, it might be all three.

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