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Women in racing: a review of Clare Balding’s memoir “My Animals and Other Family”

Clare Balding’s memoir My Animals and Other Family sitting on a table next to a notebook

“Be consistent. Be fair and honest.” p161

Clare Balding’s memoir My Animals and Other Family was first published in 2012. At the heart of it, Balding’s memoir is an exploration of the importance animals can have on our childhoods and our lives in general. Each chapter is a different animal that left a mark on Balding’s life, and we learn about how animals enriched her life. Balding’s memoir also made me think of my own pets that I had growing up, and I feel fortunate to have had some special ones in my life. My first pets were dog brothers, Benji and Crusher. They were two Chihuahuas, Benji was mine and Crusher belonged to my brother. I loved that people assume that Crusher was this giant angry dog and then our two little beige and brown dogs would run around the corner ready for snuggles, not bites.

While I feel that Balding’s memoir is a bit underwhelming at times, I feel that her memoir raises some interesting points. Firstly, animals can help with your confidence. They can teach you trust, compassion, and respect. Balding mainly spent time with horses growing up because of her families business in racing and showing horses. Horses are a particular animal when it comes to confidence and respect. As Balding explains, if a horse knows you are not feeling confident, then it won’t believe in you and will perform poorly.

“The more confident you are, the more people will believe in you; and the more they believe in you, the more confident you will actually become.” p161

The other important topic that Balding brings up, but doesn’t discuss enough, in my opinion, is women in sports, specifically racing, and the ethics of racing and showing horses. Women in sports have been overlooked for years. Men earn more than women do when it comes to major sports like soccer and rugby. The same is also true for women in horse racing. Female jockeys are overlooked for opportunities, and those opportunities are usually given to men. For many years women could not even be horse trainers.

The next aspect of horse racing—the ethics of it, are a little harder to summarise here or adequately address. I grew up in Australia, where we have the Melbourne Cup, a race that ‘Stops the nation’. In school, classes would finish early on race day so everyone could listen to or watch the race. People place bets, dress up in elaborate outfits with fancy hats, and drink themselves under the table. So, I grew up in a country with a strong racing culture. In recent years, the treatment of horses in races has been questioned by animal rights groups. Many horses have been injured in races, and some have even died in the races. Balding doesn’t address this too much in her memoir, and I don’t have answers as to why. As someone who grew up with a lot of animals in semi-rural suburban Australia, I know that animals can be loved and treated with a lot of respect. From what Balding describes in her memoir, there is nothing but love that she and her family have for the animals, and the way they are treated is more like family than pets (hence the title of the memoir). I think, like in any sport, there are good and bad people, and I also feel like we don’t have enough regulations or laws yet to protect the animals from the bad kinds of people. With that said, I think that it could be possible to have strong and respectful relationships between animals and trainers, and if Balding’s memoir only does one thing, it is that it shows how much animals can be loved and cherished.

What was/were your favourite pet/s growing up? How did they change your life? Have you grown up in a country with a strong horse racing culture, and how do you feel about racing, showing, and training animals? As always, share the reading love.