"It’s so crazy. In two days, there's a movie coming out about my life," Amberley Snyder told Refinery29 over the phone.
For Snyder, it's been a long, often excruciatingly difficult road to this moment: Her incredible life story will be seen by millions of Netflix watchers. She's dedicated her life to spreading that story: For half the year, Snyder goes on a speaking tour. On the day of our interview, she was giving three talks in Nebraska alone. But even the most rigorous schedule touching 36 states (so far) can't compare to Netflix's 139 million subscribers.
As Snyder puts it, Walk. Ride. Rodeo. is a condensed, "Hollywoodized" version of her life. By the time she was 19, Snyder was a world champion barrel racer, a rodeo event in which a horse and rider compete to circle around barrels in a cloverleaf pattern the shortest amount of time. She was living her dream. But on January 10th, 2010, as she was driving from Utah to Denver, her truck veered off the road. She was ejected from the car and her back slammed into a fence post. Snyder survived the terrible accident, but was left paralyzed from the waist down.
While Snyder was present for much of Walk. Ride. Rodeo's filming, she stayed away on the days of the car accident and hospital. "I didn't see those until they came out on camera. It was surreal to watch it," Snyder said. She gave herself a choice. "I can decide to relive each scene, or realize Spencer [Locke] is playing me."
Understandably, the months after the accident were extremely difficult. It was the first time since she was 7 that she wasn't riding every day. She couldn't even walk. Snyder credits the support of her family — mother, father, and five siblings — with keeping her positive, and keeping her strong. "My family is why I am who I am. They are the strength that gets me through the hard times. I tried in the beginning to even be okay when I wasn't, and I learned it’s okay to have bad days," she said.
She said the only thing getting her out of bed in the morning was her Australian shepherd, Ellie Mae, jumping on her wheelchair. "She'd jump on my hands and say it's okay, you're going to get out," Snyder said.
Incredibly, four months after the accident, Snyder was back on her racing horse, Power. She no longer had use of her legs. However, she was able to develop a system of communication with the horse through just her hands and voice. Power was the first horse she trained after the accident. "He picked it up really fast. Once he learned to ignore my legs, it was good," she said.
Snyder developed a new language with her horses. "We had to figure out how to be on the same page. They know, depending on where my hands are, what I’m asking them. I smooch at them in order to say they pay attention. Kiss is the gas pedal," Snyder explained.
Currently, Snyder races with a horse named Legacy. "He’s the first horse I’ve trained now since my accident, which is why I named him 'Legs:' He becomes them for me." During rodeo season, which spans from May to September, she and Legacy are racing every weekend. They hit eight rodeos a week.
For Snyder, horse riding is freedom. She gets to leave her wheelchair in the trailer. She gets to fly. And in Walk. Ride. Rodeo., we get to watch her do it. Snyder does all of the racing herself in the movie. Going in, that was one of her agreements with producers. Snyder didn't want an able-bodied person riding for her. "I’m the only one in the United States who does what I do," Snyder said.
Snyder also taught Locke the riding and wheelchair basics. "I was nervous at first because she had not been on a horse before. I was like, 'Oh great, we've got some work to do.' We flew her out to my house and did a boot camp. She rode the real Power." Fittingly, Snyder's 18-year-old sister, Autumn, plays the younger version of herself in the movie. On set, Amberley, Locke, and Autumn called themselves the triplets.
In addition to winning races, Snyder has made sharing her story her life's mission. Already, she's helped other disabled people adopt her riding set-up. They're not competing yet — but they're on their way.
With Walk. Ride. Rodeo., Snyder hopes to touch even more people. "The movie process make me feel like I have an opportunity for others to go on the journey with me. I'm excited," she said.