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On a frigid winter afternoon outside Rawlins, Wyoming, Amberley Snyder’s life changed in an instant.
It was chance distraction that caused her pickup truck to fade across lanes and when the young rodeo prospect over-corrected to get back into her lane, her truck careened off the highway and began a violent roll.
She was ejected with such force that her petite body snapped the fencepost, moving it and the attached wires some 20 feet. She landed on her back in a snowbank. The bloody gash on her forehead was later determined to come from a strike from her own shinbone, where several locks of her fine blond hair were embedded.
But she was alive.
In the distance, her mangled pickup truck lay silent as the impact of the accident began to set in. She could not feel her legs.
Perhaps it was fate that she survived the crash. She didn’t have her seat belt fastened and it could be what saved her life considering truck cab’s extreme damage.
Or perhaps, it was a divine intervention, because in an instant the life of the headstrong rodeo competitor had purposely changed forever. Amberley Snyder was meant to do something greater.
Amberley’s recovery from the accident is well-documented and remarkable. In just a matter of months, she was back atop her beloved horse. Almost instantly, she became a source of inspiration for anyone who came to know her story.
January 2020 marks the 10th anniversary of her accident as well as her 29th birthday. In the 10 years since, Amberley’s road to recovery has not only been an inspiration to many, it has also been a journey for her family and friends, who, to this day, stand firmly by her side as she continues to grow and help others.
Amberley is a busy gal. As a motivational speaker, she travels extensively and has crafted a career that serves as a way to make a living as well as way to give back.
In the past year, a movie about her life premiered on Netflix: Walk. Ride. Rodeo. Her inspirational story is one for the ages, showcasing her strong-willed personality and her devotion to help others, implanted well before her accident by a close-knit family whose values, to this day, steer her mission.
COWGIRL caught up with the vibrant motivational speaker and competitor at her family home in Elkridge, Utah, to reflect on the past ten years.
A conversation with Amberley Snyder:
CG: What has been your greatest accomplishment in the past 10 years?
AS: I would have to say saving someone’s life. Right after my accident, the very first speech I gave was for the FFA Convention about overcoming obstacles. I had actually written it before my accident, but gave it three months to the day after. A couple of weeks later, I got a message from a kid who had written his suicide letter. After hearing my speech, he decided his life was worth living.
I think that was a pivotal moment for me in realizing that this chair was bigger than me. There was more to it than just the frustrations and the daily pain I was going through. There was a bigger purpose to serve.
CG: What were your biggest setbacks?
AS: The daily challenge of patience: with myself, with other people, with horses, with the world. Patience is still my hardest setback and biggest challenge.
What affects me the most is when in any part of my life, I need help. I’ve worked really hard to build back my independence since my accident; to rebuild every piece. So when something gets stripped—so look at it as far as the weather, right? If it snows, there’s a piece of my independence that gets stripped because now there are things that I physically am unable to do.
CG: Who are you as a person after these 10 years?
AS: I still feel like a normal person. I still wake up in the morning with the goals that I have, with the obstacles that I face, with the things that I enjoy, the family that I love, but I have an opportunity to change lives every single day. So the person I’ve been able to become is, I hope, a beacon of light. For me, this chair is not ideal, but the opportunities I get to have because of it are truly what has shaped me into who I am.
CG: What are you the proudest of?
AS: I’m very proud that I’ve turned something that honestly takes people down a really dark path into what I hope is a beacon of light. I feel like we have that choice often in life to either be surrounded by the darkness—because there’s always darkness—or choose to bring the light into that. So I feel really proud that I’ve been able to take something that at times felt really dark and turn it into light—not only for myself, but hopefully for my family and other people to see.
CG: When you reflect back on rebuilding your life after the accident, what is really important to you personally?
AS: My family has always been important to me. They’ve always been really special. I mean, if there’s something that can immediately make me cry and become emotional, it’s going to be my family and the relationships that I have.
CG: What’s the hardest thing that you have to face every single day that just won’t go away?
AS: Needing help with riding my horses. I’ve worked super-hard to be independent: catching my horse, saddling my horse, riding my horse. I have learned that riding alone is not really that safe or, honestly, efficient. So the biggest challenge every single day when I’m at my house myself is, ‘Okay, when can I have somebody come and help me ride?’ Honestly my day goes around that. Then, I can plan the rest of my day accordingly.
CG: Who’s the most important person in your life?
