Chapter 15 Summary

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The Old Hostler

The Squire and his wife have decided to visit friends who live forty-six miles from the farm, and James is chosen to drive them. They travel thirty-two miles the first day through some long, hard hills, but James is careful and thoughtful so that the horses are “not at all harassed.” James remembers to put the drag on and take it off at the proper times and keeps the horses’ hooves on the smoothest part of the road. If the uphill trudge gets too long, he sets the carriage a little sideways to let the horses have a short rest. These thoughtful gestures and his kind words keep the animals happy.

At sunset they stop for the night at a hotel, and two hostlers come out to take care of the horses. The men move quickly and efficiently, and James watches the entire proceeding carefully. Black Beauty’s cleaning is done so quickly that James fears it was not done well; however, when he checks the horse he sees that he is clean and ready for a rest. The crooked little hostler says forty years of experience has made him efficient. He is in the habit of working quickly, something that is just as easy to develop as the habit of working slowly. He has worked with horses since he was twelve, originally planning to be a jockey. After he fell and broke his knee, though, he began working for the hotel and has loved working with such fine creatures as Black Beauty and Ginger.

He can handle a horse for twenty minutes and know what kind of care the horse is given and what kind of treatment it has experienced. A fidgety or timid horse has been treated poorly, as has a horse that is violent or afraid. Horses are like children, the old hostler adds: "[T]rain 'em up in the way they should go, as the good book [the Bible] says, and when they are old they will not depart from it, if they have a chance." James likes the old man’s philosophy and tells him this is how animals are treated at his master’s farm.

The man asks who James’s master is, and James tells him his master is Squire Gordon of Birtwick Park. The hostler has heard of the Squire and applauds him as a fine judge of horses and "the best rider in the county." James says the Squire rides very little since the accident suffered by his son. The old man remembers the story and comments that the site of the accident was not an ideal setting for any horse to jump, even for bold riders and experienced horses. He asks about the horse that also died in the accident. James tells him they lost a fine horse that day and that Black Beauty is his brother. When the other hostler finishes cleaning Ginger and brings corn for both horses, James and the old man leave the stable together.

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