ABILENE, Texas (KTAB/KRBC) – It’s callused hands, scuffed up jeans and kicked up dust that comes to mind when you think of a rodeo star, but for one Merkel barrel racer, she’s combined the grit of the arena with her unique rodeo royalty style.

First, you may notice her bright, cherry red Rodeo King felt hat. Or maybe you see the shimmer gold shirt, imprinted with cactus blossom crowns on the cuffs of the sleeves next. If you look even closer at the tack on her horse named Prada, ironically it’s the Louis Vutton halter that matches her belt.

The young girl under that bright red hat is 16-year-old Aspen Adams, a Merkel barrel racer with a very vibrant fashion sense.

“I have always worn a red hat in youth rodeo and junior high,” Aspen said. ” It’s kind of just my thing.”

Between the cactus blossoms donning her sleeves and the leopard print saddle pad and boots for her horse, Prada, Adams is not afraid to make herself stand out from the Taylor Telecom Arena’s dusty, brown floor.

“I like to stick out and I like to be the different one,” Aspen said.

Since the age of four, Aspen said she’s always been drawn to her red hat, but has also ventured in leopard print, too. She loves to be unique, and she said she may not always have the best run, but she will look good doing it.

Coming from a generational rodeo family, Aspen said she’s always felt a sense of freedom on the back of a horse. Both generations on both sides of her family competed at the high school rodeo level, and said she was born to be a rodeo girl.

“I like the nerves you get; the butterflies as you go in,” Aspen said. “It’s a type of rush you don’t get with anything else.” 

She got pretty good at the barrel racing, too! She was the champion of the Junior High Region II barrel racing, competed at the Junior American and American semi-finals and has won three saddles in one day on the same horse in barrels, poles and all-around. However, Aspen said her biggest accomplishment was running at the Cowtown Coliseum in Fort Worth.

Competing at the sport’s highest ranks doesn’t come without its challenges. To be a rodeo queen in her own right, Aspen had to get a little dirt underneath her pink painted nails.

It was just two years ago that Aspen and some friends were riding around on a golf cart, having fun as teenagers do, but fear showed it’s ugly head in the middle of their ride.

“She fell out and hit a t-post in the middle of her back,” Aspen’s mother, Ashlei Adams said. “She actually competed it in a couple of rodeos the next couple of weeks before she found out that that’s what was wrong.”

Aspen, 14 at the time, suffered a fractured back, specifically in the T-1, T-2 and T-3 thoracic vertebrae in her upper back, as well as a few bruised ribs.

Ashlei said she has always commended her daughter for her toughness and her ability to bounce back so quickly after a rough injury. Some may even say she is as tough as painted nails.

“That’s one thing about Aspen that everyone can say, is she has been fearless since day one,” Ashlei boasted.

Ashlei said the running joke around their home is when a horse gets a small scratch, they are immediately taken to the veterinary clinic. However, for Aspen to get taken in, she would either have to be dying or lost a limb.

“She is a fighter,” Ashlei described her daughter. “She works hard and if she can, she wants to compete through pain.”

For Aspen, though, her fractured back came at an inopportune time. She suffered that injury a week before the Junior High State Finals Rodeo. While she qualified, she was unable to compete, but it makes this High School Finals Rodeo that much more special.

Now that she is fully healthy, Aspen Adams is competing in her first every state finals rodeo, a goal she set for herself at a very early age.