When New Zealand equestrian legend Blyth Tait was asked if Ready Teddy could take his coat off for a photograph he said to the cameraman: "It's pouring with rain. He'll do it if you take off your jacket."

It was a good indication of the love and respect Tait has for his faithful long-time partner. Tait doesn't ask his horse and long time pal to do anything that Tait wouldn't do.

Our photographer obliged and Tait and Ready Teddy posed for photos as they prepare to bow out of international equestrian competition today at the Manukau Three Day Event at Puhinui.

Tait's illustrious career, including many years as world number one, elevates him among New Zealand's greatest ever sportsmen.

Tait won his first world title in 1990 and helped New Zealand to the team title. He won the bronze medal at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics and won silver with the team there. He and Ready Teddy won gold at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics and the world title in 1998.

Tait says Teddy was never for sale but he had speculative offers of $500,000 for him at his peak.

"If I had sold him that would have been the end of my career. Teddy is a very special horse. He has had a longer international career than 90 per cent of horses that participate in eventing and he has earned his retirement," he said.

Tait won the World Championship and Olympics on two other horses but believes his career would not have been the same without Ready Teddy - the only horse to have ever won the World Championships and an Olympic gold.

"He is a real showman so, some of the time in the dressage, he wants to get out there and show off - so at times it has been tricky. But out on the cross-country I wouldn't want to be on anyone else."

Tait believes Ready Teddy has competed at the top for such a long period because he is a tough, natural, athletic competitor.

Ready Teddy first won the Olympics as a young eight-year-old, which Tait says is "unheard of". Top horses usually need longer to develop the temperament needed to win at international level.

"Teddy has a great personality. He has a real will to win and an outgoing look on life."

The partnership the two formed, Tait said, was instant as Teddy was picked very young. Most rider-horse partnerships take a while as each gets used to the other. Keeping the same horse for a prolonged period was invaluable.

Tait says while he is sad to leave the sport, the decision to retire wasn't too hard, as he has been in Britain for 15 years and the dedication required is now just too much.

"It's all or nothing for me. I have had a good long time at the top," he said.

Tait had planned to retire after the Sydney Olympics in 2000 but he didn't want to go out on a low after the team's poor performance. He is pretty sure this time it is for good.

"Never say never, though. There is always the chance I could come back."

Tait will still be working for New Zealand Equestrian and coaching at the elite level.

He is also addressing one of the problems facing New Zealand - our top horses being bought by overseas buyers - through a scheme called HorsePower.

"We are a victim of our own success in New Zealand. Our horses became popular with overseas buyers through our results."

New Zealand horses, he said, are tough thoroughbreds, athletic and cross-country naturals.

Horsepower will set up syndicates to help fund costs and buy into small shares of the horses to help New Zealand's top riders compete at the top level.

The main aim of the scheme is to retain in New Zealand control four or five competitive horses for the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

"If we keep selling our best, that will end our success at that level," he said.

It is also important for riders to be based in Europe, particularly England, which is widely regarded as the home of eventing.

"On any given week in Europe you would an international field of 300 top riders, here you have 30."

The International field for this weekend's event was "pretty much a crowd pleaser", Tait said.

He doesn't believe the step up from three-star events like Puhinui to four-star events such as Badminton, where the world best compete, is too big, provided a good foundation is there and the progression is steady.

He says New Zealand is hindered internationally by its isolation and small population.

"There are so many hurdles for New Zealand riders to get to Badminton whereas riders in Europe have a much easier path," he said.

But New Zealand still has a proud tradition of footing it with the best in the world.