by Jennifer Denison and Ross Hecox
Although doctors told Amberley Snyder in 2010 that she would never walk or ride again, the Elkridge, Utah, barrel racer is preparing to compete for $1 million at The American, the world’s richest one-day rodeo, March 1 in Arlington, Texas.
Snyder began barrel racing when she was 7 years old, and after her senior year in high school she won the 2009 world all-around championship in the National Little Britches Rodeo Association. Six months later, an automobile accident paralyzed her from the waist down.
“I told [the doctors], ‘I rodeo. I ride horses. When can I ride again?’ ” Snyder says. “They told me ‘You’re probably not going to be able to do that again, and even if you get back on a horse you’re probably not going to compete.’ ”
Now 24, Snyder defied the predictions and runs barrels competitively. She is looking forward to The American, RFD-TV’s $2.5 million rodeo presented by Polaris Ranger. Typically, contestants must earn a berth in the finals by being ranked in the top 10 in their event in professional rodeo or by qualifying through The American Semi-Finals. However, RFD-TV allowed rodeo fans to vote online for one rodeo athlete to receive a special exemption invitation. Nearly 40,000 votes were cast, and Snyder won in a landslide.
At The American, she plans to ride ATP Power, a 12-year-old former racehorse she purchased nine years ago and trained to run barrels. He was voted Horse of the Year in Snyder’s region of the National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association.
“After the accident, he completely stepped up and has been a huge part of why I’m back to competing,” she says. “That horse just takes care of me. I know he won’t stumble, and he even pins his ears at other horses when I’m riding, to protect me. Every time I get on his back and leave my wheelchair at the trailer, I feel a sense of freedom that gives me a moment of complete happiness.”
In the five years since her accident, Snyder has gained a new perspective.
“Everything happens for a reason, and there’s a reason this happened to me,” she says. “I have zero doubt I will walk again. Five years in a wheelchair just blows my mind. But it’s not forever, so it’s okay. The opportunities have outweighed the bad things.
“[With The American], it’s crazy that one run can have such an influence. Anybody has a chance. To run in the same arena on the same day as all of these phenomenal cowgirls and their horses means a lot.”