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Remembering The Great Tie-Down Roping Horse Topper

Topofthemarket, or Topper, was undisputedly the best rodeo calf roping horse of the past quarter century. He may be the best ever. He was owned by calf ropers Roy Cooper, Trent Walls and Stran Smith and carried others such as Cody Ohl, Joe Beaver and Herbert Theriot to great rodeo success. Without a doubt, he should be inducted into the ProRodeo Hall of Fame.

In his last run, Topper carried Smith to a second-place finish at Rodeo Austin (Texas) after Smith returned from shoulder surgery. Photo by Kirt Steinke.

The timing involved in his career, however, is best described as peculiar. A world title-caliber roper never owned Topper in the prime of his career, although he did carry one roper to a world championship. Described by all as a horse who knew how to take care of himself, he lived to be 25 years old, but died in great health when he opened his own gate and wandered out onto the highway for green grass, where a truck hit him.

Topper was an athlete beyond compare, a winner with a champion's heart and an intense competitor. Yet outside the arena he had the personality that somehow mixed between the sweetest dog you've ever known and a 13-year-old boy. If he could have fed himself, he would have lived on hot dogs, red-hot Cheetos and peppermints.

Born in 1982, as a 2-year-old a Henrietta, Texas, cowboy named Kenny Pickens traded for the sorrel with a thick blaze. Pickens, who is deceased, put Topper to work as a cow horse. In 2003, Pickens told America's Horse that, "He wasn't even halter broke when I got him as a 2-year-old. He was afraid of people and was kind of a challenge to start because he was so nervous. We didn't train him for calf roping until he was 5 because up until that point, he was scared of anything on the ground."

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In fact, Pickens told the magazine, he would have never trained the horse to rope calves had it not been for two old-time calf ropers he roped with who saw something special.

A man named Albert Shaw first discovered Topper in 1987 while a now-forgotten college competitor was riding him. Shaw, a calf horse trainer, took the horse in and worked with him. As a friend of Roy Cooper, he happened to know the five-time world champion calf roper was looking for a new horse.

"I run three or four calves on him and as soon as I did I told them I'd take him," Cooper said. "I bought him when he had just turned six. Actually my dad bought him. I called him and told him I knew where a real nice young horse is over here. He had been to maybe a couple of jackpots but was just started very good. My dad gave $5,000 for him and said buy him if you want to buy him. So there he was and I had him."

With his father, Tuffy's blessing, Cooper knew he had a solid prospect.

"He was a nice young horse, big and strong and I knew he could run," he said. "He didn't rate when I first bought him he had so much run in him. It took a long, long time to get him to score and a really long time to get him to stop. His front end would come up. I knew if I could get that fixed, he'd be a super horse."

Tuffy christened him Topper, and for the next few years he went into Roy's training program.

At the age of eight, Topper hit the road with Cooper. Once out on the road, there was no question he was a great horse. Cooper rode him to six Wrangler NFR qualifications, an NFR average title in 1995 and dozens of regular season rodeo wins, including the $50,000 jackpot at the Calgary Stampede.

1994, however, was the year Topper made the transition from a solid mount to a proven winner.

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