How Black Beauty Gave Animals a Voice

by Kristin Berkery

One of the first American editions of Black Beauty, published by F.M. Lupton Publishing Company, New York, in 1885.

Most horse-loving kids read Black Beauty at some point, and even though it’s a well-loved story, most adults view it as children’s fiction. But that wasn’t what author Anna Sewell intended.

Sewell was permanently disabled after a childhood accident and never married or had children. Of English Quaker origins, she subscribed to the belief that all humans and animals should be treated fairly. Sewell spent the last few years of her life writing Black Beauty: The Autobiography of a Horse, bedridden by poor health and cared for by her mother. She never got to appreciate its immense success — Sewell died just five months after the book was published in late 1877.

Black Beauty was ground-breaking. It was the first novel to tell a story from the perspective of an animal, giving readers a realistic glimpse into the hard lives of horses in Victorian England. Because horses were necessary for transportation and farm work, they were often mistreated and considered no better than inanimate objects. Sewell had empathy for all animals, but especially horses, and she wrote Black Beauty in the hope that it might inspire people to treat horses with more kindness.


The Head and Not The Heart: An Interview with Natalie Reinert

“Our lives as horsepeople are exciting and sorrowful and wonderful and tragic on a daily basis, and I want to write about that.” — Natalie Keller Reinert

The Head and Not the Heart by Natalie Keller Reinert

Natalie Keller Reinert is the author of the novella The Head and Not The Heart, a story about a young woman who experiences loss and romantic confusion in the horse world. The heroine, Alex, lives and works on a Thoroughbred breeding and training farm in Florida with her boyfriend, Alexander, who’s a respected race trainer. After losing two young horses that were dear to both of them, Alex begins to question her involvement in the business and her relationship with Alexander. Alex takes a trip to New York City to check out a new horse and finds much more than she expected.
Natalie took a moment away from writing about OTTBs and working with horses in Central Park for the NYC Parks Department (what a job!) to answer a few questions about her first book.
                                                      — Kristin Berkery

Lava Man at Del Mar Racetrack in 2006. Photo by Matt Brockmeyer

What personality traits do you have in common with Alex? How are you different?
Alex and I are both dreamers. Dreamers that pursue their dreams relentlessly… but keep dreaming new dreams all the time. And never forget their old ones. Getting pulled in multiple directions: that’s our biggest problem. I’m a city girl with a country passion; that’s hard to reconcile.

War Horse and Those Amazing Equine Actors

by Kristin Berkery

Hollywood Hoofbeats

Hollywood Hoofbeats by Petrine Day Mitchum

If you haven’t seen War Horse and you don’t like spoilers, you may want to read something else on I’ve tried not to reveal too much about the climactic parts of the movie (of which there are many) while still providing some teasers.

What is an ox-head?

by Kristin Berkery

“Ox-head” doesn’t sound like a flattering term, but Alexander the Great would disagree. According to Conquerors: The Roots of New World Horsemanship by Deb Bennett, PhD, the name of Alexander’s legendary steed was Bucephalus, meaning “ox-head” in ancient Greek.

Two examples of the "ox-head" type. Image from Conquerors: The Roots of New World Horsemanship

Why did Alexander the Great name his horse “ox-head”? Obviously it has something to do with the appearance of Bucephalus’ head. Dr. Bennett describes it this way in Conquerors: “First, the eyes: large, liquid, bovine, and most importantly, supported by bony orbits which arch above the plane of the animal’s forehead, quite different from the appearance of the Arabian with its full or even bulging frontal area.”

Alexander the Great practiced Greek polytheism, which included worshiping the Great Mother, Hera — also known as the Cow Goddess. Cattle were revered in the time of Alexander so the term “ox-head” was a compliment.

Ox-heads can be found in a wide variety of breeds, from the Welsh and Connemara ponies to the Quarter Horse and all its related breeds.

Alexander the Great and his mount, Bucephalus, during the Battle of Issus in the fourth century BC. This mosaic was discovered on the island of Pompeii.

If you discover your own horse has ox-head characteristics, does that mean it’s descended from Bucephalus? Not necessarily. The ox-head type was common during the time of Bucephalus and proved to be highly heritable through the generations, meaning the ox-head characteristics were often dominant over other head types.

So while your ox-headed horse may not be descended from Bucephalus, you can be proud that your horse is carrying on an ancient heritage.