While in her fifties Sewell first devised the idea to write her own book about horses. Initially intended, as she wrote in her diary, to be an instructional work to induce kindness, sympathy, and an understanding treatment of horses little did she know it would become a best-seller. Bustling Victorian London’s society, transportation and industry was dependent on horse power, but there were also emerging vegetarian and animal anti-cruelty groups. Through the trials and tribulations of Black Beauty we see a cross-section of the working conditions and quality of life for horses.
Black Beauty is widely credited with helping to change the way horses were cared for. There is little doubt that the book helped hasten the abolishment of the “bearing rein” — a strap used to pull a horse’s head in toward its chest to force the appearance of a noticeable arch of the neck. (This was a highly desired look in aristocratic society, but it created great pain and difficulty for the horses. The animals could not use their neck and chest muscles to pull weigh properly or to breathe correctly. The unnatural arch weakened the horses and usually led to respiratory problems.) Black Beauty also placed a harsh spotlight on the practice of “docking” or cutting short a horses tail, largely for the sake of appearances — a practice that is still widely debated.
How ‘Black Beauty’ Changed The Way We See Horses
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