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In the Black Hills in 1883, as Sgt. Johnny Wintergreen prepares both himself and a beautiful white stallion, Top Kick, for retirement from the cavalry, he reminisces to young Corp. Thompson about the horse's background: Top Kick is born to homesteaders John and Abigail Light and their twelve-year old son Dan. One day, while Dan fishes, John and Abigail are killed by a band of Indians who burn down their home and release Top Kick. Johnny, who is searching the hills for wild horses to sell to the Army, discovers Dan burying his parents, and brings the boy to the local cavalry post. There, commanding officer Maj. Callan invites Dan to live with him and his young daughter Caroline. Over the next ten years, Dan receives an education at the post school and spends his summers becoming an expert horse tracker, under Johnny's tutelage. Although the two continue to spot Top Kick, who now leads a herd, Dan can never catch the majestic wild stallion. One day, Dan brings a new batch of wild horses to the post, then witnesses Sgt. Keach treating them brutally, and punches him out. That night, during dinner with Callan and Caroline, Johnny reveals that he is quitting tracking to rejoin the cavalry, and Callan, who has now risen to the rank of colonel, urges Dan to join, too. To Caroline's dismay, Dan confesses that he cannot settle down until he catches Top Kick, who represents his last link to his idyllic childhood. The next day, Dan kisses Caroline goodbye before setting off to find his horse. Within days, he comes across a camp of horse trackers and, upon hearing that they are trailing Top Kick's herd, joins them. They soon spot the herd, and when Top Kick splits off, Dan chases him. After a long pursuit, Dan ropes the horse and spends the next four days gently breaking him. As soon as he is able to ride the stallion, however, Top Kick hears his herd and breaks free to rejoin them. Dan is forced to walk back to the post, where Johnny informs him that the ranchers sold the herd, including Top Kick, to the Army. Keach is attempting to break Top Kick, whom Capt. Wilmurt wants for himself. When Top Kick refuses to be ridden, Keach beats the horse, prompting Dan to challenge him to a fight, during which Top Kick breaks free. Dan wins, and although Callan later agrees that Keach must stop his behavior or be transferred, he also insists that Top Kick remain Army property. The colonel offers Dan an assignment to West Point to become a cavalry officer and thus be able to ride Top Kick, but Dan refuses, instead declaring his intent to catch the stallion again. Callan is furious, but Caroline supports Dan's decision. Just then, Top Kick returns to the post and, nudging the corral gate open, releases his herd. Dan joins the patrol to capture them, and the exhausted patrol returns the next day to replenish their supplies, with Dan right behind them atop Top Kick, leading ten captured horses. When Capt. Wilmurt orders Dan to relinquish the horse, Dan flees, followed by a new patrol. Just as the soldiers are leaving, however, Callan redirects them to track down a band of murderous Indians in the hills. That night, Top Kick's whinnying warns Dan that the patrol is nearby. As he is leaving, he notices the Indians releasing the soldiers' horses in preparation for an attack. He shouts down to the patrol, allowing them time to arm themselves, and joins the ensuing gunfight on the cavalry side. The Indians finally retreat, but without their horses, the soldiers are at great risk. Dan volunteers to ride Top Kick back to the fort for help. He races bareback past the Indians, who shoot him. He outruns them but eventually falls from Top Kick's back. When wolves circle them, Top Kick bravely fights them off and then kneels down so Dan can struggle onto his back. The horse brings Dan to the fort, where he weakly informs Callan about the patrol. Days later, Dan recuperates under Caroline's ministrations and is informed by Callan that Top Kick is his, as reward for his bravery. Dan announces that Top Kick, like himself, belongs in the cavalry, causing Callan happily to prepare Dan's appointment to West Point. In the present, just as Thompson accuses Johnny of inventing the whole story, Dan and Caroline enter the stable to take Top Kick away. Johnny hangs his head until Dan orders him to accompany them, and the four leave together for San Francisco.