Olympic equestrian legends will be galloping into Denbigh and Flint Show

THE last time Olympic equestrian legend Matt Ryan rode competitively in Wales he ended up jumping right into England.

But 49-year-old Matt, who took an incredible three gold medals for his home country of Australia in the late 1990s, hopes to stay firmly on Welsh soil on his next appearance in the country.

On Thursday, August 15, he will join fellow antipodean Olympic hero, Atlanta 1996 gold medallist for New Zealand Blyth Tait, on the stand of Ruthin-based horse bedding company Blue Ribbon – part of Clifford Jones Timber Ltd – at the popular Denbigh and Flint Show.

And Matt will be bringing all his three gleaming gold medals for visitors to see at close quarters.

It will be Matt’s first visit to North Wales, although he does recall the odd geographical situation he found himself in when he rode in Mid Wales.

He said: “It was quite a few years ago and although I don’t quite remember where the event was taking place I do know it was right on the border with England.

“The way things were laid out you’d start to make the jump in Wales and end up landing in England before riding on to the next jump which started in England and landed in Wales.

“On my visit to the Denbigh and Flint Show I plan to stay firmly in Wales and I’m looking forward to being there to meet the show-goers and to sign some autographs for them.”

Alan Jones, chairman of Clifford Jones Timber Ltd, which is playing host to the two Olympians, said: “We are delighted to be having two Olympic legends on our stand at the show.

“They have both endorsed out Blue Ribbon horse bedding for some years and it will be good for people who also use the product to come and see them and also to admire the gold medals Matt will be bringing along with him.”

Blue Ribbon Horse Bedding is made from the residue we get from the manufacture of our wooden fence posts and rails. It is taken from Clifford Jones Ltd’s site at Gretna in Scotland and Ruthin in Wales and then converted into wood pellets.

Matt, who will be coming to the show direct from an appearance in the Festival of British Eventing at Gatcombe Park the previous weekend, grew up in the Australian bush in a community called Black Hill, where riding as a child consisted mainly of exploring sub-tropical rainforest gullies and chasing wild pigs.

He is the youngest of four brothers and only he and his eldest brother Heath pursued horse riding as careers to become elite equestrians.

Matt was the Australian National Junior Eventing Champion for two years in a row, and made his first Australian Olympic Team for the 1988 Seoul Olympics.

He moved to the UK in May 1989 to be based permanently and went on to be selected another four times for the Australian Olympic Eventing Team.

Matt rode to an individual gold and a team medal at the 1992 Games in Barcelona and went on to win a team gold on his home turf at the Sydney Olympics in 2000.

Now based in Abergavenny, South Wales, Matt has been living and competing in the UK for 24 years and has won international events in Belgium, Spain, Portugal, Poland, Germany, Ireland, Northern Ireland, England, and Australia.

According to Matt, his most memorable Olympic appearance came at the Sydney Games of 2000, when he galloped to a gold medal as part of the Australian team.

He said: “It was an amazing feeling to win the gold in my own back yard, with such a large home crowd to cheer us on. But all my Olympic rides have been special in some way.

“I’m still competing but not at the absolute top four-star level.

“I now compete at three-star level and that is still just as high at Olympic level but I’m trying to tweak things a bit to get back to four stars.

“I’m delighted to be visiting the Denbigh and Flint Show where I’ll be based on the stand of  Blue Ribbon Horse Bedding, whose product I use and which I am delighted to endorse.

Blyth Tait is acknowledged as one of New Zealand’s greatest sportsmen.

Born in Whangarei, he was interested in horses from an early age – his father bred racehorses – and first took up showjumping before switching to three-day eventing.

He competed at two Olympics and won four medals, one of only four New Zealanders to do so.

His medal successes came when he took individual gold and team bronze at Atlanta in 1996 and individual bronze and team silver in Barcelona in 1992.

Blyth also won an individual golds and team golds in both the World Equestrian Games in Stockholm in 1990 and Rome in 1998.

In the 1990s he was ranked the number one eventer in the world and in 1993 he was awarded the MBE for services to equestrian sport.

He retired from the sport in 2004, returning to New Zealand.

But he’s now back in in the UK, based in Gloucestershire, where he is rebuilding a team of international horses with the aim of competing at the Rio Olympic Games in 2016.

His main targets for the rest of this year include competitions at Gatcombe Park, Blair Castle, Blenheim and Boekelo, Holland.

He said: “The pinnacle of my career, as I think it must be for anyone, was taking part in the Atlanta Olympics and winning the gold medal.

“I knew I had the whole of New Zealand behind me and success in the Olympics is something the whole world appreciates.

“I stopped competing for eight years after Atlanta but then I got itchy feet and moved back to the UK to give me a base to start aiming for Rio.

“Although I’m now living in the UK I’m still a Kiwi and I’ll be representing New Zealand again.

“This year has been one of development and hopefully I will reap the benefits over the next couple of years which should be very exciting.”

He added: “This will be my first visit to North Wales and I’m very much looking forward to meeting people at the Denbigh and Flint Show and I’m proud to endorse Blue Ribbon.”

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