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4.7 out of 5 stars1,503
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This is a cleverly constructed book, featuring one of Clare's beloved horses or dogs for each chapter of the book and her life until her early twenties. This device works really well; whilst each animal varies in the role it played in Clare's life, it gives real meaning to the title.

Gill Heeley's beautiful drawings of every extra- special dog or horse enhance the chapter headings. I suspect many people will want her to draw precious equine or canine companions as a result.
Clare's story will appeal to an enormously wide range of readers, reflecting the many different roles that make up her status as a National Treasure. Whilst best known as a sports commentator, Clare has presented 'Ramblings' (about walking) on Radio 4, contributed to Countryfile, and contributed to state occasions like the Trooping of the Colour.

Her warm, empathic personality is tremendously endearing - and this book shows how it was formed. Clare's background is widely known, being the daughter of top racehorse trainer Ian Balding, animals were sure to play a huge role in her upbringing. The demands of running a racing yard meant that whilst he worked at home her father had little time to spare for parenting. Which was probably just as well - there is a well-known but scary photo of Clare aged 2 perched on the back of the stallion Mill Reef. It could easily have ended in disaster.

Clare's formidable grandmother Priscilla played a major role in her upbringing. Unable to take on a role as a racehorse trainer herself (women weren't allowed), she appointed Clare's father as her trainer and he later married Priscilla's daughter Emma. Emma was at home having been denied a further education from a mother who thought women unworthy of senior roles. Priscilla had little patience with children, her cutting comments and harsh demeanour must have been truly frightening to Clare and her brother, Andrew. Not to mention exasperating in the extreme to Clare's mother.

This is also a remarkably honest book - Clare had some difficult times at boarding school and could easily have been expelled. These events are told with a highly reflective eye and the life lessons learned are made clear.
Having read Clare's father's book Making the Running: A Racing Life I found that one story from which Ian didn't emerge with a great deal of credit was retold by Clare to show him in a far more favourable light. Not out of dishonesty, I am sure, but out of a strong sense of love and filial duty.

A relatively strict upbringing and a rocky school life could have been the basis of a truly unhappy childhood - but it wasn't. Animals were Clare's saviour and it's an absolute delight to read of the joy and freedom they brought her. Riding was one thing Clare excelled in, and her ultra competitive nature (inherited from her father) found a release in equestrian sport. Clare had the opportunity to excel at race riding and became lady champion jockey. She rode with hands and heels, never using a whip, and her thoughts on this are interesting.

As a racing fan and dog owner I enjoyed the book tremendously, but my greater joy was in the way Clare's story unfolds through the animals and how they helped form Clare's fantastic people skills. Clare's brother Andrew played a major part in many of her childhood adventures and the very close bond that grew between them is lovely to read about. It also explains Clare's 'speechless' TV interview in tears when her brother won the Oaks. It wasn't unprofessional, it was sheer joy finding an outlet from a deep source of love.

