The “world’s toughest and longest horse race”, the Mongol Derby (6-16 August), has its first cabinet minister on the start list this year — Northern Ireland Secretary Owen Paterson.

The Patersons are an equestrian family — daughter Evie was on the junior event team for the Europeans last year and Mr Paterson used to hunt with the Wynnstay.

His wife Rose is also taking part in the race.

“We just thought if we don’t do it now, we never will and it’s an extraordinary opportunity,” said Owen.

As a politician, Mr Paterson splits his time between home in Shropshire, London and Northern Ireland, so training has been a challenge.

“It has been difficult to fit it all in around my work — I’ve been riding at the weekends. We’ll be in the saddle 12 hours a day so getting the fitness is a bit of a worry,” he said.

The race is 1,000km (621 miles) long, with 25 horse stations at 40km intervals and a fresh horse for each rider at each one.

“We are excited to have our first cabinet minister,” said Katy Willings from race organisers The Adventurists. “Hopefully, leaving the bodyguards behind for a week or two of pure adventure and a different kind of challenge will prove refreshing for him.

“Mongolians consider a man’s horsemanship to be a true reflection of his character and moral worth and will not be interested in his or anyone else’s background. He’ll need to contend with a few hazards — marauding marmots, niggling heartburn from too much mare’s milk, and the ‘catching your mount’ conundrum every morning.”

As well as raising money for the race’s official charity, Mercy Corps, he will be supporting the Royal Irish Regiment and the Robert Jones and Agnes Hunt Orthopaedic Hospital.

Visit www.mongolderby.theadventurists.com

This news story was first published in the current issue of Horse & Hound (19 May, 2011)