Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Book Nine - Black Beauty - Part Two

Anna Sewell
From The Tack Room - A City of Horses

Black Beauty: The Autobiography Of A Horse is so much more than the autobiography of a horse. It speaks of social injustice, human kindness and cruelty, political activism, and daily life both in the English countryside and in London during the latter half of the 19th century. Anna Sewell wrote from a religious point of view and believed that every man and all of God’s creatures were worthy of respect. A good person is one who treats all creatures well; a bad person is one who does not. The bad person could simply be ignorant or could be such a slave to fashion that he must unnecessarily restrict the horse’s movement by adding a contraption keeping the horse’s head up rather than letting him move naturally. Sewell is big on the platitudes, but a little platitude never hurt me. (I like mine with lettuce and tomato.)

Black Beauty’s mother taught him be a good horse and never kick or bite. He was always to be a good servant to his master. Throughout his life, Black Beauty gave and gave and gave all he had. (It is so The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein.) For his loyalty and effort, all Black Beauty asked in return was to be treated with kindness and a bit of consideration by someone who understands horses and the things they need to keep them well and safe. Sometimes he was not fortunate enough to have such a master.

Black Beauty enlightened me on the proper treatment of horses. I’ve never really liked horses, but I suspect that is because I’ve never really given them a chance. I went horseback riding at stables when I was young, and we even owned a horse once when we lived in the country. I was 14-15 and the horse didn’t like me any more than I liked him. I suspect now that one of the problems was that I didn’t know how to properly ride or guide a horse. If I were to try again I would like to learn to do it correctly.

I'm not sure I want to try again, though. As a dog/cat person, my basic problem with horses is that I've never understood how you could have a close relationship with a creature that could kill you. But what do I know? I have friends who are in love with their horses; one friend says her horses nuzzle her when she approaches them. Black Beauty taught me that horses are caring creatures and long to perform the work for which they were bred. How is that different from a working dog such as an Australian Shepherd? Terriers like to dig because that’s what they were bred to do. This book taught me to let go of my equine prejudice. Not that I’ll ever, like, get into dressage or anything.

From Chapter 6--

I was quite happy in my new place, and if there was one thing that I missed it must not be thought I was discontented; all who had to do with me were good and I had a light airy stable and the best of food. What more could I want? Why, liberty! ... to gallop, to lie down, and roll over on our backs, or to nibble the sweet grass.
I'm with Black Beauty on that one. I love liberty, too. And rolling over on my back in the grass, of course.

Chapter 12--

Master said, God had given men reason, by which they could find out things for themselves; but he had given animals knowledge which did not depend on reason, and which was much more prompt and perfect in its way, and by which they had often saved the lives of men.
The above passage reminds me of everything I've ever read by Jack London.
Chapter 38--

Several times after that the same gentleman took our cab. I think he was very fond of dogs and horses, for whenever we took him to his own door two or three dogs would come bounding out to meet him. Sometimes he came round and patted me, saying in his quiet, pleasant way, "This horse has got a good master, and he deserves it." It was a very rare thing for any one to notice the horse that had been working for him. I have known ladies to do it now and then, and this gentleman, and one or two others have given me a pat and a kind word; but ninety-nine persons out of a hundred would as soon think of patting the steam engine that drew the train.

So you see it’s quotes like that last one that made me realize I had been as unenlightened as most of the people in Black Beauty’s world. Of course, I don’t live in a world in which horses are used for daily work, at least not within my view. But I suspect that even if I did I wouldn’t look on them in the same manner in which I look at a pet. And that is simply my own insulated little worldview. I resolve that the next time I see a horse I shall treat it with kindness.

Of course, I could go for a very long time without seeing one, so it’s a safe promise to make, really.


  1. I see in your sidebar that you're reading Bleak House. Good luck to you. I'm hosting it in a readalong right now and it was definitely not my favorite book...

  2. This is one of the old ones I can't believe I never read as a child. I didn't remember it in time to add it to my 101 list, but it's coming after.

    Thanks for sharing this.

    - Jillian