A wonderful book which deserves to become a classic, as its near namesake did.
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on 17 September 2012
If like me and millions of others around the world, Vangelis was the soundtrack of your summer then you must make Clare Balding's, My Animals and other Family, your read to take you into the darkening nights of autumn! Its a tale that not many of us will remember our childhood as (my twin sister and I, were pretend horses jumping over 'fences' in our back garden, not on actual ponies or horses, the nearest we got to that was Blackpool beach) But and its a big but, this is a rollicking good yarn, in every sense of the word, its humorous, sad, enlightening and witty and one minute you'll be laughing and if you're anything like me and you've spent the summer sobbing with our Paralympians and our Olympians the next thing is there will be tears running down your face! We've all seen how fantastic Clare has been on our tv sets this summer and as well as being the first woman of sport on television, she also tells a damn good story!
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TOP 100 REVIEWERon 14 September 2012
Clare Balding has come into her own as one of our top sports presenters this year and more power to her elbow. This is an easy and very entertaining read and a previous reviewer goes into much more detail than I shall attempt but suffice to say this story shows Clare to have more grit and determination than she may be given credit for and the smooth and urbane presenter we see now is as the result of a lot of hard work especially as described here in her early life. However above all she comes across as a very decent human being with some humerous and some downright painful anecdotes. Honest, funny, and genuinely interesting this book has impressed me and is well above the average celebrity autobiography.
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on 8 November 2012
How can you not love Clare? With her mellow plummy voice she's just so nice and wholesome and good and she loves dogs and...need I go on? Clare's first book, My Animals and Other Family published by Penguin has a delightful Country Life feel to it, with her young parents (strongly showing Clare's family likeness) and their two children, Clare and her younger brother Andrew, surrounded by dogs, Shetland pony and a foal. Clare, maybe five confidently holds the pony's rein whilst Andrew sits astride the pony's back. The reason for Clare's confidence is really the crux of the book.
In fact the book is, story aside, a treasure of photographs - from the rather eccentric looking wedding photograph of her parents where Clare's grandma fitted out in her wedding finery holds her dog under her arm to a photo of the Queen Mother at lunch in the family dining room (hat still on) and then to the elegant young Clare in her gown at Cambridge. The inside leaf of the book is made up of beautiful pen and ink sketches by Gill Heeley of the family dogs and horses looking very like a posh wallpaper sample. Taking a quote from Anatole France the book opens "Until one has loved an animal, a part of one's soul remains unawakened" and with each of her nineteen chapters named for one of the family pets or racehorses we know that we are set for an animal-tastic adventure.
The opening chapter of the book is touching, "The first face I can remember seeing was Candy's. She was my protector and my companion, my nanny and my friend", Candy being Clare's mother's boxer dog. Reared on the back of a horse, surrounded by dogs, mad on sport, on the lacrosse team and riding in races at Goodwood, Chepstow and Ascot amongst others, Clare is the epitome of the country life. A major television and radio personality and award winning broadcaster, she has achieved so much and is still only in her early forties. But Clare's outward confidence is not something she always felt. You see the problem was Clare was a girl. Plonked on the floor in her basket on her arrival home from hospital, her formidable grandmother reportedly said, "It's a girl. Never mind, you'll just have to keep trying."
Using each of the family animals as a way of leading into another chapter of her life we learn that Clare's father Ian was employed by her maternal grandparents as an assistant trainer when Clare's mother was fifteen. Made head trainer on her grandfather's death six months later he charmed the widow and won his way into the family's hearts. The rest, as they say, is history. Five years later Ian Balding and Clare's mother were married.
Clare admits she marks her years by Grand National or Derby winners and measures distances in furlongs, using this method to work out that she was just eighteen months when she sat on the back of the race winner Mill Reef without saddle or anyone holding her as this detail seems to just now dawn on her. Her father's high profile race horse owners included her Majesty the Queen, who came twice a year to check her horses and had gifted Clare's parents with Valkyrie, the Shetland pony seen on the cover, who had taught both Princes Andrew and Edward to ride and on whom Clare learnt to ride at the same time she learnt to walk.
All of this goes a long way to explain all we as TV viewers know about Clare. Her obvious love and great knowledge of dogs as seen in her Crufts coverage. Her love of the racetrack as seen in her commentary and camaraderie with the jockeys coming from growing up surrounded by horses and riding competitively herself. There is more to Clare however, and this we learn from this revealing and touching autobiography. From her need to prove herself from being 'just a girl' she has pushed herself and succeeded in being not just good at what she does but possibly the best.
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on 15 September 2012
i read this book in a matter of hours i didnt intend to but could not put it down . Fascinating insight into her early life, very honest and open book and this would be a great gift for anyone . One of the best reads i have had in a decade . Its heart warming , sad and moving all at the same time . I hope Clare considers writing another one as this books leaves you wanting more. well done Clare!
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on 5 October 2012
I have always watched and enjoyed Clare Balding's coverage of racing events so was delighted to learn she had written a book. Like many others, I was unable to put the book down. It was a sheer delight to read. I have grown up with animals and a younger brother so could relate to all the scrapes and misdemeanours she got Andrew into. I read the book during my commute to and from work and some mornings I would have tears in my eyes and then a few minutes later would be laughing out loud. I feel privileged that Clare has shared her story of growing up, family and her wonderful animals with us. Clare has a wonderful way of writing, the story flows and I really didn't want the book to end. The book spans her early life when, in her words, she was a disappointment to the family for not being a boy, her school days, eventing and racing up until her broadcasting days. Her warm character shines throughout the book. There is something in this book for everyone. Clare is a national treasure and I really hope she treats us to another book.
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on 19 September 2012
Clare is a superb broadcaster and commentator and her personality really comes through in this book. As she tells her story you really feel that you have been shown a little taster of the unusual world she grew up in. Her love of horses and dogs comes through with every chapter. She writes in a lovely warm way, keeping the reader entertained throughout - it is a delight to read. I could not put this book down - it's a great 5 star read!
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VINE VOICEon 5 October 2012
I'll prefix this by saying that I love Clare Balding. She's a great presenter, deeply passionate about sport, and does her research so that she knows what she's talking about. She's warm, interested and interesting - and that more than comes across in her book.

This is the story of Clare's first 20 years told through her love of animals, mainly the horses which surrounded her as a child and the family dogs. The prose is written just as if she's telling you a story face to face, and she is wonderfully descriptive when talking about the stables where she grew up. I sometimes wonder if she was a little harsh on her parents - they come across as a bit, well, unloving; but that seemed par for the course for the family, her grandmother (a real middle-class matriarch) never really showing love to her own children or grandchildren. Well, the female ones anyway. And really, her parents weren't uncaring, they just didn't really know how to show it.

What I think I liked most about the book was seeing Clare's personality really coming through and seeing that she was always a bit of a minx :) The woman we see on the TV is the real Clare Balding, warts and all, and I think this book shows that. Buy it, you won't want to put it down.
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on 8 October 2012
Clare is so modest, straightforward and really funny. going to see her at the cheltenham literature festival to get her to sign my copy. she's great at everything she turns her hand to and never gets too big for her boots. her upbringing and family life is a really entertaining read without the usual drama and dirt dishing which is found is so many celebrity autobiographies
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on 20 September 2012
When the author sprung from the edges of TV fame to being the voice of the Olympics, I wanted to know more. This gentle memoir is what a responsible book should be. Not chock full of shock and scandal, but kind memories of a well balanced lives through the friends, family and of course the horses and pets that make us who we are. Neither coy nor brash, this is a good read that makes you regard a familiar face as a friend.
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