Last Updated on February 21, 2023
One of the most influential horses in literature is Black Beauty, but have you ever wondered what kind of horse the famous Black Beauty was? There have been countless film and television adaptations of the famous book written by Anna Sewell. It has become a beloved tale spanning for 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, the Autobiography of a horse, a novel by Anna Sewell, is considered one of the most influential books in the equine world. Anna Sewell never directly reveals what kind of horse Black Beauty is in the novel. However, she does leave us a clue by revealing that an ancestor of Black Beauty’s was a racehorse. Sewell writes in her book, “Not even my grandfather, who was a tremendous racehorse, could have run faster.” Because of this, it is widely believed that he was a thoroughbred or a thoroughbred cross, as those are the most common racehorses.
Sewell wrote her famous book in 1877, just 5 months before she passed away. An accident as a child left her unable to walk for long periods of time. Her dependence on horse-drawn transportation created an interest and respect for workhorses and their welfare. Black Beauty is considered to be a children’s book now. 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 is a story in the horse’s life, usually with a lesson in kindness or in animal welfare.
50 million copies of the book have been sold worldwide, which made it one of the world’s top bestsellers. Anna Sewell was paid just 20 pounds for her book at the time of publication. It is also the first and only book she is credited with writing.
The Real Black Beauty
Many people believe Sewell based the character off a horse from her childhood named Bess. It’s unclear what kind of horse Bess was. He was said to be a spunky horse that was beloved by the Sewell family.
Black Beauty in the Movies
While we may not know the exact kind of horse Anna Sewell had in mind when she wrote Black Beauty, we have seen the book come to life on the screen several times.
Possibly the most famous was the 1994 film adaptation of the book. Black Beauty was played by a black American Quarter horse named Docs Keeping Time. 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. There were also animated versions of the story made for TV and movies in the 70s and 80s.
The book was even adapted for the stage in 2011. Black Beauty Live was performed around the UK in 2012 and gained critical success.
Black Beauty is played by four different horses in the 2020 Disney adaptation of the book. Most of the mares playing Black Beauty in this movie were off-the-track thoroughbreds. The foal that plays this version of the famous horse as a young colt is coincidentally named Black Beauty as well. This story however strayed from the common understanding of the Black Beauty we are familiar with. 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 mentioned before, Anna Sewell originally wrote Black Beauty to make people more aware of the cruelty that many horses faced at the time. The story is narrated by Black Beauty in the first person and follows him as he moves from owner to owner until he eventually becomes a carriage horse in London. Experiencing the things that happen to Black Beauty through his perspective as an autobiographical memoir had a big influence on readers at the time.
The reality of horses’ lives portrayed in the novel struck 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 fashionable but made breathing very 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.
In the Encyclopedia of Animal Rights and Animal Welfare, Bernard Unti calls Black Beauty “the most influential anti-cruelty novel of all time.”
Horses weren’t the only ones whose working conditions were looked at after Black Beauty was released. The book also made people more aware of the poor conditions the London horse-drawn cab drivers faced at the time. Certain restrictions on the cab licenses were abolished soon after the book was published. The cab license fee many drivers struggled with was also reduced.
What Kind Of Horse Was Black Beauty?
There is no one answer to finding out what kind of horse breed Black Beauty was. Through the many variations of breeds that have played him on screen, and the speculations on what breed Anna Sewell originally intended, one thing is clear. Black Beauty had and continues to have a huge impact, not only on readers’ hearts but also in the animal welfare community. Anna Sewell passed away before she got to see the improvements her book helped make 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 up, find out How Long Does It Take To Travel By Horse?