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Zara Phillips pulling out of Britain's Olympic equestrian team is a terrible blow for the sport as 90% of the media and public interest surrounds her.

But it is better for the team that this has happened now and not out in Hong Kong when it would be too late to bring in a replacement.

I don't know how her horse, Toytown, picked up his injury but horses are quite fragile and we know he needs protection as he's gone wrong in the past, causing Zara to pull out of the 2004 Olympics.

Zara has been massively protective of him this year and she didn't take him to the Badminton horse trials as a precaution against this happening.

But if you work with horses, you are constantly being thrown from peaks to troughs - Zara won the European Championships in 2005 and World Championships in 2006 on Toytown, so she won't hold it against him.

Zara Phillips and Toytown

It's Zara I feel for on a personal level though.

This was her dream and she has worked so hard to gain an identity of her own outside of the royal family.

She wants to be known for winning the World and European Championships, not as Zara Phillips, the Queen's granddaughter, or Zara Phillips, 12th in line to the throne.

But it's the end of Toytown's Olympic chances as he will be too old in 2012 so Zara will have to look at bringing on other horses in her stable such as Ardfield Magic Star or Glenbuck.

And although Zara has been doing brilliantly, she is unable to use either of those at present as they haven't reached the qualifying standard required.

If a similar fate befell more experienced riders such as William Fox-Pitt or Mary King, they would still go though as they have been in the sport much longer and have more established stables and back-up horses at Olympic level.

As to who will replace Zara, the choice is whether to go for a young rider with an experienced horse such as Oliver Townend on Flint Curtis, or a more experienced rider with a younger horse in Tina Cook and Miners Frolic.

I would go for Tina, although I would miss her on the BBC commentary team in Hong Kong.

Clare Balding was talking to BBC Sport's Peter Scrivener.

Clare Balding will be a BBC presenter at her third successive Olympic Games in Beijing. Our FAQs should answer any questions you have.


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