Junior, Debbie Topping’s legendary team chaser, was put to sleep last month at the age of 23 following an injury.

Junior was lead horse for the Forge Flyers, who won four national championships back to back from 2002 to 2005. He was the only horse to be part of the team on each of those winning occasions.

Forge Flyers followed up their first national title by beating their own course record by 10 seconds and notching up what was a record 14th victory of the season in 2003.

When the team started out, Junior and stablemate Codie (ridden by Graham Smith) were in such a league of their own that until Yvonne Goss’s heralded Perry came along, they struggled to find a horse who could even keep up with them.

Following Forge Flyers fame, Junior and Debbie went on to lead numerous other teams with great success and were in demand as a substitute combination even during the horse’s last years.

At this year’s national championships in April, Junior made a surprise appearance with Debbie in the Humberts Hagglers team, who finished an impressive third. At 23, he gave lie to his age with huge leaps over the stout hedges and ditches.

Such was the horse’s character and vest for life that Debbie said at the time: “Junior feels no different now to how he was at 10, but we haven’t run this spring and Graham and I weren’t sure how fit our horses would be, but they flew. I injured my leg so I’ve been riding Junior with one stirrup at home, which was entertaining at times.”

Prior to his team-chasing career, Junior show jumped to grade A under Anne Wilson. He also took up eventing at the age of 19, upgrading to intermediate level in just four events.

In 2004, he won the Animal Health Trust Special Award — beating greats including Tamarillo and Ouija Board.

“Junior was a one-off,” said Debbie. “He never refused and I never had to kick him into a fence.”