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Back in the Saddle
Bill Finley
June 17, 1991
Against enormous odds and after more than six years of rehabilitation, a jockey returns to the track
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June 17, 1991

Back In The Saddle

Against enormous odds and after more than six years of rehabilitation, a jockey returns to the track

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The mangled leg barely clung to the rest of the rider's body. It was held there by a few inches of skin. There had been a violent collision of horse, man and the inner rail at Prescott Downs in Arizona.

The man, Derry Snyder, was a jockey, which meant he realized that things like this could happen. To ride is to risk life and limb eight, nine, 10 times a day, in pursuit of thrills and a means to pay the rent. In 1984, Snyder was in his 21st year in the saddle, and he had endured dozens of accidents, some of them bad ones. In '82 a wayward horse had carried him over a rail, then had landed on top of him after both had crashed onto a patch of concrete at Turf Paradise in Phoenix. That time he broke his neck and both shoulder blades and suffered a collapsed lung. He was unconscious for nearly a month, and the doctors thought he might die. But he didn't, obviously, and he came back to ride again.

Now, two years later, he lay motionless on his back staring at the perfect spring sky above Arizona. The medics arrived and told him not to move. They told him not to look at his leg.

Snyder remembered most of what had happened.

Because it was Memorial Day weekend, Snyder had brought along his wife, Janie, and their 12-year-old son, Dean, on the 96-mile trip from Phoenix to Prescott, a pleasant track where purses sometimes, but not always, reach the four-figure level. Snyder wanted to make a few dollars that day, then go home.

The filly named Double the Fun had won only twice in her three-year career, but on this day, in the fifth race, she was finally getting it right. Snyder could feel it. She surged to the lead rounding the second of three turns in the seven-furlong race. An easy winner, Snyder figured.

Suddenly, Double the Fun lost control. She lurched furiously to her left and crashed into the rail. Snyder was catapulted from the saddle. As he hurtled through the air, he was struck full force by the filly's flailing rear legs. The blow threw him into the rail.

"She was running easy, going into the clubhouse turn, when she saw a place where the dirt seems to change colors on the track. She started and just went into the rail," Snyder recalls. "I was always conscious. I tried to get up, but people were holding me down. They said, 'Don't look.' I didn't. I didn't even know that my leg was wrapped around the rail."

Snyder's family bolted toward the track from their seats in the grandstand. "I looked over, and suddenly Dean wasn't there," says Janie. "He was already running to the infield, to Derry. I started to hurry under the rail to the infield, and Dean comes running back to me and says, 'Mom, don't look. Daddy's leg's not on.' "

Paramedic Nathan White was among the first to reach Snyder. "I saw that there was a big hole—a big gaping hole—in the leg where both ends of the broken bone had come through," he says. "There was no doubt in my mind—his riding days were over."

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