21 FEBRUARY 2008

Gently stroking his nose and pulling him close to plant a kiss on his face, equestrian champion Zara Phillips demonstrates the intimate relationship she has with the horse she describes as her "inspiration" - her beloved steed Toytown.

And in pictures of the pair - taken on Wednesday at a Gloucestershire training session - it's clear the affection is mutual, as Toytown gently nuzzles his royal mistress' neck and rests his nose on her shoulder.

Princess Anne's daughter, who keeps several other horses at her stables on Princess Anne's Gatcombe Park Estate, has often spoken of the special bond she shares with Toytown - whom she has been riding since 1999.

"Toytown - or 'Noddy' as we call him in the stables - is an exceptional horse…" she says. "Best of all, he loves competing and never seems to know the meaning of the word defeat. This is an inspiration to me."

And although the medal-winning duo haven't competed together since September, when they helped the British team win their seventh gold medal, Zara is confident of Toytown's capabilities this season. "He gets bored if he stays out too long," she reveals. "So he's been schooling and galloping and is in really good form."

Photo: ©
Toytown is rewarded with a smacker at a training event in Gloucestershire this week Photo: © Rex
Photo: ©
Zara and her favourite steed have been competing together since 1999, and their close bond is clear for all to seePhoto: © Rex
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