Guest article by cowgirl poet, Andie Eisenberg.
One would naturally assume that that Anna Sewell, the author of Black Beauty, was an accomplished equestrian who likely jumped fences with ease and ran with the wind on the back of a favorite steed who would eventually take on the epic persona of “Black Beauty.”
Truth is, Anna took a terrible fall on the way home from school at the age of 14 and injured both her ankles. She never walked again without a crutch, and was essentially dependent on horse-drawn carriages for the rest of her life for mobility.
She didn’t even write Black Beauty till she was 57, and then as a means to reach (adult) people who were charged with the care of horses, to “induce kindness, sympathy, and an understanding treatment of horses.” It was never intended to be the children’s classic it became, but a manifesto of animal rights and care. At the time she wrote it, she was an invalid confined to her home; she died a mere five months after it was published in 1878.
She never lived to see the powerful, far reaching consequences of her manuscript, which included not only its meteoric rise as a children’s book, but also the enactment of several anti-cruelty laws against the mistreatment of horses in England. For instance, the use of checkreins – straps used to hold horses’ head abnormally high, causing their necks great harm and pain — was soon abolished.
A devout Quaker, Sewell was brought up with abundant concern for the well-being of animals, for which the Quakers are known. She and her mother converted later in life to the Church of England and were active in evangelical circles. I would go so far as to say that “Black Beauty” is evangelical in its own right.
I don’t know about you, but in pondering the details of Anna’s life, I think how that fall altered her life – and life with horses – in a tragic yet beautiful way. Tragic for her never being able to ride the horses she wrote about with such passion, yet beautiful in the way that through the Holy Spirit, from Whom all inspiration flows, she channeled that passion on to parchment and created a legacy of better understanding and treatment of horses that remains to this day.
I imagine the cross of being bedridden also carries with it the seal of grace, for even in the opening lines of Black Beauty, and throughout the book, the tenderness of God spills onto the page from her lips, as she dictated the inmost thoughts of “Black Beauty” for her mother to record:
While I was young I lived upon my mother’s milk, as I could not eat grass. In the daytime I ran by her side, and at night I lay down close by her. When it was hot we used to stand by the pond in the shade of the trees, and when it was cold we had a nice warm shed near the grove.
“I hope you will grow up gentle and good, and never learn bad ways; do your work with a good will, lift your feet up well when you trot, and never bite or kick even in play.”
I have never forgotten my mother’s advice; I knew she was a wise old horse, and our master thought a great deal of her. – Black Beauty
Good advice for Black Beauty and our own beloved horses…. and good advice for us as well.
Seeking from the saddle – Andie
My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. ~2 Cor. 12:9
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Visit Andie’s website, Christian Cowgirl Poetry for more inspiration.
“Thank you, Andie, for graciously allowing us to share your love of Christ and horses.” – Lynn
Shiner’s Story is similar to Black Beauty’s in many ways except one – Shiner’s story is true. Click link in this sentence for video.