Tribute to Topper (Down the Line, Stran Smith)

Without a doubt this is the hardest article I have ever written, much harder than when I hurt my shoulder. I really didn’t want to talk about what happened to Topper, but there have been so many questions and rumors that I want to tell it just once.

We were out of town and Topper was home in the same pen he’s lived in for fifteen years. He opened the gate and let himself out, which in itself is not a big deal since I let him roam the place like a pet dog at times. But this time, for some reason, he went out to the highway and apparently stepped over the white line and was hit by a truck, which never even stopped. Besides a human being injured, I can’t imagine anything more devastating happening to a friend.

I wasn’t going to talk about it, but there’s been such an outcry from the industry that I felt they deserve to know and I want to thank everyone for the calls and the cards.

The only thing worse than losing Topper, is anyone feeling responsible for it. This accident was the fault of no one.

I want this article to be a tribute to one of, if not the best, athletes I’ve ever known. It’s easy to research Topper’s accomplishments in the arena so I would like to tell you some things about Topper that most people didn’t know.

What I’ll miss the most is having my friend. He spoke English and the only reason he didn’t speak Spanish is because I don’t speak it. I could whistle to him in the pasture and he would run to me, even trot past me and find the gate I’d left open for him in the barn. He would know exactly where to go and I seldom took a halter when catching him.

Topper had an incorrigible sweet tooth and his favorite treats were bread and the donuts they saved for him at Timber Creek Vet. Once when Trent had him, he was leading him down the midway during the fair at a rodeo and passed a kid with a hot dog in his hand. Topper just reached down and got a bite as he passed by.

His very favorite treat was peppermints. Anytime my dad passed a bowl of peppermints in a restaurant he would stock up. Topper would run through fire for a peppermint but would never bite. You could put a peppermint in your fist and he would take his lips and get your fist open to get the peppermint, but absolutely would not chew until your hand was completely out of his mouth.

When Stone was born several years ago, on the way home from the hospital I stopped at the barn on the way to the house. I put my two-day old son on Topper’s back and said, “Partner, it’s nothing but downhill for you from here,” and laughed.

What most people didn’t know about Topper was how smart he was and what a personality he had. It’s like losing a member of our family and it’s going to hurt every time I walk in the barn and he’s not standing there. I’m blessed to have owned an animal of that caliber and while he was with me he had the life of Riley. He was never abused, hauled too much, or ridden too hard. I never tried to “get one more run” out of him like happens with many older horses.

Though he didn’t deserve this death, he was twenty-five and didn’t suffer and I never had to make any tough decisions while watching him deteriorate. I’ve never had this kind of connection or respect with another horse. I wouldn’t have sold him for any amount of money. I felt like if I had sold him, I’d be selling part of me – so no he wasn’t for sale.

My dad owns the land across the highway from me and that’s where we buried him. At the top of the hill, standing up – because he never laid down on anyone.

He made my job easy and fun and seldom made a mistake. If he did, I didn’t scold him – how do you scold Michael Jordan?