My Animals and Other Family

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“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, ...

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My Animals and Other Family

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“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.

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Editorial Reviews

The New York Times Book Review - Abigail Meisel
…the heart of this book is found not in the sporting life but in Balding's deep affection for the creatures—described with a sometimes wiggy anthropomorphism—that populated her childhood.
Publishers Weekly
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. (Apr.)
Library Journal
British broadcaster Balding (The Ration Book Olympics: When London Hosted the Austerity Games) grew up in a family where animals earned more respect and were better understood than its human members. This did not make Balding’s childhood unhappy, but it did make it different. Her father was a racehorse trainer, and she grew up in the English countryside of the 1960s surrounded by champion steeds and a constant procession of dogs. Her life completely revolved around horses and the people who helped care for and train them. The book chronicles her experiences as a child and adolescent, with each chapter named for a horse that was paramount in her life at that point. Balding’s social awkwardness as a child is endearing; many readers may identify with the ten-year-old who desperately wants to make friends but who always seems to say the wrong thing. She has no trouble interacting with a horse or dog, but dealing with her peers is a different matter.

Verdict This memoir will be of interest to readers who enjoy coming-of-age stories, and it provides a glimpse into the British world of horse racing. Balding’s story of growing up in an unusual environment and trying to fit in with the rest of the world will resonate with many readers.—Deborah Emerson, Central New York Lib. Resources Council, Syracuse
(c) Copyright 2013. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Kirkus Reviews
A BBC broadcaster's captivating chronicle of her childhood dogs and horses. The daughter of the queen's racehorse trainer Ian Balding, the author knew the friendship and protection of animals before she felt the same in humans. Indeed, her well-connected parents were too busy running the stables, involving the daily exercise and care of some 80 thoroughbred horses, racers and jumpers, an equine obsession that soon rubbed off on her and her brother, Andrew. In discrete chapters named for the particular animal in question, Balding depicts the notables, such as her first friend and protector Candy, her mother's cherished boxer, and the starter horse the children were given by the queen herself. There was her father's fearsome "lurcher" dog, a scruffy combination of a sight hound and terrier, favorite of the Romany Gypsy for its intelligence and way with horses; the first horse she showed, a pure-white Welsh Mountain pony called Volcano; and the "Heinz 57" horse she adored and first helped her prove her riding mettle. Balding became an intrepid racer and champion jumper, even winning an Austin Rover Mini and besting the royal princess at one point. Yet the fairy-tale setting and English banter also convey some deep insecurity about Balding's parental indifference, verging on negligence, as the children suffered numerous falls and broken bones, and resentment simmered as her brother was given free rein and encouragement while she, the girl and tomboy no less, was not. An irresistible look at the horsey mores of the landed English.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781594205620
  • Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 4/18/2013
  • Pages: 336
  • Sales rank: 795,707
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.20 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Meet the Author

CLARE BALDING is an award-winning broadcaster and writer.  At the London Olympics of 2012 she was proclaimed a “national treasure'” and acclaimed as the gold medal winning presenter of the Games. She became the face of the BBC’s horse racing coverage in 1998, and now works across a wide range of sports for television and radio. She has been a lead TV presenter for the Olympics, Paralympics, Winter Olympics and Commonwealth Games. For more than twelve years, she has hiked across the British countryside for the BBC radio series Ramblings. In 2012 she was awarded Achievement of the Year at the Women in Film and TV Awards, the Media Award at the Red Hot Women of the Year Awards, was made TV Personality of the Year by Attitude Magazine and won Racing Broadcaster of the Year for the second time.  A British newspaper ran the headline, '”Why Can't Everyone Be Clare Balding?” Clare lives in west London with her partner, Alice, their wayward Tibetan terrier, Archie, and their cat, Itty.  None of them have shown much interest in any of the awards, which is just fine.

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Customer Reviews

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( 3 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted August 27, 2013

    My Animals and Other Family

    Loved this charming book.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 10, 2013

    I thoroughly enjoyed this visit to the kind of family that makes

    I thoroughly enjoyed this visit to the kind of family that makes great reading, though not probably easy living. But it shaped a strong woman and its fun to watch Clare gain momentum as she figures out her own way. Horses and dogs and characters abound. Reads like an adventure book . Charming, funny, suspenseful, makes the reader laugh and cry and identify. Wish Clare Balding were a US sportscaster! Read and enjoy.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 3, 2013

    No text was provided for this review.

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