I recently read Black Beauty: The Autobiography of a Horse for the first time. It’s one of those books I thought I’d read as a child but hadn’t. But perhaps it’s good it only found me now, because my then limited horse–and human–sense would have kept me from understanding much of what British author Anna Sewell (1877) wrote about the nature of horses.
(Note: “Horse sense” in American English colloquialism (1870) may have referred to strong, bold, simple common sense. I’m talking about sensing what a horse’s body language and behavior communicate.) (Note-note: I understood one horse, a skittish deep brown pony whose name I’ve forgotten. I, a fearful, soft-spoken child, never scolded her for shying away from my hand. We both needed gentleness, so it was easy for me to ride her. )
You might not know this, but, according to Wikepedia, Sewell intended Black Beauty to be an adult novel written for people who work with horses. Her book demonstrates how a person’s character is revealed through how s/he treats her horses. In the early chapters she gently preaches the virtues of kindness toward horses and humans and the benefits of upstanding behavior. Unfortunately, the later chapters her admonitions become annoyingly pontifical.
I think what I liked most about this book is its history lessons about painful treatment of horses, which included docking their tails and putting them in “bearing” reins that forced them to hold their heads unnaturally high, both a reflection of the day’s fashion. It also talks about taxi drivers who leased horses and then had to drive them hard to recoup their costs as well as earn a living. Was a tough life. Yet Sewell didn’t write only about cruelty; she writes about Black Beauty’s early days in his masters meadow and describes dedicated and competent grooms who kept his and other horses’ lives safe and comfortable.
I recommend you read Black Beauty, even if you’re not a horse fan or a kid.