Muddy books: ‘The Racehorse Who Wouldn’t Gallop’, by Clare Balding
Children’s novels written by celebrities are nothing new. Darcey Bussell and ballet, Madonna’s morality tales, David Walliams’ bonkers stories about gangsta grannies and billionaire boys, even Paul McCartney has written for kids. And now it’s Clare Balding.
Clare’s new novel, The Racehorse Who Wouldn’t Gallop, was released last week, and for horse-mad children, it’s a wonderful story. My nine-year-old mudette, is nuts about horses. So this weekend was spent curled up with this book.
Clare grew up around horses – her father was a racehorse trainer – and she was, of course, a jockey before she became our favourite sports presenter on the telly. So we’re in good hands with this one.
The story centres around 10-year-old Charlie Bass, who accidentally buys a racehorse and his best friend, a cheeky palomino pony, at an auction. Her family’s dairy farm is in financial trouble, and Charlie believes the racehorse, Noble Warrior, is a champion and that she can save the day. All they have to do is win the Epsom Derby.
The only problem is that Noble Warrior refuses to gallop; he won’t even leave his stable without the palomino pony called Percy. But Charlie reads up on how to train a racehorse and soon has the whole family rallying around her in their bid to win the race and save the farm.
While most adults will see the storyline as a tiny bit implausible, these thing don’t bother kids. And what shines in this story is Charlie’s can-do attitude and her determination to makes things happen. Charlie is a plucky little thing – inspired by Clare’s niece Flora – who learns to ride on the farm’s dairy cows. (Apparently the champion jockey Kieren Fallon rode only cows until he was 18.)
It’s a charming story, which pushes the girl-power message. Charlie’s two older brothers, Harry and Larry, tease her relentlessly, mostly about her ‘thunder thighs’. Although by the end they’re defending their little sister and are doing what she asks of them. Oh, and those ‘thunder thighs’ are recognised as an asset that give her strength and power.
My own mudette loved the book, although it’s sent her brain into a overdrive, dreaming about ways she can get her own pony – despite me explaining (again) about the practicalities (and huge expense) of owning a horse!
There are 13 chapters, plus an epilogue, and at the end of the book Clare includes a section of top pony grooming tips, with a list of the tools you’ll need. There’s also a section of ‘fantastic facts’ about horses, a quiz, and ’17 ways to bond with your fave pony’. And the cover, is gorgeously illustrated by Tony Ross.
Clare Balding will host a family fun day at Yvonne Arnaud Theatre in Guildford this Sat 1 Oct, where she will do a special reading of the book and share stories from her own childhood growing up surrounded by animals. Clare will offer expert advice on working with and caring for animals (she also has a gorgeous little Tibetan terrier dog called Archie, and a cat called Itty). The event will end with an audience Q&A and a book-signing. Plus, there will be funfair-inspired entertainment in the foyer for all the family.
Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Millbrook, Guildford, GU1 3UX. Tel: 01483 44 00 00. yvonne-arnaud.co.uk