When Claire Godwin, DVM, of Laytonsville, Maryland, responded to an ad in a local horse magazine offering an Arabian for sale some years ago, she thought she was buying a 4-H pony for her kids. She had no idea that the 14-hand gray gelding would eventually carry her and more than a dozen other riders down some of the toughest endurance trails in the U.S.
On Saturday, Godwin and that gelding PL Mercury, now 27.5-year-old, crossed the finish line at the 100-mile Tevis Cup, held annually in California. With this completion, “Merc” broke his own record as the oldest equine Tevis Cup finisher.
What’s more, the pair finished just outside the Top 10 in 13th place from a field of 149 starters, of which only 64 completed. Their ride time of 17 hours, 18 minutes was just two hours, 33 minutes behind the winners, Heather Reynolds and the 10-year-old Arabian gelding Cayucos.
This year Godwin and Merc lopped four hours and 19 minutes off their 2017 ride time. Even factoring in the considerable crewing skill of two-time Tevis winner John Crandall, it’s hard to argue that age is slowing Merc down.
So how does Godwin keep Merc performing at such an elite level with so many years under his belt? She gives a lot of the credit to Merc himself.
“He doesn’t have perfect conformation; no horse does,” she says. “But he does have a short back, really good bone, and size 1 feet.
“He is relaxed and not a real dependent horse, although he does really like his pasturemate, Ahmose,” she adds.
It’s the dependability, athleticism, and attitude that’s led Merc to partner with 14 different riders throughout his American Endurance Conference career, many of them beginning junior riders.
Godwin also believes that plenty of old-fashioned rest has helped Merc progress so successfully throughout his long career.
“I like Merc to have two to three months off in the winter,” she says. “Merc’s emotional wellbeing is just as important as physical care. My horses run out in the pasture 24/7.”
Godwin prepares Merc for competitions carefully, often ponying him to covering miles and improve his condition while keeping weight off his strong, but aging, back.
She also believes Merc shouldn’t necessarily race on every endurance ride: “Pick and choose the rides you want to go fast,” she cautions.
Day to day, Godwin feeds Merc a joint supplement with his low-carb commercial feed. She says use uses Adequan about 48 hours before competing in 50- or 100-mile events and as needed between competitions. And, like Godwin recommends for any horse over 17, Merc has at least twice-annual veterinary appointments for appropriate vaccinations, deworming and routine care.
Looking back, Godwin recalls that she thought Merc might be done with competitions a few years ago. An ultrasound during a veterinary appointment revealed what veterinarians suspected was an intestinal tumor. So Merc joined his friends in the pasture for some R&R.
It wasn’t long, however, before he returned to his old self. Godwin decided to bring him back to work and see what happened. He came back with a bang.
“I really think he is in better condition now than he was two years ago,” Godwin says.