And the winner is . . .
Amberley Snyder will compete in the richest one-day rodeo in the world just five years after doctors told her she would never ride a horse again.
Typically, contestants in RFD-TV's $2.5 million rodeo, THE AMERICAN presented by Polaris RANGER, must earn a berth via their top-10 ranking in professional rodeo or by qualifying via THE AMERICAN Semi-Finals. However, RFD-TV allowed rodeo fans to choose one rodeo athlete to receive a special exemption invitation via online voting that wrapped up January 27. Nearly 40,000 votes were cast and Snyder received more than 20 percent, edging two-time world champion Lindsay Sears.
“I don't think it has completely sunk in yet,” said Snyder, who will graduate this spring from Utah State University with a degree in agricultural education. “I've been motivated and pushed by what my idols in rodeo have done, and all of a sudden I'll be in the same arena as these people and their phenomenal horses. I'm so blessed for the opportunity to go there and run with them.”
Snyder, 24, of Elkridge, Utah, began barrel racing when she was seven years old. Six months before her accident, she won the world all-around championship in the National Little Britches Rodeo Association (NLBRA). But her dreams of a career in professional rodeo were smashed when she rolled her truck on a lonely highway in Wyoming. The five-hour surgery that followed left her with lots of hardware in her back but no feeling in her legs.
When her therapist asked Snyder to choose some goals, she said, “That's easy. Walk. Ride. Rodeo.” Snyder not only climbed back in the saddle, but began competitively barrel racing again. She plans to compete on March 1 aboard her 12-year-old horse, ATP Power, which she bought nine years ago as a racehorse and re-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 said. “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.”
Snyder's determination and positive spirit have made her wildly popular with rodeo fans who know her online as “wheelchair cowgirl.” In fact, barrel-horse breeders Jeff and Andrea Busby of Busby Quarter Horses announced they would donate $25,000 each to a charity of Snyder's choice and to one of their own favorites if fans voted her in. Andrea, incidentally, is also competing in THE AMERICAN Semi-Finals.
The Busby family's generous gifts will benefit Hope Counts – the foundation raising money to help NLBRA families with an injured member – and Marcus Luttrell's Lone Survivor Foundation, which supports wounded service members and their families.
“For them to make this dream a reality for me when they didn't even know me, and then on top of that, to put money toward charity makes it even more special,” Snyder said. “I'm so thankful they were willing to do that.”
Tickets for RFD-TV's THE AMERICAN, presented by Polaris RANGER, and the PBR's Iron Cowboy VI are on sale at the AT&T Stadium Box Office, all Ticketmaster locations and at americanrodeo.com. Prices for each event range from $20 to $150, not including taxes.
Tickets for THE AMERICAN Semi-Finals are available for $40 per single day or a three-performance package of $100, not including taxes. They can be purchased at the Cowtown Coliseum box office, at stockyardsrodeo.com, or americanrodeo.com.