Book review

Black Beauty by Anna Sewell (1877)

Here's a story told by a horse, in his own words. It is a story of how he was treated with affection and respect when he was a young and healthy horse, but how he fell into illness and despair as he was passed from one set of careless hands to the next.

As a very young foal, the beautiful Black Beauty receives some very sound advice from his mother:

She told me the better I behaved, the better I should be treated, and that it was wisest always to do my best to please my master; 'but,' said she, 'there are a great many kinds of men; there are good, thoughtful men like our master, that any horse may be proud to serve; but there are bad, cruel men, who never ought to have a horse or dog to call their own. Beside, there are a great many foolish men, vain, ignorant, and careless, who never trouble themselves to think; these spoil more horses than all, just for want of sense; they don't mean it, but they do it for all that. I hope you will fall into good hands; but a horse never knows who may buy him, or who may drive him; it is all a chance for us, but still I say, do your best wherever it is, and keep up your good name.'

This piece of advice lays down the plan for the book. Black Beauty does indeed pass through the hands of all kinds of men - good, cruel and foolish.

At his first place, the local squire's hall, Black Beauty meets other horses who all have stories to tell about men and the ways they treat their animals. Black Beauty is very happy with Squire Gordon, but the household is eventually closed down when the squire goes to live abroad and all the horses are sold on. Squire Gordon makes every effort to find Black Beauty a good place, and indeed, does so, but no amount of effort can guard a horse from stupidity.

He is ridden carelessly by a drunk servant one night and falls because he has a broken shoe. The drunkard is killed, but Black Beauty is not blamed for that. They know it was the rider's fault. Nevertheless, Black Beauty now has scarred knees from his fall and is no longer fit to be in a gentleman's stables:

... the black one, he must be sold; 'tis a great pity, but I could not have knees like these in my stables.'

It is the beginning of the downward spiral for Black Beauty. No longer fit to be a gentleman's horse, he is sold on, to work for his living. There is nothing wrong with that, of course, Black Beauty is proud and happy to work for a good master, but cannot work well if he is not cared for properly.

Read the book to see how Black Beauty enjoys the many kindnesses and survives the terrible mistreatments. Although this book is sad, I don't think you will find it too sad to read. Black Beauty is a very understanding and forgiving horse, and it does all end happily ever after.

This book is almost a collection of short stories, as each chapter relates a different episode in the life of Black Beauty and other horses who he meets along the way. A good book to choose if, perhaps, you prefer to read in short sessions.

What can I read next?

If it's horses you are interested in, you might like to look at this one by Michael Morpurgo next. I haven't reviewed it on this website, but he's written a 'Black Beauty' of the First World War:

  • War Horse

Actually, K M Peyton writes thrilling horse stories. Have a look at:

And also her four-part Flambards series features horses and hunting:

  • Flambards
  • The Edge of the Cloud
  • Flambards in Summer
  • Flambards Divided

There's a brilliant trilogy written by Mary O'Hara, set on a ranch in Wyoming. I was really gripped by these and couldn't leave them alone until I had read the lot:

  • My Friend Flicka
  • Thunderhead
  • Green Grass of Wyoming

Also, the Bookchooser has found these books with a similar profile:

Black Beauty features in these lists: