Black Beauty, published in 1877, is set in various locations in England in the mid-to-late nineteenth century. In it, the horse Black Beauty, through whose eyes the story is told, is sold to different owners. In each setting, Black Beauty learns about the cruel lives of animals, and with some owners, he experiences it himself.
Black Beauty begins life in a pasture in the British countryside, where although his life is mainly fine, he is subjected to being broken for riding and pulling carriages and has to learn to bear the painful bit in his mouth. He is then purchased by Squire Gordon and lives for three years at Birtwick Hall. There, he meets fellow horses Merrylegs, Ginger, and Sir Oliver, and he has a good life because Squire Gordon is very much opposed to beating and mistreating horses. However, Beauty learns of the cruel practice of bobbing dog's ears and hears stories of cruelties other horses have borne.
Life becomes worse for Black Beauty and Ginger when they are sold to the owner's of Earlshall Park. Here, they are subjected to the cruel and painful practice of having their necks held back and unnaturally high by the bearing rein, which is in fashion at the time. Black Beauty also has his knees ruined by being ridden recklessly.
Later the scene shifts to London, where Beauty is bought by the kindhearted Jerry to pulls a cab, which is very hard work. Following that, he is sold to a cruel situation again, including the bearing rein, but at the end of the novel is purchased by kind owners and goes to live happily in the countryside.