At 18 years old, most kids are carefree, and their biggest worry is trying to figure out what they want to do after high school. But for Sami Bayless of Lockwood, Missouri, the only thing on her mind was being able to get in the saddle again.
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On June 6, 2018, Bayless’ life would change forever. What started out as an average morning for the teenager changed drastically after Bayless was done with her morning barn chores and headed to work. During her morning commute, Bayless would end up in a life-threatening, head-on car accident that left her with a broken femur, a broken tibia and fibula in the left leg, a broken kneecap and femur fracture in the right leg, vertebrae fractures, and spinal cord damage.
Bayless, who doesn’t remember anything that happened immediately after the accident, was life-flighted to Mercy Hospital in Springfield, Missouri, where she underwent two surgeries. It was there she found out that she had suffered a severe spinal cord injury and was told by doctors she may never regain the ability to move below her waist.
However, Bayless, being the fighter that she is, was determined to walk again and not only that, but to continue her rodeo career. A week after her first surgeries, Bayless was flown to Denver, Colorado, to undergo several more surgeries and begin months of physical therapy.
Because Bayless had an incomplete injury, she was eventually able to regain a lot of movement during her time in physical rehab. “At first I was in a power chair, then I went to a manual wheelchair, and then a walker,” Bayless explained. “Now I’m walking without the help of anything. I’m slow, but I’m doing it.”
In total, Bayless would endure 14 different surgeries, and come across several roadblocks along the way, including a bad bone infection which almost resulted in the amputation of her left leg. This left Bayless out of the saddle for much longer than she had hoped for.
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Help from an Old Friend
After months of rehab, Bayless finally got the OK from her doctors in Denver to return home to Missouri. When she finally saw her horses, she knew she had no choice but to find a way to ride again.
When Bayless made the decision to get back in the saddle, she knew that Dunny, her trusty partner for the previous 10 years and the same horse that taught Bayless the basics of riding and rodeo, would be there for her.
“Dunny was the first horse I competed on in rodeo. I barrel raced on her, I roped on her, and I did the goat tying with her,” Bayless said. “She’s a really great horse. She’s always been a people pleaser; she wants to make the person who is riding her happy.”
Her horse’s people-pleasing attitude made her the perfect companion for Bayless to build up her strength and balance on. “I really trust Dunny, so I thought she would be the perfect horse to help me learn how to ride again. We’ve had to relearn a lot of things together,” Bayless shared. “We’ve had to work on using a step stool so I can get on her. We’ve also had to work on teaching her basic riding commands without as many leg cues, since I still can’t use my legs like I used to.”
Together, Bayless and Dunny overcame many struggles with learning how to ride with more seat cues and fewer leg cues. Bayless knew that she could use a little guidance and support from a fellow rodeo rider who knows what it’s like to get back in the saddle after a life-changing car accident.
A Day With Amberley
When Bayless found out about the Horse&Rider Win-a-Day Contest presented by PuriShield, she knew that it was meant to be and that she had to enter for the chance to win a one-on-one riding session with Amberley Snyder.
By winning a private lesson with Snyder, Bayless would finally have the opportunity to ride and talk with someone who had gone through a similar life-changing event and knew what it was like to have to completely relearn how to ride. Snyder could also relate to Bayless, who went through multiple surgeries and months of physical therapy before finally having the chance to get back in the saddle.
“Amberley has been there, she gets it,” Bayless explained in the finalist video she submitted. “She could help me understand how to adjust my riding, because she knows what it’s like to no longer be able to use her legs. Her story showed me that if she can get through it, I can too.”
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Goals and Confidence
When the day finally arrived, it was a hot and humid day in early May; the start of summer wasn’t far behind. But the warm weather wasn’t going to slow anyone down. And as Snyder and Bayless met, a huge grin came across Bayless' face as she started talking with one of her barrel racing idols.
From there the afternoon was filled with positivity, as Snyder showed Bayless several exercises she could use to help her horse learn how to respond to hand cues instead of leg cues. Realizing how hard it was to gain confidence after a life-changing injury, Snyder also worked with Bayless to help her adjust her riding so she can build up her confidence and continue competing with riders who don’t have the same limitations (a similar problem Snyder faced after her injury). Reminding Bayless that while she might have to adjust the way she rides, it doesn’t mean she has to say goodbye to being competitive in rodeo.
“Everything shifted once I realized it wasn’t going to be the same,” Snyder shared with Bayless. “But I needed to appreciate what I could do. After months of trial and error and saying I wanted to quit riding because I couldn’t ride a horse the way I could prior to my accident, I finally got back on my horse. I picked up a lope—which wasn’t great—but I knew right away there was no way I could go without riding horses. Now, I get on my horse, I strap myself in, and forget what I can’t do. It’s not worth paying attention to.”
Working toward a goal is an important part of Snyder’s philosophy. As many know (thanks to the success of Snyder’s recent Netflix movie) before Snyder was even cleared to leave her hospital bed, she knew exactly what she wanted to do: walk, ride, rodeo.
Similar to Bayless’ story, Snyder also faced several roadblocks that came with recovery. However, that didn’t stop Snyder from figuring out a way to continue riding as she works toward her main goal of walking again.
“If I had told myself I was only going to compete once my legs worked, I’d still be sitting at home,” Snyder shared with Bayless. “There came a time where I had to realize this is where I was. I still have my goal of getting better and eventually walking, but what life was I going to have between now and then if I just stopped doing what I love to do.”
The two riders faced similar, yet different, injuries, leaving both of them with the goals of walk, ride, rodeo. Thanks to the Amberley Snyder Win-a-Day Contest presented by Horse&Rider and PuriShield, Bayless was almost there.
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