Expect Olympian Blyth Tait's battle with eventing power couple Tim and Jonelle Price to be a highlight of next month's Horse of the Year Show in Hastings.
Tait, 57, announced his entry at the show's official launch hosted by the Church Road Winery in Taradale today. Event director of the Land Rover-sponsored event which attracts more than 1400 riders to the Hawke's Bay Showgrounds, Dave Mee, was naturally delighted to accept it.
"We hit the jackpot when Tim and Jonelle announced they were coming and now to have that bolstered again by Blyth's appearance is absolutely fantastic and will help steer the event in an exciting new direction," Mee said.
Since pulling the silver fern on for the first time since 2004 at the World Equestrian Games last year, two-time Burghley Horse Trials winner Tait has been riding a new wave of momentum.
"I'm looking forward to competing at the Horse of the Year as I have not participated in its current format before. I hope it will act as an exciting introduction to competition down under that will set my young horses on the road to future success," Tait said.
It won't be the first time Tait, who won individual gold and team bronze at Atlanta in 1996 and individual bronze and team silver at Barcelona in 1992 and the Burghley Horse Trials in 1998 and 2001, has been up against the in-form Prices. The three are familiar rivals, having competed against one another around some of world eventing's most formidable courses.
"Tim and Jonelle are dominant on the world stage right now. I admire all that they have achieved and am proud of their successes. It has not been an overnight sensation, they have worked extremely hard. Having been based in the UK for 15 years now, they are now enjoying the rewards of their efforts," Tait said referring to the fact Tim is the Burghley Horse Trials champion and Jonelle the Badminton Horse Trials champion.
Tait told today's function his next major goal is to compete at the Tokyo Olympics.
"While I don't bounce like I used to I get better with more maturity. Mark Todd is the benchmark and he's a lot older than me," Tait said referring to 62-year-old Todd.
"I've only got one horse [Havana] and I'm putting all my eggs in that basket."
A reserve for the Rio Olympics, Tait, labelled his Atlanta gold and first world championship title in Stockholm as the highlights of his career.
"In Stockholm I rode a horse from my home town of Whangarei and that victory allowed me to remain in Europe."
Although he retired after the 2004 Athens Olympics Tait said he missed the thrills of competition.
"I had to have another little play."
He pointed out while eventing hadn't changed much it is more about speed than endurance these days. He has also noticed the sport has gone more global.
"Fifteen countries rather than 10 can win a team gold medal now."
For Halberg Sportswoman of the Year nominee Jonelle Price the tougher the course and the competition, the better.
"We've certainly had a lot of our success when the going gets tough. Both Badminton and Burghley were won on a tough day of sport, it's in keeping with the Kiwi mentality; when the going gets tough the tough gets going. So it will suit us if the course is what we think it will be," Jonelle said.
Course designer/builder Chris Ross assured spectators plenty of thrills.
"I have some tough challenges in store for these world champions, but I am sure they will be at home over the Burghley jumps as they are just so good at the game.
"I have designed the track to be challenging and technical all the way around, keeping it interesting for the crowd and sponsors over the whole park and through the arenas.
"It's a seriously gutsy sport so it's going to be fascinating to watch," Ross said.
The four-star event will be staged on March 16 in Discovery Gardens at the Hawke's Bay Showgrounds.
Mee told the launch more than 7500 entries had been received for HOY, well up on the 6900 in 2018. More than 1900 horses will be in action.
"We're going to have to turn people away," he added.