There are few things I get more excited about than seeing older equine athletes either still competing at the top of their sport or taking a step down and becoming a schoolmaster for younger or less experienced riders.

For instance, at this year’s North American Junior and Young Rider Championships, held in July at the Kentucky Horse Park, I couldn’t stop smiling when I saw two former four-star eventers—Remington XXV and Twizzel (who represented the United States at the 2012 London Olympics), both 19—each giving a young rider the rides of their lives around the cross-country portion of the event.

And I was just as excited when one of our freelancer writers, Marsha Hayes, mentioned that there were several older horses taking part in this year’s Tevis Cup—a 100-mile endurance ride through the mountains of California.

The oldest equine entry in this year's Tevis Cup was 24.43-year-old Pl Mercury (“Merc”), who was ridden by Lisa Downs.

Courtesy Ron Osborn

I asked Marsha to keep an eye on the older competitors while she was covering the event for TheHorse.com, and here’s what she had to say:

As the 60th anniversary Tevis Cup runs its 100-mile course, 15 equine athletes 18 years or older were among the 200 entries.

“We are seeing more and more horses continuing to do endurance rides into their late teens and 20s,” said head ride veterinarian Greg Fellers, DVM. He credited better nutrition, shoeing techniques, and training methods, in addition to more knowledgeable riders, for these seniors sticking around.

Last year’s Haggin Cup designee (which recognizes the horse deemed best conditioned following the ride), MCM Last Dance (or “Emmers”) has returned at age 18.24 years with junior rider Barrak Blakeley. The pair finished third this year, just 46 minutes behind winners Potato Richardson (a human senior at age 72!) and his homebred mare SMR Filouette

Merc’s owner says he was 14 before she started his endurance career.

Courtesy Ron Osborn

The oldest equine competitor entered, 24.43-year-old Pl Mercury (“Merc”), finished in 14th place with rider Lisa Downs. Merc is owned by Clair Godwin, DVM, who finished in 15th place on another 16-year-old Arabian gelding.

Godwin believes Merc’s longevity stems, in part, from his late entry into endurance. “Merc was 14 before I even asked him to do endurance,” she explained. “His bones, tendons, and ligaments were definitely set and strong. Merc also lives a very happy life on pasture with his friends, and I believe that contributes to his well-being.”

Kelly Blue, who finished 51st out of the 90 successful entrants on 21.35-year-old Rushcreek Hugh recalled, “At … Mile 68 into the ride, I had to fight to hold him back. He wanted to gallop home!” She said she felt that one key to her success with her senior horse was “super” communication with the ride’s vet teams.

Seven of the 15 senior horses completed the challenging 100 mile event within the 24 allowed hours, a 47% completion rate compared to a 45% completion rate overall. Of those seniors that did not finish, three horses were pulled for failing to meet a time cutoff, two were withdrawn by their riders, two were eliminated for lameness, and one for metabolic issues.

Merc and Lisa Downs finished the 2015 Tevis Cup in 14th place. Merc’s owner, Clair Godwin, DVM, finished in 15th place on her 16-year-old Arabian gelding.

Courtesy Ron Osborn

And, I think it’s pertinent to note that the winner of this year’s Haggin Cup was a 15-year-old Arabian gelding named Auli Farwa, who’s not far from being considered a senior himself.

Do you have a favorite senior sport horse who’s competing at the top of his discipline or mentoring a younger or less experienced rider? I’d love to hear about him or her in the comments below.