Which Book Vastly Improved Horses’ Lives?

Now a children’s classic, this book was the first to generate interest in animal anti-cruelty organizations. To learn how it improved horses’ lives, check our Just-for-Fun Trivia question.

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Which work of fiction first generated interest in animal anti-cruelty organizations and greatly improved the lives of working horses in the 1800s?

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ANSWER: Black Beauty by Anna Sewell. First published in 1877, it was intended to send a message to adults who used—and often abused—carriage horses and other working equines. The book, written from the perspective of a handsome black gelding who experiences both kind and cruel owners in the course of his lifetime, went on to become a children’s literature classic.

In an interview with National Public Radio in 2012, bestselling author Jane Smiley said the book helped changed the notion that animals are belongings you can do with as you please.

[RELATED: How *your* perspective can contribute to horse abuse.]

Black Beauty helped people see animals in a new way,” she said. “As soon as you say that an animal has a point of view, then it’s very difficult to just go and be cruel to that animal. The book showed readers that the world is full of beings who should not be treated like objects.”

Black Beauty helped turn public sentiment against the common use of a “bearing rein” that forced carriage horses to carry their heads and necks unnaturally high. This style, considered fashionable in 18th- and 19th-century England, impeded horses’ breathing and kept them from fully engaging their forehands to pull heavy loads.

A Quaker, Sewell wrote Black Beauty toward the end of her life while suffering ill health; she died five months after its publication.

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