Meanwhile, in Outer Mongolia…

If you were wondering where the Northern Ireland Secretary of State, Owen Paterson, was [You were?! – Ed], he’s been in Mongolia  [In a yurt! – Ed].  A “ger” actually.  The NI Secretary of State is one of 23 riders, including his wife Ruth Paterson, who have taken part in the third Adventurists’ Mongol Derby – a 1,000 km multi-horse race over 10 days on the Mongolian steppes which began on the 6th August using “around 1000 semi-wild Mongolian horses” the Adventurists “select and train”, changing horses at urtuus spaced at 40km along the 1000 km un-route.

The controversy surrounding the inaugral Mongol Derby in 2009 among endurance riders appears to have alleviated.  And the official Derby site does note that the weight limit on equipment was halved in 2010.

There is a 5kg weight limit on equipment, so you’ll have to travel light. This may sound like very little but in 2009 the weight limit was 10 kg and riders soon discovered they needed far less than they had brought with them.

And there were other changes.

In 2009 a world class team of vets from Mongolia, Scotland, New Zealand and South Africa provided superb care for the horses taking part in the Mongol Derby. In 2010 the top class veterinary care will be provided by three emergency response vets from Massey University in New Zealand, as well as our 18 specially trained equine vets from Mongolia.

Though it’s difficult to get confirmation of official statements in such a remote event.  The only online interview I’ve seen with the vet from Massey University in charge in 2011, as she was in 2010, has been conducted by one of the Derby organisers.  And that interview appears in a publication that sponsors the event.  But there is an acknowledgement that the veterinary checks don’t meet the standards of the Federation Equestre Internationale (FEI) for endurance horse races.  From the interview with New Zealand vet Jenny Weston.

The vetting criteria for pre-ride selection and post-ride evaluation, however, are very close to those used in FEI endurance rides.

In addition, the fees for taking part have increased since 2009 from $4,550 to $9,800 in 2011.  This year each competitor also made a commitment to raise $1,500 for the event’s chosen charity, Mercy Corps (Mongolia).  But as one participant found out

Each rider is required to pay a $9,800 entry fee, plus another $1,500 for the charity Mercy Corps Mongolia, a program that provides assistance to Mongolian small business and educational endeavors. After adding the cost of her plane ticket, hotel, meals, and equipment, Mangalee realized she needed to raise a staggering $20,000.

To be fair to the NI Secretary of State, he, and his wife, have raised £51,177.50 for their chosen charities.  And I’m assuming the other costs have been met separately.

And, according to the Belfast Telegraph report, it was rough out there.

However such were the hazards they encountered on the ride, only 10 completed the journey.

“One poor guy we were riding with from Hong Kong lost both his thumbs, one guy broke his wrist, we had people with cracked ribs and others had to drop out with severe dehydration,” said Mr Paterson.

“It was by far the hardest thing I have ever done.”

Except that the broken wrist appeared to have occured during pre-race training – although there may have been another.  And, when noting the winner crossed the line on the 13th August, 7 days in, the official website reported that

Of the 23 riders who started this year’s Mongol Derby, only the 15 riders in bold above were still in the competitive race for the finish. 

Riders who did not make the finish-line on a horse (they are all fine and most are at the finish line now for the party tonight)

The update from the finish line doesn’t clarify much.  But from the comments there.

From Barry’s site: “Only two riders finished the ride without a fall; most people suffered a couple at least. My tally was four and Joe’s three. There were no injuries to the horses but quite a few amongst the humans including broken ribs, a broken wrist, bruising from falls and kicks, Tommy lost the last joint of a thumb, and there is my damaged shoulder.”
That would be this Barry [Armitage]

These horses are really wild. The Mongolian herdsmen give you a rolling start for the frisky ones by holding the bridle and leading you out to clear ground and letting you go; one of my horses bolted 1.7km before I ran him up a hill to slow him down. The horse that threw me started bucking while still being held so I told the herdsman to release and kicked the horse to get him going but he started bucking worse and I came off. I had had a similar experience earlier in the morning and I managed to hold on for the 8 seconds required for rodeo, then baled. I was fine and thought that I could handle a bronco the next time, but sadly not!

Joe went on alone to finish a few hours behind the winner in fifth place and a full day ahead of the next competitors. 15 of the 23 riders who started the race rode across the finish line and only 9 had ridden the whole distance (6 riders were moved forward stages having fallen too far behind or suffered a bout of illness or an injury).

Hmm…  Those would be some of the “around 1000 semi-wild Mongolian horses” the Adventurists “select and train”.