Last Updated on December 3, 2021
Black Beauty is one of the most important animals in literature, but have you ever wondered what sort of horse the legendary Black Beauty was? There have been several film and television adaptations of Anna Sewell’s renowned novel. It has become a treasured story that has spanned generations. While each gives its own unique spin on the classic story, many wonders who the original Black Beauty truly was.
Black Beauty in the Novel
Black Beauty: His Grooms and Companions, a Horse’s Memoirs , a novel by Anna Sewell, is considered one of the most influential books in the equine world. In the story, Anna Sewell never explicitly states what breed of horse Black Beauty is. She does, however, provide us with a hint by saying that Black Beauty’s ancestor was a racehorse. “Not even my grandpa, who was a fantastic racehorse, could have raced faster,” Sewell writes in her autobiography. As a result, it is usually assumed that he was a thoroughbred or a thoroughbred cross, since these are the most prevalent types of racehorses.
Sewell authored her renowned book approximately 5 months before her death in 1877. As a toddler, she was involved with an accident that left her unable to walk for extended periods of time. Her reliance on horse-drawn transportation sparked her interest in and concern for workhorses and their welfare. Black Beauty is currently considered a children’s novel. However, Sewell’s original intent was to inform adults on horse cruelty that was prevalent at the time in Victorian England.
The book follows Black Beauty throughout his life, starting as a foal, becoming a working cab horse in London, and eventually showing him in his retirement. Each chapter tells the narrative of a horse’s life, with a lesson in compassion or animal care thrown in for good measure.
The book has sold 50 million copies worldwide, making it one of the world’s best-sellers. At the time of publishing, Anna Sewell was paid just 20 pounds for her work. That is also the first and only book she is known to have written.
The Real Black Beauty
Many people think Sewell modelled the character on her childhood horse, Bess. It’s unknown what kind of horse Bess was. He was described as a rambunctious horse that was adored by the Sewells.
Black Beauty in the Movies
Although we may not know what sort of horse Anna Sewell had in mind when she penned Black Beauty, the novel has been adapted for the movie multiple times.
The book’s 1994 film version was maybe the most well-known. Docs Keeping Time, a black American Quarter horse, filled the role of Black Beauty. This famous stallion also played The Black in a television series The Adventures of the Black Stallion. Docs Keeping Time was also a 5th generation offspring of War Admiral, a racehorse who was the 4th winner of the Tripple Crown.
The book’s first on-screen adaptation was the 1917 silent film entitled, Your Obedient Servant. In the 1970s and 1980s, animated adaptations of the narrative were produced for television and film.
In 2011, the novel was also adapted for the theatre. Black Beauty Live was performed around the UK in 2012 and gained critical success.
In the 2020 Disney version of the tale, four different horses assume the role of Black Beauty. The mares that played Black Beauty in this film were mostly off-the-track thoroughbreds. The foal that portrays this version of the renowned horse as a young colt is also called Black Beauty. This narrative, however, deviated from our typical idea of the Black Beauty. Black Beauty in this version is a mustang mare, born in the mountains of Utah and voiced by actress Kate Winslet.
Animal Rights Impact of Black Beauty
As previously stated, Anna Sewell wrote Black Beauty to raise awareness of the suffering that many horses endured at the time. The narrative is told in the first person by Black Beauty and follows him as he goes from owner to owner until becoming a carriage horse in London. Seeing what happens to Black Beauty through his eyes as an autobiographical memoir had a tremendous impact on readers at the time.
The novel’s depiction of the truth of horses’ life touched the hearts of its readers. Concern for animal welfare grew and the book is said to have a huge influence in the banning of the overuse of the checkrein (or bearing rein). The checkrein keeps a horse’s head high and stylish, but it makes breathing difficult. Black Beauty also brought concern to the dangers of putting blinkers on cab horses and limiting the vision of horses pulling carriages in the dark.
Bernard Unti names Black Beauty “the most significant anti-cruelty tale of all time” in the Encyclopedia of Animal Rights and Animal Welfare.
With the publication of Black Beauty, the working conditions of horses were not the only ones scrutinized. The book also made people more aware of the poor conditions the London horse-drawn cab drivers faced at the time. Some taxi licensing limitations were removed immediately after the book was released. The cab license fee many drivers struggled with was also reduced.
What Kind Of Horse Was Black Beauty?
There is no one solution to the question of what breed of horse Black Beauty was. One thing is evident from the numerous different breeds that have represented him on cinema, as well as guesses about what breed Anna Sewell originally intended. Black Beauty has and continues to have a great influence on readers’ emotions as well as the animal protection society. Anna Sewell died before she could witness the changes her book helped to bring about in the working horse world. However, she would be proud to know that her words and story are still having an impact on how people view working horses today.
Next, learn How Long Does It Take To Go By Horse?