AS: That one’s tough. I mean, my first answer is the Lord. Because when I am having the hardest moments, I rely on Him, as everything happens for a reason. And if I was meant to handle this, He gave me every ability to do so. After Him, it’s a pretty tight race between my mom, my little sister, and my closest friend, Emmy. These are the three people who get to see the bad days, and yet they still love me afterwards.
CG: Are you in a relationship?
AS: I’m not in a relationship right now. I would love to find my best friend.
CG: Is there anything you can’t do?
AS: There’s a lot that I can’t do, which is crazy because I try to do everything possible by myself. I mean, that was the goal when I bought my house; I wanted to live by myself. People come over because I want them to come over, not because I need them to come over. That was a huge goal for me and I’ve been able to do that within this past year. The only thing I need help with is riding. I feed my horses; I take care of my horses. I do everything in that aspect, but with riding, it’s just smarter to have somebody around. I’m willing to make that choice so that I can ride.
CG: Upcoming competitively, you have The American and Rodeo New York, two very high-profile events. How will you prepare to take them on, not only competitively, but with the spotlight that comes with it?
AS: Anytime I go in the arena, I want to feel completely prepared. We have a saying in my house, ‘hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard.’ I am completely aware of what I am unable to do in the arena. It’s no secret that my legs don’t work. So for me, I want to know that I put in every ounce of effort I possibly can to make up for what I lack. That’s the mentality I have any time I go in the arena. It doesn’t matter if it’s a $30 jackpot. It doesn’t matter if it’s The American, or Rodeo New York. I want to know that I’m fully prepared to be there, and every ability that I have is getting utilized in that arena.
CG: This year, an autobiographical movie about you came out: Walk. Ride. Rodeo. What impact has the movie had on your life?
AS: When they very first approached me about making a movie, I said, no. I felt like my family had been through enough. We had all lived this one time, and I didn’t feel like we needed to live it again. It has been a blessing that I didn’t really foresee. I didn’t know how that was going to be when everyone has seen very intimate parts of your life and struggles that you’ve gone through, but it’s been really cool. I’ve had an opportunity to reach people across the entire globe that possibly I would not have otherwise.
CG: Did they get it right?
AS: I would say they got about 85 percent of my life right. They could’ve been more accurate, but we know how Hollywood works, with big things a little bit bigger, the lows a little bit lower. But honestly, I really wanted the message to be right, and I felt like they did a good job there.
CG: What advice do you give others who’ve found themselves in similar situations as your own?
AS: It’s okay to have bad days. I think that our world tells us that we’re not allowed to have those. We’re supposed to wake up and be fine and put a little dirt on it, when in all reality, sometimes life sucks. I think that it’s okay to recognize that. It’s okay to be sad. It’s okay to get mad. It’s okay to feel upset, because then what? I think that we need to go through those emotions and feel that, so that then we can decide what to do next, rather than bottle it up and then try to handle it later on. So my advice is allow yourself to feel it, allow yourself to move through it, and then pick what comes after that.
CG: In your travels and appearances, is there a singular moment that you’ll never forget?
AS: It’s always the littles—the little kids who just stick out the most. When I think back through my past 10 years to when my heart has been completely touched, it is those little kids. I think it’s because I felt like when I got in this accident that I lost the ability to be a hero. I felt like I’d given up a cape, right? Given up that part of me, because who wants to say, ‘Oh, I want to be like you when I grow up,’ when you’re sitting in a wheelchair. So when these little kids still come up to me, and that’s what they say … I mean, wow, right?
That is when you know you’re doing something right. When these kids want to be you. I mean, there are way cooler people in the world, but they pick me. I meet these little kids with all sorts of disabilities across the whole world, and when they look at my story, they realize they can do it, too. And gosh, I could piece together all these little children that I have met across the globe, and it just makes me want to cry thinking about every single little face I have looked into when they’re in awe of me, and they don’t know I’m in awe of them at the same time.
CG: What’s on Amberley Snyder’s radar for the next 10 years?
AS: Speaking-wise, I’m going to speak in all 50 states. Rodeo-wise, I’m going to make the circuit finals, the national finals, and back to The American. I will find my best friend. I will have my charity started. I will have written another book, if not a couple. And in the next 10 years, you should see me on my feet. Whether through myself or with the help of growing technology, I will be doing something on my feet in the next 10 years, for sure. CG
Watch the full video version of this interview with Amberley Snyder on COWGIRLMagazine.com and in the new COWGIRL Empowered vignettes within The Cowboy Channel series, RanchHer.