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.
those for me, will you?” I pointed at the paper bag on the scales. “I’ll be back in a tick.” The Kingsclere branch of Lloyds Bank was right next to the sweet shop, so I dashed out onto the street, signaled to Norton that I’d just be a few minutes and ran in. There was a line and when I got to the front I had to stand on tiptoe to see over the counter. “Can I change these into pounds, please?” I asked. “Minimum transaction $50” came the clipped reply. “And you’ll need your passport.”
loaded onto their horse trailer. Then he backed up against their sparkling-clean wall and did the runniest, greenest dropping all down it and down his legs. Despite his propensity to make himself look his worst, despite the fact that he had no manners and no particular affection for me, I worshipped that pony. I still don’t really understand why—perhaps because he didn’t care, perhaps because I needed an ally or perhaps because I identified with him always getting it wrong and always being
boxers were beautiful, then the whole world would be a beautiful place. She was right. ~ I arrived about six months after Candy, in January 1971. My father was not present at the birth. It was not the done thing. I spotted early on that the dogs got lots of attention so worked out that it would be best to be a dog. I crawled to drink from the water bowl—I mean, who doesn’t do that? I stopped short of sharing their food, because I was a fussy eater. During my early years, Candy was
brushed and polished. They look like grown-up ponies. These horses are referred to, even by people who would hesitate to define themselves as snobs, as “common.” Ellie May was as common as you like. She had a deep girth, a thick-haired mane and tail, an enormous backside and a head that was pretty only to those who believe boxer dogs beautiful. Consequently, my mother adored her. Ellie May was Mum’s hunter and, a bit like my beloved Frank, her mouth had all the sensitivity of a block of
Arter, who was reading modern languages. We decided we would explore Cambridge together by way of whatever squash we could get into. Each one offered a free glass of something and hoped to get you tipsy enough to sign up straight away and pay a year’s dues. We went to the Newnham College Boat Club squash and both signed up for the novice boat; we went to the Union Society and both joined the Debating Society; we went to the Wine Society, the Cheese Society, the Film Society and the Cricket