It's not easy for Northlander Chloe Phillips-Harris to give up her saddle, but for Olympian Blyth Tait she's happy to make an exception.

The 30-year-old horse trainer from the Bay of Islands will find herself in a unique position when the Horse of the Year competition in Hawkes Bay starts today.

Usually in the thick of the action, Phillips-Harris will be on the sideline watching Olympic horse-riding legend and fellow Northlander Blyth Tait take the reins of her 13-year-old Holsteiner gelding, named Cor Jet.

In an event of over 1600 riders and 1800 horses, including legendary eventing pair Tim and Jonelle Price, organisers approached Phillips-Harris to ask whether she would provide her four-star level horse for Tait to ride.


"At first I said no because I wanted to ride him, but Blyth is an amazing rider and it's a once in a lifetime opportunity to see someone like that ride your horse," she said.

Seeing Tait perform at the Northland horse trials in February was enough for Phillips-Harris to agree to the switch. Tait, 57, was one of only four Kiwis to win four medals at the Olympic games, winning individual gold and team bronze in Atlanta in 1996, and a team silver and individual bronze at Barcelona four years earlier.

Chloe Phillips-Harris and Cor Jet jumping in the main arena at Horse of the Year in 2016. Photo / Supplied
Chloe Phillips-Harris and Cor Jet jumping in the main arena at Horse of the Year in 2016. Photo / Supplied

Cor Jet has a successful record at the four-star level on the New Zealand circuit over the last few years. He has competed at the event three times before, finishing as high as sixth in 2017, after he had his debut at four-star at this competition.

"It's always a little bit nerve-wracking to see someone else out there in the saddle but I'm really excited. I think it'll be a great competition," she said.

Growing up, Phillips-Harris said she idolised Tait and used him as a role model as she became a more experienced rider. As well as a trainer, Tait travelled the world competing in international horse races and helped conduct ecological studies in Mongolia and Australia.

Instead of riding, Phillips-Harris would be spending her time at the event promoting her new book, Fearless, which detailed her journey from rural Northland girl to international traveller where she gone on many adventures such as living with Mongolian nomads, being chased by wild dogs and pushing her physical limits in the world's longest horse race.

Apart from casual rides on her 70-acre farm, Phillips-Harris said Cor Jet had not been ridden by anyone else, especially not in competition.

"I think for horses it's always a huge ask for them because you build this relationship. We all have slightly different things for how we ask horses to do things," she said.


"Blyth is such a generous rider and we are about the same height and size so it shouldn't feel too different for Jet and Blyth has got great intuition so he'll be able to get what he wants out of a new horse."

Tait would be riding in a show jumping event today before the main event on Thursday.