Ashley Akkermans may be a graduate student on a tight budget but the former Miss Ponoka and rodeo ambassador still loves a glitzy western fashion find.
“When I’m volunteering at rodeos, it is on horseback so I stick to my usual arena attire, with a pop of colour to keep things exciting,” says the 26-year-old Sylvan Lake resident.
But when the horsewoman leaves the rodeo ring, she opts for something more fashion-forward to wear while two-stepping at the cabarets she likes to attend.
A trend she has noticed in western fashion is a move toward the styles of the 1970s, she says.
“Flare pants are a big one right now. Lots of really beautiful custom hats are coming out as an alternative to just your traditional cowboy hat. They are usually nice felt hats,” she says.
She says the squash blossom necklace, a Navajo necklace with an upside down crescent that is accented by large flowering silver beads, is a popular accessory right now.
“There are your usual western trends that have stuck around that everyone has their own take on, like fringe leather,” she said.
Akkermans said, “Velvet is a new one that is coming in. Fringe and leather and furs are just always classic. You really can’t go wrong with them.”
She feels fashion has broadened its horizons over the years. You can pretty much wear western-style outfits anywhere.
“You don’t just have to wear them to a rodeo or a cabaret, you can add a Western flair and still fit in in secular culture,” she says.
When Akkermans is not on the ranch herding cattle, acting as a rodeo ambassador, creating art or working at the Heritage Ranch in Red Deer, she is studying for a Masters in Art Therapy.
While studying Early Learning and Childcare at Red Deer College, Akkermans became interested in looking at how art can benefit children suffering from trauma.
As someone who was very shy when she was young, her art, sketching and drawing – usually with a western theme, was something that opened doors.
“I would draw a lot in class and people would come and talk to me about my art,” she said. “I’ve always been a very creative person.”
Becoming a riding celebrity in 2015 also pulled her out of her shell. It helped Akkermans get over what she called her ‘crippling shyness.’
“When you’re a rodeo queen, you have to emanate confidence and when I put on that crown, it was a little bit of a ‘fake it until you make it’ moment,” she says. “Then it came to the point where you take the crown off and you are still that same confident person.”
Akkermans, who hopes to one day use art and horses to help those suffering from trauma, says she is reaping the benefits of polished communication skills.
“It’s been really life-changing for me. I gained a huge amount of connections that helped me with my riding over the years. It’s really cool to be able to live out the lifestyle that I’ve always admired.”