REACHING FOR THE STARS: South Dakota cowgirl Summer Kosel heads to her first Wrangler NFR

On what Summer Kosel thought would be her backup horse, she’s headed to her first Wrangler National Finals Rodeo.

When the Glenham, S.D. cowgirl bought Apollo, a nine-year-old chestnut gelding in the fall of 2020, it was because she was headed to the Ruby Buckle futurity in Memphis, Tenn., and she wanted a second horse with the Aint Seen Nothin Yet pedigree, as a second horse to run. 

“There were no thoughts of rodeoing,” on him, she said.

She didn’t care if he ran in the 3D, she said. “I didn’t want to drive all the way to Memphis with one horse, and I didn’t have another one that was bred with the Ruby Buckle stud lines.”

Now, three years later, she’s headed to the world championship of rodeo on him.

Firewater French Fame was raised by Carol Warren of Oregon, then sold to Quentin Anderson of Pierce, Neb., to be turned into a tie-down horse. But when he didn’t show an aptitude for that, he was sent to Emilee Pauley, Wall, S.D., to become a barrel racing horse.

Kosel saw the chestnut horse’s first ever barrel racing runs at a jackpot in Belle Fourche, S.D. At the time, she knew his sire, Aint Seen Nothin Yet, and knew he was Ruby Buckle-eligible, but she didn’t know his dam, Firewater Flyer.

The horse did well from the beginning. In 2021, Kosel qualified for her first Badlands Circuit Finals Rodeo in Minot, N.D.

And this year, she went for it, traveling across the nation, to qualify for her first Wrangler NFR.

Kosel and Apollo have won over $115,000 this year, including go-round wins at some of the big shows: Houston, Ft. Worth, Clovis, Calif., Guymon, Okla., and Cheyenne Frontier Days.

The horse is small, standing 14.3 hands, and very athletic. “He does stuff that most horses can’t do, in the way he moves. He’s muscular, and he’s built more like a calf or heel horse than a barrel horse.”

He’s intelligent and eager to please.

“He’s really like a big dog. You can whistle at him and call his name and he’ll come up to you. I know he understands me when I speak, because I can say something and he’ll do it.

“He’s very, very smart and very kind. He’s not even mean to other horses. He wants everybody to be his friend.”

The horse has a special affinity for she and husband Kevin’s youngest child, son Courage, who is eight years old. “He’ll walk past me to go to Courage.”

Apollo has his quirks, too. Before he runs, he pushes himself back on his hind end, paws at the ground, does a leap and shakes his head. “That’s how you know he’s warmed up and ready,” she said. “Then he’s like, ‘let’s just go. I’m sick of going in circles.'”

Kosel finished the rodeo year ninth in the world, after having won more than $14,000 at the Governor’s Cup in Sioux Falls, S.D., the last weekend of the rodeo season. She’d have won more, but tipped a barrel in the final round, due to her own error. “He was laying down a really nice run in the finals,” she said, “and my reins slipped over his head at the second barrel. So instead of just riding, I was trying to flip the reins back, so I tipped the barrel.”

Apollo and Kosel won the first performance at Cheyenne Frontier Days, one of her many go-round wins this year. Photo by Jackie Jensen.

Apollo is getting a well-deserved rest in the weeks before he and Kosel head to Las Vegas for the Finals. Once a week, she takes him to her veterinarian who does water treadmill exercises with him. “When it gets a little bit closer, I’ll ride him,” she said. “For now, I want him to be able to rest and relax but keep his muscle. He’ll swim once a week, to maintain strength, but he gets to be a horse the rest of the time.”

For her preparations, she’s getting plenty of help. Kingsville Brand is providing all of her outfits, as they have in the past, and Josh Andrews, her saddle maker, is readying horse boots, saddles and pads.

She and Kevin’s four kids: daughters Hope (18), Serenity (14), Victory (12) and son Courage (8), will fly out to Las Vegas with Kosel’s parents, Tom and Wendy Anderberg, to watch their mother compete. She and Kevin will leave a few days earlier. Her dad even planned his knee replacement around her NFR qualification; he had the surgery in October, so by December, he’d be ready to travel.


The hardest part of making a run for the Wrangler NFR has been being gone from home, she said. “When I’m home, I do not go to town unless I absolutely have to,” she said. Son Courage has traveled with her the most, but the girls, who are involved in rodeo and sports, have activities at home. She and Kevin “encourage them to try everything. You’re only young once, and I don’t want them to be like, they didn’t get a childhood because they had to follow mom around.” She credits her husband with carrying the load while she was gone this year. “It was all on his shoulders: the kids, kids rodeos, sports, and being mom and dad.”

Apollo likes both big outdoor pens but the small indoor arenas as well, Kosel said. “I’ve had either a really good indoor horse or a really good outdoor horse, but not both at the same time,” she said. “He’s super broke, and he does everything I ask him. He’s athletic.”

She’s stayed true to herself and her faith, even through the tough times, like over the July 4 run this year, when she knocked over barrels at several rodeos. “I had been winning prior to that,” she said. “If you listen to the outside world instead of God’s plan, and you try to force things, you learn really quickly that God will humble you and teach you you can’t do it on your own.

“I was trying to take over and make things happen, and all I was doing was trying to force things and wrecking them.”

She spent the last weekend of the rodeo year in her home state at the Governor’s Cup in Sioux Falls. After so many outdoor rodeos, Apollo “really stepped up to the plate for me,” she said. “It was like, hey, I remember how to run indoors, too.”

She loved the atmosphere at the Governor’s Cup. “It was like a mini NFR, with the caliber of horses and athletes that were there.” Her winnings at Sioux Falls jumped her from thirteenth place in the world to ninth.

Kosel is one of three South Dakota cowgirls headed to the Wrangler NFR. Jessica Routier, Buffalo, S.D., enters in eighth place with winnings of $118,973, and Lisa Lockhart, Oelrichs, S.D., in fifth place, with $134,591 won.

Courage and Kevin hang out in the trailer while Summer is on the road. Photo courtesy Kosel.
Easter Day ride with the Kosel kids and their cousins. Photo courtesy Kosel.
Summer and her daughters on horseback. Photo courtesy Kosel.
Son Courage, who is playing football this fall, is Apollo’s favorite. The horse will walk past Summer to go to Courage. Photo courtesy Kosel.
Summer, her son Courage and mom Wendy relax while on the rodeo road. Photo courtesy Summer Kosel.
Summer Kosel rounds a barrel at Cheyenne Frontier Days on Apollo. The chestnut is her ride to her first Wrangler NFR this December. Photo by Jackie Jensen.