Marked by similar running styles and shared blood, resemblances of the late Yeah Hes Firen are apparent in young rodeo standout HR Fameskissandtell.
Of the thousands of barrel horses people witness running down the alley in their lifetime, most won’t forget seeing the truly special ones, the ones with that ‘it’ factor, that special style, that presence. Brittany Pozzi Tonozzi’s big yellow gelding Yeah Hes Firen, known to the world as “Duke,” was undoubtedly one of those horses. In the last few years, Shelley Morgan’s flaxenmaned mare HR Fameskissandtell is proving she wants a place in the rodeo history books as well, and she’s doing so in a remarkably similar style to Duke.
“Duke’s style allowed him to never slow down around a turn,” Tonozzi said of her world champion gelding who was laid to rest December 23, 2021. “He basically got to the barrel, slung his butt around it and went on to the next. His style is like no other—the only horse I’ve ever seen that somewhat has his style is ‘Kiss.’ Every time I see her run, I’m like, ‘Man, that’s a little Duke!’ She has that same style where she swings her butt and then pushes off and keeps going. It’s a very awkward but obviously very efficient style.”
It’s no surprise the two horses work similarly when looking at their pedigrees. Duke was by Alive N Firen, Phyllis Wells’ stallion by Fire Water Flit and out of Wells’ great-producing Bugs Alive In 75 mare Whichwitch S Witch, who has progeny earnings over $150,000. Duke was out of the Shoot Yeah daughter Splendid Discovery.
Breeder Elizabeth Hays knew what she was doing when she bred Fames Fiery Kiss to CEO. The result produced Kiss, whose pedigree features the generations that crossed to eventually produce Duke — Fire Water Flit, Whichwitch S Witch and Shoot Yeah — and adds the blood of all-time leading barrel horse sire Dash Ta Fame. Kiss’ sire CEO is bred very similarly to Duke — he’s by Bugged With Honor, who is out of Whichwitch S Witch, and out of the Shoot Yeah mare Imafasterdancer. Kiss’ dam Fames Fiery Kiss is by Dash Ta Fame and out of the Fire Water Flit mare Simply Firewater.
The similarities between Kiss and Duke are equally noticeable to Kiss’ owner, rider and trainer Shelley Morgan.
“Brittany’s told me that too, that they’re similar,” Morgan exclaimed. “Kiss is really straight, not real bendy, because she’s big — Duke was really big, too. She just swaps ends, she always has, and Duke was an end-swapper. She may have a little more run-around the turn than he did, but she’s an in-and-out kind of horse, which I like because I can stay out of her way and just push her to her spot.”
The two horses’ styles might be unconventional when compared to the rounder, barrel-wrapping style many prefer, but it’s obvious that straight is definitely fast for Duke and Kiss.
A major key to their ability to become winners is that both Tonozzi and Morgan allowed them to have their own style and didn’t try to force them into working like a ‘conventional’ barrel horse.
“Kiss used to let her rear end float away from her, and I really tried to work on that, but she’s so big that just letting her do her thing [seems to work best]. Every now and then she’ll still do it if she doesn’t like the ground, but I know that when she gets to her spot she’s going to turn,” Morgan said. “I try to let her do her thing, because she’s not hard at all. I mean, she pretty much trained herself. She makes life easy for me if I leave her alone.”
Latricia Duke trained and futuritied Duke and allowed his naturally stiff turning style to work in his favor. When Tonozzi took the reins, she didn’t try to change a thing.
“In my training career after that, Duke taught me to let horses be what they want to be—let them have their style, don’t try and change them,” Tonozzi said. “I think that’s the biggest lesson he taught me is that as soon as you try to change the way a horse naturally wants to turn or naturally wants to be, then that’s when you lose some of that spark and some of that fire and drive in them.”
Because Tonozzi let Duke be Duke, the gelding finished his career with more than $1 million running barrels and a Women’s Professional Rodeo Association world championship. Kiss has already earned more than $700,000 in her career, three National Finals Rodeo qualifications, the 2023 NFR average championship, and the $100,000 The American Rodeo title.
Morgan’s following the same recipe for success — let Kiss be Kiss.
“I’ve had a lot of people tell me that; it’s a cool comparison. I’d love to be like Duke!” Morgan said with a laugh.