“I had spent most of my childhood thinking I was a dog, and suspect I had aged in dog years. By the time I was ten I had discovered the pain of unbearable loss. I had felt joy and jealousy. Most important of all, I knew how to love and how to let myself be loved. All these things I learned through animals. Horses and dogs were my family and my friends. This is their story as much as it is mine.”
Clare Balding grew up in an unusual household. Her father a champion horse trainer, they shared their lives with more than one hundred thoroughbred racehorses, mares, foals, and ponies, as well as an ever-present pack of dogs, on a sprawling estate in the Hampshire Downs. As a child, Clare happily rode the legendary racehorse Mill Reef and received her first pony, Valkyrie, as a gift from Her Majesty the Queen of England.
But Clare ranked low in the family pecking order—as a girl, she was decidedly below her younger brother, and both of them were certainly below the horses. Left to her own devices, she had to learn life’s toughest lessons through the animals, and through her adventures in the stables and the surrounding idyllic English countryside.
From her struggles at boarding school to her triumphs as an amateur jockey and event rider, Clare weaves her own coming-of-age story through portraits of the beloved horses and dogs, from the protective Candy to the unruly Frank, who were her earliest friends.
The running family joke was that “women ain’t people.” Clare has to prove them wrong, to make her voice heard—but first she had to make sure she had something to say. My Animals and Other Family is a witty, brave, and moving account of stumbling—often literally—into one’s true self.
This memoir by BBC sports broadcaster and former equestrian Balding, first published in the U.K. in 2012, rollicks along like one of her beloved horses. Those horses (and some dogs) are the animals of the title; her "other family" consists of her father, top horse trainer Ian Balding, mother Emma, brother Andrew, and "formidable" grandmother, Priscilla Hastings. Despite the fact that her family isn't always the most affectionate, and her recollections of purging to make weight for horse races, this isn't a memoir about hardships, but one in which Balding's love of her animals and life shine through. The early chapters are filled with stories of favorite ponies and childhood hijinks, such as the time she almost spilled milk on the visiting Queen Elizabeth. Balding advances from riding ponies to eventing and flat races, culminating in her winning of the amateur title, Champion Lady Rider, in 1990. A short epilogue covers her post-racing life, including presenting for the BBC, and her relationship with her civic partner, Alice. This memoir is all British and all about horses, so readers who don't understand the stone as a unit of measure or know a canter from a trot may be lost. Readers who stick with this through the last furlong, though, will find a book full of heart.
What a great read. Saw the author on Graham Norton's show. I couldn't wait to read it. How can a book be happy and sad at the same time? It was both and I highly recommend this book to all. As we all have this family, maybe not all the animals