It has been a long ride for Amberley Synder, 27, the former FFA state president from Elk Ridge, Utah.
Synder’s incredible story as a barrel racer who became paralyzed from the waist down from a vehicle accident and yet got back in the saddle and is barrel racing again is an inspiration to both young and old in agriculture everywhere.
Today, she is a motivational speaker, who plans to speak at the 2018 Montana Nutrition Conference and Livestock Forum in Bozeman, Mont., April 17-18.
“I feel God gave me this responsibility and opportunity as a speaker. Everything happens for a reason and mine may be helping others,” Synder said.
She recently completed her master’s degree in school counseling, but wants to speak to as many people as possible before settling down to a job.
Synder’s main love is barrel racing with her horses. She has been involved in rodeo since the age of 7, winning many competitions on her way to being a competitor on the Pro Rodeo Wilderness Circuit.
In high school, she raced barrels at the National High School Finals Rodeo and was the 2009 Little Britches Rodeo Association All-Around Champion.
“I love, love, love barrel racing, and I am working toward making the Pro Rodeo National Circuit Finals finals,” Synder said.
That is a huge goal for a young woman who has been in a wheelchair since the age of 19.
In January of 2010, Synder was driving through Wyoming on her way to work at the Denver Stock Show and Rodeo.
She remembers getting gas and then heading out on the road, forgetting to reattach her seat belt. Synder looked down at her map – then quickly looked up. She realized within seconds she had crossed into the other lane.
Synder overcorrected her truck and it slid off the road and rolled, ejecting her from the vehicle. She slammed into a fence post, breaking her back, and immediately felt the loss of sensation in her legs.
Doctors later told her she would never walk again, and that if she had had her seatbelt on at the time of the accident, she would still be able to walk.
Synder has a fiery spirit, and her parents taught her to never give up.
“They have always taught us to work hard toward everything we want to accomplish. They supported us kids in all our goals,” she said.
Synder wanted to ride horses – and to barrel race again.
A few months after the accident, she was back in the saddle, with her horse, Power (Legacy is her new horse that is fast around the barrels).
“My horse, Power, gave me the chance to ride again. Legacy has given me the chance to win again,” she said.
It was discouraging at first, and it took her a long time to figure out a way to ride again.
Synder retrofitted her saddle with Velcro straps and used – a seat belt, of all things – to hold her to the saddle. She has a lift to raise her to her horse, but her horses don’t really like it. She uses a ramp to lift herself up to the saddle, or someone helps her.
How does Synder communicate with her horse to start racing without her legs moving?
“My horses are trained to my hands and my voice,” she said.
Synder worked hard and raced stronger and stronger, flying around the barrels.
“I ran in the American in 2015. I earned my Pro card in 2017. I have outrun myself from when my legs worked. I am there to win like anyone else,” she said.
It hasn’t been easy racing a horse in competition one minute, and steering her wheelchair around the next minute.
“I have fallen from my horse a few times, and even broke my femur last year,” Synder said. “I can’t think about that when I run or I don’t compete to the best of my ability.”
How has she kept going despite every obstacle put in her path?
“I truly have just continued my life when I had an option not to,” she said. “I didn’t wake up one day and decide I would be inspiring. That’s the crazy part. I really have been lucky that people can gain strength from following my journey.”
In addition to racing and counseling, Synder gained a new career as a motivational speaker – all those years in FFA paid off.
“FFA is truly what taught me to be a speaker. It has so many leadership opportunities, and is a place for everyone to get involved. FFA provides and builds skills for future endeavors,” she said.
Synder now speaks at FFA conventions and to farm, ranch and rodeo groups around the nation.
She also has a Facebook series called “Wheelchair Wednesdays,” where she talks about how she has adapted to the wheelchair and still remains a cowgirl.
In one series, Synder showed her audience how she still can wear cowboy boots. All she had to do was put in a zipper down the back of each boot.
She continues to work at life, one challenge at a time.
“We all will have challenges. They don’t have to be on the outside like mine,” Synder said. “Don’t compare yours to someone else’s. God doesn’t give us anything we can’t handle. You are tougher than you think. Lean on your support and never give up.”