‘God Made Him Special’ FireWaterFrenchFame is 2023 WPRA Rising Star

Get to know the 2023 recipient of the WPRA's Scoti Flit Bar Rising Star Award, Summer Kosel's "Apollo."
Summer Kosel barrel racing
Summer Kosel and Apollo broke the CFD arena record in 2022, and clocked the first 16-second run at The Daddy in 2023. Bobby Rosales Photography.

FireWaterFrenchFame, better known as Apollo, captured the hearts of rodeo fans across the country with his rider, Summer Kosel throughout the 2023 ProRodeo season, and he took it one step farther by being awarded the 2023 WPRA Rising Star award in Las Vegas before his first run at the National Finals Rodeo.

The Rising Star Award, given in memory of Scoti Flit Bar, was created by past NFR qualifier Lana Merrick as a way of recognizing the year-long achievements of a horse that is making its first appearance at the NFR. This award is voted on by the top 15 barrel racers prior to the NFR.

Apollo recorded the first 16-second time at the Cheyenne Frontier Days in recorded history, carried South Dakota’s Kosel to her first NFR in 2023 and has earned over $200,000 in three years of his barrel racing career. But none of those are the reasons Kosel believes in her heart that her fellow top 15 barrel racers voted him to receive the Scoti Flit Bar Rising Star Award.

“I really, truly believe God just made him special. His personality is one in a billion—no, one in a trillion. There’s no personality like his. I swear he understands English.”

Summer Kosel

Kosel learned about the award while standing on stage with the other 14 barrel racers at the WPRA Star Celebration luncheon on Thursday, Dec. 7.

“It caught me off guard to be honest,” Kosel said after an emotional acceptance of the award. “It’s pretty special to have other people recognize how special your horse is.”

It’s not about luck.

With tears streaming down her face and her voice choked with emotion, Kosel accepted Apollo’s Rising Star Award on Thursday. The realization may have hit that he was joining the likes of horses Famous Ladies Man, Ima Famous Babe, DM Sissy Hayday, Fame Fling and Bling, Slick By Design, RC Back In Black, Firewater Fiesta and Dash Ta Vanilla as a recipient. She made a powerful statement that isn’t just a fun quote, it’s a life motto for this professional barrel racer, wife and mother.

“Why wish on the stars, when you can pray to the one who made them?”

Summer Kosel

“I don’t believe in luck. Anybody who knows me knows that. You rarely hear me tell somebody ‘Good luck,’ before they run. I usually say ‘Have fun!’ or ‘Go get ’em!’ or something like that. I don’t believe in superstitions—I didn’t even know yellow was bad luck until Jordon Briggs mentioned it once last year—that’s all mind games you play with yourself.”

Summer Kosel barrel racing in Fort Worth.
Summer Kosel won the second round in Bracket 6 at the 2023 Fort Worth Stock Show & Rodeo. FWSSR Photo by James Phifer.

Getting Technical: Apollo’s style

“He never stops moving when he turns a barrel,” Kosel explained. “He’s not really round like other horses, but he has this cow horse style that allows him to stand up in arenas where a lot of horses can’t. He also just has such a willing attitude and wants to please all the time.”

The 2024 gelding by Aint Seen Nothing Yet and out of Fire Water Flyer by Fire Water Flit was originally started as a tie-down roping horse before a friend of Kosel’s set the gelding on a barrel racing path. She purchased Apollo about 90 days after his start on the barrel pattern. Kosel is a cowgirl when she’s at home as well as on the rodeo road, so Apollo still gets plenty of exposure on her family’s ranch with cattle.

Firewater French Fame APollo papers

A testament to his athleticism and consistency, Apollo broke the longstanding Cheyenne Frontier Days arena record in 2022, then returned in 2023 to break that record and clock the first recorded sub 17-second time in Cheyenne. Although he’s excelled in larger, outdoor arenas, Kosel didn’t have full confidence in Apollo’s ability in small, indoor setups well into 2023, but Apollo put any uncertainty to bed at the Cinch Playoffs Governor’s Cup in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, with a top-eight finish in the last week of the season.

Due to Apollo’s light responses, Kosel frequently slow works and exercises the gelding in a halter. Stay tuned for a full story on Kosel’s philosophy behind halter work.


NFR Countdown 2023: No. 9, Summer Kosel. Hometown: Glenham, South Dakota 2023 Earnings: $115,681.61 NFR Horses: FireWaterFrenchFame, “Apollo,” NothinButCashNKisses, “Dredge.” Entering her first NFR qualification in 2023, this mother of four girls (we see you @Hope K♠️⚡️) and wearer of the yellow felt hat was electric in her 2023 season on Apollo. In 2022, she famously broke the @Cheyenne Frontier Days arena record in 17.02 seconds, then came back to clock the first-ever 16-second time in 2023, breaking her own record in 16.97 seconds just before Sue Smith broke it AGAIN. (yeah, it was a rollercoaster.) Kosel claims Apollo doesn’t favor smaller arenas, but if you watched this duo in Sioux Falls at the tail end of the season, you’ll see that Apollo proved he can shut the clock down in smaller pens. BarrelRacing.com is your No. 1 source for all things #NFR barrel racing in 2023, thanks to our friends at @Equinety. #BarrelRacing #SummerKosel #ProRodeo

♬ I’m Getting Ready – Tasha Cobbs Leonard

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