Clare Balding grew up in a rather unusual household. Her father a champion trainer, she shared her life with more than 100 thoroughbred racehorses, mares, foals and ponies, as well as an ever-present pack of boxers and lurchers. As a toddler she would happily ride the legendary Mill Reef and take breakfast with the Queen. She and her younger brother came very low down the pecking order. Left to their own devices, they had to learn life’s toughest lessons through the animals, and through their adventures in the stables and the idyllic Hampshire Downs. From the protective Candy to the pot-bellied Valkyrie and the frisky Hattie, each horse and each dog had their own character and their own special part to play. The running family joke was that “women ain’t people”. Clare had to prove them wrong, to make her voice heard – but first she had to make sure she had something to say.
Clare Balding’s memoir of her childhood and into her early twenties is told in chapters named after the animals she owned and loved. It is a warm and witty read. It felt as though Clare lived the kind of childhood I had dreamed of and lived second-hand through books I read as a young teenager: boarding school, pony club, lacrosse, gymkhanas. As this is not an Enid Blyton novel though, it wasn’t as idealised as I had imagined as a child. Clare’s stories were entertaining, honest and funny. The chapter entitled Ross Poldark can be read in an entirely new way now, given the current BBC adaptation but this dark and handsome Ross was a horse! When I sent her a tweet saying so, she was kind enough to reply agreeing. Even though by most people’s standards she had a privileged upbringing, Clare’s book shows her to be someone who has worked hard to get to where she is now – surely a national treasure?!