In April of last year, I’d just flown home from a speaking engagement. I drove from the airport to rodeo practice where I coached a few high school girls. My little sister was a part of this group and had my young horse saddled for me. I had ridden this filly for a few weeks, and she was ready to come out of the round pen and have new experiences. This was day three in the arena with all the rodeo girls.
We finished barrel practice and were ready to move on to breakaway roping. As I waited for my girls to switch horses and be ready, one girl dropped her rope near me. My filly jumped and snorted at the rope. I knew she was rather spooky, but I thought we were making progress. The jump and snort were relatively mild reactions.
As I reached down to pet my filly for being so brave, she was still scared. She whirled around and decided to buck. I’ve always joked with people about horses bucking with me. I’m literally strapped in; I don’t have to worry about being bucked off! Two jumps into this episode, my reins flipped over her head. I had no control and couldn’t bail from this situation. The filly was able to get me on the side of her as she continued to buck around the arena. Each jump was a whiplash for me as I hit my saddle and the buckles on my breast collar.
Forty or so seconds passed before we could stop the filly. I reached up and grabbed her headstall while my little sister caught the reins. I was lifted off the horse and taken to the hospital with injuries to my face and neck.
Two days after this experience, I wanted to get back on. I was still sore and bruised so we saddled my rope horse. Maximus (shown here) is 21 years old and Mr. Reliable when you want something quiet to ride. He’s been everywhere and only gets excited when you back in the box to rope. I thought he’d be the best option to ride versus any of my barrel horses. As we were walking outside, he spooked and jumped just a little.
My heart sank. I’ve never been scared on a horse’s back in my life. This was the happiest place on Earth for me; it was my place of freedom. And now, I was terrified.
I went home and had to think about what I was going to do. You can’t be scared on a horse and be successful. I couldn’t let that fear keep me from being who I want to be. I thought about my family. My dad, being a retired Major League Baseball player, has taught us all about failure in his sport. You’ll fail more often than you’ll succeed and strike out more often than you’ll hit a home run, he’d tell us. But knowing those odds, knowing you can strike out, can’t keep you from walking up to home plate.
I was scared. How could my happiest place—on a horse—now be filled with fear? What was I going to do? What would you do?
I decided that my love and goals with horses needed to be bigger than my fear. Growing up, if I got nervous when I rode, I would sing. Any song that came to mind or if they were playing music at the event, I’d sing along to keep my nerves in control. I know it might sound cheesy, but it helps to keep your horse from feeling your nervous jitters.
I didn’t get back on the filly; my family wouldn’t let me. I went back to my three good horses and rode them. I found my happy place again and became comfortable on a horse. I have young horses now that I’ve ridden, and I’m wary, but not afraid. It was a process and still is. I just know what’s more important to me and will keep looking ahead, rather than behind.
Back in the Saddle
It’s OK to have moments of fear, but don’t allow that fear keep you from accomplishing your dreams. Allow yourself to accept moments of disappointment, failure, or fear. You can’t avoid those moments; they’re a part of growth. To grow and succeed, you must experience setbacks—even those that scare you off your path.
A great part about your life is you get to choose if those setbacks will be the end of the story. Or if those setbacks are just stepping stones along the journey to your accomplishments. That moment of fear for me was a stepping stone and a learning experience. I’m retired from riding broncs, but I’m not going to give up on riding my horses.
Amberley Snyder, Elkridge, Utah, is a barrel racer and inspirational speaker who’s fought her way back from tragedy. She inspires riders across the country by telling her triumphant story of returning to the saddle after a tragic truck accident that left her with no feeling below her waist. Just 18 months after her wreck, she was back in the saddle. She’s made the ultimate comeback to compete in rodeos across the western United States and shares her journey and horse life on social media and at amberleysnyder.org.