Though he competed for some years in the shadow of Mark Todd, Blyth Tait became one of New Zealand’s greatest sportsmen, winning world and Olympic titles, and excelling in all the other major three-day eventing competitions around the world.
Tait attended Whangarei Boys’ High School. He was interested in horses from an early age – his father bred race horses – and tried show-jumping before specialising in three-day eventing.
He first came to public attention riding Rata in the mid-1980s. The pair qualified for the 1986 world championships at Gawler, Australia, but Rata died of a heart attack on the eve of the competition.
About this time, Tait teamed with a show-jumping horse, Messiah, converting him to the three-day event. He made the New Zealand team to Australia in 1988, where he rode Messiah to a second placing at Hawkesbury. The following year, there were second placings with Messiah at Achselschwang, Germany and Chantilly, France.
In 1990 Tait took a huge leap forward, winning the world individual title on Messiah in Stockholm, Sweden, and helping New Zealand to the world team title as well. There was also a second placing at the prestigious Badminton Horse Trials on the same horse, plus victory in the Scottish Open on Ricochet.
By 1992 Tait was ranked No 1 on the world standings, a position he maintained almost throughout the decade. He and Messiah took the individual bronze medal at the Barcelona Olympics, going clear in the show-jumping round to pip his team-mate Vicky Latta for third place. The bronze was a special feat because after the dressage section Tait had been placed only 69th.
Tait was also part of the silver medal-winning New Zealand team at Barcelona, along with Andrew Nicholson and Latta (Mark Todd was in the team but was ineligible for a medal because he did not complete the event).
By then Tait, based in England full-time, was showing the Todd-like ability to ride a number of horses successfully, and he shone also with Tempo and Delta.
Tait’s greatest horse was probably Ready Teddy. The combination produced the Olympic individual gold medal at Atlanta in 1996 (they were listed as reserves and gained entry only when Todd’s Kayem was injured) and the world individual title in Rome in 1998. Tait and Ready Teddy also helped New Zealand to the world team title in 1998. Further, riding Chesterfield, Tait helped New Zealand to a team bronze medal at the 1996 Olympics.
Tait, a tenacious competitor but an extremely popular personality, won the Kentucky three-day event, on Welton Envoy, and Burghley twice, in 1998 and 2001, However, Badminton eluded him – three times he was runner-up.
Tait was awarded the Lonsdale Cup by the New Zealand Olympic Committee in 2001. He was the team flag-bearer at the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games. However, he did not enjoy the best of luck at Sydney. In the individual event, his horse, Welton Envoy, failed to complete the cross-country section, and in the teams event, Ready Teddy suffered the same fate.
Attending his fourth Olympics, Tait was 18th in the individual section at the 2004 Athens Olympics and helped New Zealand to fifth in the team section.
It was not an entirely satisfactory way to close out his Olympic career, but nevertheless Tait is one of only four New Zealanders to have won at least four Olympic medals.
After several years in retirement, Tait returned to competitive eventing in 2011 with the announced intention of trying to secure a place in the New Zealand team for the 2012 London Olympics.
He was a member of the New Zealand equestrian team that won the Halberg Award for Team of the Year in 1998. Other equestrian teams in which he was a member were Halberg team finalists in 1990, 1992 and 1996.