The central problem in Anna Sewell’s novel is how the horse Beauty can overcome the difficulties he experiences at the hands of his various owners. The novel is unusual in having an animal protagonist, and the author does not wholly manage to avoid making him seem too human. Overall, though, her concern was to show that horses respond to the ways that humans treat them and that people should behave responsibly and kindly in their treatment of animals.
Beauty seems to have an ideal life while young, but that situation cannot last. He always tries to heed the advice his mother gives him about gentleness and a work ethic. He enjoys a loving relationship with the Gordons, who appreciate and nurture him.
Despite their best intentions when they move away, Beauty ends up with owners who fail to care for him properly. He is mistreated and overworked even past the point of exhaustion. When the human handler, Smith, is killed, it is through his own fault, not that of the horse. Beauty’s resulting injuries result in further degradation when he is sold again and forced to work even harder. Sewell emphasizes that the horse retains his dignity and majesty, which seems to be the reason he is finally redeemed by gaining a good home.