A paraplegic rodeo competitor attended the Alberta High School Finals Rodeo this year with an inspiring message of hope and determination for the young cowboys and girls.
The shared passion between Amberley Snyder and the western Canada’s rodeo youth provided the perfect environment for Snyder to share her journey of how she lost the use of her legs at 18 years old and still found the strength to keep competing.
“Everyone in here will face obstacles in their life. Everyone in there will face adversity,” she told the crowd at Cowboy Prom.
Now in her early 20s, Snyder has maintained a positive outlook on life since her tragic vehicle accident.
It was 2010, during a long drive Snyder stopped at a gas station. Once back in the vehicle she paused to take a selfie before starting the ignition and pulling away. She had forgotten to put on her seatbelt.
Ten miles down the road, after a brief glance at her map the pickup truck veered off course. In an attempt to correct it, Snyder ended up rolling her truck.
She told the rodeo competitors, her peers, that during the accident she could feel the truck lift from the ground and start to roll. “I’m 18 years old and I’m thinking this is it . . . I’m about to die.”
Snyder was ejected through the window, hit her stomach square on a fence post, which she broke off and carried another 20 feet with her before coming to a stop in a snow bank.
In the hospital she was told by a doctor that her chances of ever walking again where slim to none and more on the side of none.
“At this point you have to decide what you’re going to do with your life,” said Snyder. For her, not riding was not an option.
On her first day of therapy, Snyder’s nurse told her she needed to make some goals and give herself something to strive for. “I said ‘walk, ride and rodeo, easy. That’s all I care about.’”
However, before she could get to the big goals, Snyder realized she first needed to accomplish the smaller ones, such as re-learning to dress herself and how to operate a wheelchair.
Once she stood in her leg braces, despite the fact it wasn’t how she imagined, she would walk again, Snyder crossed if off her list and four months after her accident got back on her horse for the first time.
She could not even feel the animal under her and for the first time since her accident she cried. “I was more devastated that day than the day they told me I’d never walk again.”
“I thought once I got back on my horse, that would be the one thing in my life that wouldn’t change,” she added.
That fall Snyder went off to college and implored her mother to sell her horses, which she didn’t. It was a call from a journalist that forced her to try again. The journalist wanted to do a story about Snyder and her horses because she had been too embarrassed to tell anybody she wasn’t riding.
Snyder said yes to the story and she and her younger sister devised the seatbelt and straps contraption that keeps her in the saddle.
As soon as she was back in the saddle Snyder wasted no time entering a barrel-racing event. She came in second place and only one second off the winner.
Snyder, who has also returned to breakaway roping, says she is now racing faster than before her accident. In 2009, she won a championship title at the National Barrel Racing Finals Rodeo.
“You’re never going to know how far you can go if you give up . . . You decide how far you keep going, you put that limit on yourself,” she told the rapt prom goers.
Snyder refused to give up rodeo because that was what she lived for. “Attitude is one of the only things in life you have complete control over. How you handle those obstacles in life is up to you.”