Clare Balding has ridden a Derby winner… can’t find any record of this? Well she was only 18 months old at the time when her father put her on the back of the 1971 Derby winner, Mill Reef who he trained. Clare showed a photo of this to prove it but commented, “where are the people holding me – how irresponsible!” at her Henley Literary Festival event on Sunday.
Clare was introduced by pony mad girls, Niamh and Jecca from Shiplake Primary School at Phyllis Court Club before she regaled some great stories about growing up around horses and how sport had inspired to write and tell stories.
The Racehorse Who Wouldn’t Gallop and The Racehorse Who Disappeared written by Clare have characters based around her family and their relationships including Granny Pam who is based on her Mother-in-Law!
When she was younger, Clare had a very vivid imagination… she thought she was a dog (story of her next book)! Later when asked what she wanted to be by a teacher when she grew up she said, “An Eventer”, the teacher replied, “What do you want to invent?” She started writing stories at around 8 and recalled, “Mostly they about teachers who I thought had secret lives – mostly spying.” Her favourite book is the obvious, Black Beauty and Michael Morpurgo was the person who encouraged her to write fiction.
“Horses are not like Formula 1 cars,” explained Clare, they often need a friend to help them. Her first book The Racehorse Who Wouldn’t Gallop was based on horse that got stubborn and wouldn’t exercise but after her father brought along another horse to ride with, who he fell in love with, things changed. Another famous horse, Remittance Man had a friend called Eric the sheep who went everywhere with him. One day they decided that Eric needed a rest so they replaced him with another sheep. Remittance Man instantly knew but unfortunately they’d put Eric out into the field with hundreds of other sheep! They were reunited quickly though after Remittance Man found Eric in the field himself!
The Racehorse Who Disappeared is based on the famous Shergar who was kidnapped in 1983. Clare was 10 at the time and she said, “This as you can imagine had a huge impact on me.”
Clare draws inspiration from sport and her advice is, “Things are scary but you need to try things to be really good at them. Olympic swimming Gold medallist Adam Peaty is a great example who was scared of water. I’d never sailed and I presented the America’s Cup and I commented on the Women’s Football European Championship and I had to talk for ages whilst they decided whether a match would go ahead. Every time I go to an event and present I think how can I make you care. I do that by telling stories of the people who are competing.”
Young members of the audience then got the chance to act out some great sporting moments with the help of Clare’s great storytelling including the Women’s Hockey team winning gold in Rio and the penalty shoot out. “Maddie Hinch made goalkeeping cool after this and she’d done her homework on those players. Great advice for everybody!” commented Clare.
Usain Bolt is not surprising Clare’s coolest sports person she’s interviewed, commenting, “What a loss of a showman. He brought so much excitement, drama and joy to athletics.” London 2012 was her best sporting moment. Describing it as, “Nothing will top that in my lifetime. To see the Paralympics reach the level that it did. To enjoy a whole summer where we were we all focussed and sharing the same experience. I think it improved all our confidence in ourselves.”
Can you be a winner? Confidence is key… Clare’s great advice is “Don’t be worried about what you look like, it is what you are inside. Being kind is the number one thing in any situation. Try everything and don’t worry about failing. Don’t be scared. I think we should wear confidence like putting on a coat.”