This book has been reviewed by Focus on the Family’s marriage and parenting magazine.
Black Beauty is born on a farm in the English countryside. He spends the first four years of his life there with his mother and the other farm horses. When he turns 4, the kind farmer trains Beauty to wear a saddle and a bridle, and teaches him how to carry a rider. Once the training is done, Beauty is sold to Squire Gordon.
At Squire Gordon’s home, Beauty makes friends with a pony named Merrylegs and a poorly behaved mare named Ginger. Ginger was treated poorly and abused by her previous masters, so she doesn’t trust people. As time goes by, Beauty and Ginger are paired as carriage horses and become good friends. Under the care of the coachman, John Manley, Beauty thrives in his new home and becomes a favorite of his master and the family.
Beauty proves his worth on many occasions. On a stormy night he refuses to cross a bridge because he senses something is wrong. The storm caused the bridge to wash away. By following his instinct, he saves John’s and Squire Gordon’s lives. When a barn at a hotel catches fire, Beauty’s bravery helps Ginger get the courage to run to safety. And when the mistress becomes ill, Beauty runs hard to bring the doctor back in time to save her. Despite all this, Squire Gordon is forced to sell Beauty because his wife becomes too sick to stay in the country.
Both Ginger and Beauty are sold to a neighboring Earl. This new home uses a bearing rein, which hurts Beauty’s neck and makes it harder for him to pull the carriage. Even though the work is harder than at his old home, Beauty is well taken care of until the stableman goes with the family to London. A man named Ruben Smith is left in charge of the stables.
Ruben struggles with alcoholism, and one night he falls back into his old vices. Drunk, Ruben rides Beauty with a loose shoe, something he would have been sensible enough to fix if he’d been sober. When the shoe comes off, Beauty hurts his foot and stumbles to his knees. The fall throws Ruben, who hits his head and dies. The accident leaves Beauty with permanent scars on his knees. He’s considered blemished and no longer attractive enough to be a carriage horse.
Beauty is sold to a livery stable where he is rented out to inexperienced drives that want a carriage for the day. He remains there until a gentleman takes a liking to him. This man suggests his friend, Mr. Barry, buy Beauty. Mr. Barry is unfamiliar with how to take care of a horse and pays a groom to do the work for him. The first man he hires steals Beauty’s food to feed his chickens. The second is vain and lazy. He doesn’t clean out Beauty’s stall, which makes Beauty very ill. Mr. Barry discovers both men’s bad behavior and decides he personally isn’t fit to own a horse. Once healthy, Beauty is sent to a horse auction where he is bought by a London cab driver named Jerry.
Jerry isn’t a rich man, but he works hard to support his family and takes care of Beauty and Captain, his other cab horse. Beauty always has Sundays to rest and is treated very well by Jerry and his family. During his time with Jerry, Beauty sees many masters abuse their horses.
One day he meets his old friend Ginger. She is much changed after enduring a number of hard masters. She tells Beauty that she wishes she would die so that the unbearable work and cruelty she endures would end. Later, Beauty sees a dead horse that looks much like Ginger. He hopes that the animal is Ginger and that her suffering is over.
Beauty’s time with Jerry comes to an end when his master becomes ill and takes a job in the country that will be easier on him and provide more opportunities for his family. Beauty is sold to be a carthorse. He is worked very hard in his new position and almost dies. It is determined that Beauty needs rest before he can go back to work, but his master doesn’t care to use his time or money on Beauty and decides to sell him. A man named Farmer Thoroughgood buys Beauty after his grandson insists they can help him.
After many months resting in the country, Black Beauty regains his old strength, and Farmer Thoroughgood decides it’s time to sell him to a good home. He is brought to the home of three women who are looking for a good, reliable horse. Their groom, Joe Green, comes to inspect Beauty and recognizes him. Joe worked under John Manly and remembers Black Beauty before the years of bad treatment took their toll. He tells his mistresses that Beauty is a fine horse, and the ladies decide to keep him. It is in their care that Black Beauty finds his final home.
Jerry refuses to work on Sunday because he believes in resting that day. Jerry and other characters thank God and say, “God bless you.”
Beauty speaks with other horses about having to endure the bearing rein because it’s fashionable. Another horse tells of how his tail was docked for fashion, but he believes that men should leave horses alone because God made them as He intended.
John Manly is the groom for Squire Gordon. He is known to be a good and honest man. On many occasions he sees a master or farmer’s son mistreating a horse or overworking it, and he steps in to stop the abuse. He isn’t afraid to defend a creature that’s suffering. When he trains the young Joe Green, he is tough but also fair with the boy. It is because of his good training that his apprentices find jobs when they become men.
Squire Gordon is known around the countryside as a great man and wise when it comes to horses. He also believes in treating horses fairly and confronting others when he sees them treating their animals poorly. Because of his example and that of John Manly, Joe Green is brave enough to confront a grown man when he is abusing his boss’s horse. He even testifies in court regarding the man’s actions.
There are numerous scenes in which horses are mistreated. Ginger is abused when she is broken into a bridle and saddle. The men who break her are so rough that she bleeds at the mouth and is beaten with a whip. She and Beauty are made to wear bearing reins, which force their heads up and strain their necks.
Beauty meets a horse whose tail has been docked because it is viewed as fashionable. A fire starts in a hotel stable, and only Beauty and Ginger make it out. All the other horses are trapped and burned alive. Beauty sees a man and a horse fall while hunting a hare. The man breaks his neck and dies; the horse is shot because he cannot be saved.
Captain talks to Beauty about being a warhorse and how he saw many battles. One of his masters was hit by a cannon ball and knocked off Captain’s back. He speaks about seeing many horses and men die on the battlefield. While there are many scenes that mention abuse, violence and blood, the wounds inflicted on the horses are not described in graphic detail.
Alcohol: Many characters drink or speak of the evils of drinking. Ruben Smith gets drunk and rides Black Beauty incorrectly and is killed because of it.
Smoking: Various characters smoke pipes.
Lying: Beauty notes that many people lie at the horse auction.
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