One of the country’s most decorated Olympic athletes has called time on his international equestrian career, announcing his retirement from eventing.
Blyth Tait revealed to TVNZ’s Breakfast Show his plans from the Land Rover Horse of the Year Show in Hastings this morning where he is competing in several showjumping classes.
It’s a bitter sweet decision for Tait who only last year was eyeing a possible comeback berth at Tokyo, but a less than satisfactory build-up has left the four time medallist pulling his hat out of the selection ring.
At 58, Blyth Tait feels the time is right. “The likelihood of me competing again overseas is unlikely, I’m very happy to hand over the reins to the younger ones coming through and I support them fully. There is a bright future and still some serious young talent out there.”
The son of a racehorse trainer in Whangarei, Blyth Tait had horses coursing through his veins from an early age. By 1992 he held the World No 1 ranking, a position he maintained for a decade – at the height of his career eclipsing even Sir Mark Todd.
Individual gold on Ready Teddy at the Atlanta Olympics in 1996, a team silver at Barcelona, two Olympic bronzes and twice winner of the prestigious UK Burghley Horse Trials has etched Blyth Tait’s name firmly in New Zealand sport’s history books.
Looking back, the Olympic great remains philosophical.
“I’m not really one to reflect much on what’s been, I like to keep moving forward. I’ve met some of the most fantastic people in the sport, and travelled to some of the most amazing places to compete, all born out of an original love of horses and the excitement of competition. Competition is about managing pressure and your mental approach.
“To have been successful for so long, I can look back with satisfaction. But it does take an enormous amount of hard work and 110 percent commitment, now that I’m older it’s hard to sustain.”
Tait is of one of only four New Zealanders to have won at least four Olympic medals and was awarded the Lonsdale Cup by the New Zealand Olympic Committee in 2001.
A Halberg team award member in 1998 and team flag-bearer at the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games left little for Tait to tick off, not surprisingly he has a few fond memories.
“Winning the World Championship for the first time in Stockholm was surreal, I was new to the international scene on a horse that came from Northland. It was everybody’s dream to go to other side of the world and win, that was the icing on the cake. Eight years later, I won the World Champs again in Rome which was even more satisfying once you know what it takes to achieve that, and realise the enormity of it. Both World Champ wins were very significant in my career as they enabled me to become a professional.
“But the Olympic gold medal – that’s the pinnacle. Representing New Zealand on a bigger scale would have to be my biggest achievement.”
Whilst eventing is no longer on the radar, Blyth is still keen to pursue his love of showjumping for “a bit of fun”. “I’m out there to have a bit of fun… put it this way, if it’s raining I will be going home!”
Equestrian Sport New Zealand High Performance Operations Manager Warrick Allan has paid tribute, saying what Blyth has done for the sport has been inspirational.
“Blyth has been a fantastic ambassador for the sport, following his early success he was always only too willing to give back to the sport. Following the Athens 2004 Olympic Games Blyth then took up a role as our Eventing High Performance Manager and was able to assist work with and give advise to our squad riders to assist them in reaching their potential on the international stage. Since his comeback to the sport he has continued to give back, now becoming a respected Cross Country Course designer.
“We are extremely fortunate to have a man of Blyth’s experience and international recognition passing on his knowledge and skill to others. He has been in the sport a long time, through all the various changes to the sport so his knowledge is invaluable. He is a very good horseman as well and knows what it takes to get to the top.
“Not only that, Blyth was a fierce competitor! He was never one to not give 100% and always fought hard even when things may not have been going to plan. He was always his worst critic and able to admit mistakes made, but ensured he learnt from them,” says Warrick.
Blyth made a celebrated comeback to the Land Rover Horse of the Year Show last year after a long hiatus from the event, finishing a gutsy third ahead of the in-form and formidable Tim and Jonelle Price.
Equestrian Sports New Zealand secretary general Vicki Glynn says Blyth announcing his eventing retirement from the Show this year is an incredible honour.
“Blyth has been a superstar of New Zealand equestrian life for over 30 years and has won three Olympic medals as well as twice winning Burghley Horse Trials. We are delighted to have him competing again this year at Land Rover Horse of the Year in jumping as he steps down from eventing competitions. The consummate competitor, he will no doubt make his mark in the discipline in which he first competed once again.”