Chapter 23 Summary

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 655

A Strike for Liberty

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One day the Earl’s wife comes down for her ride later than usual, and her skirts seem to rustle more fiercely. She commands they drive to see one of her friends, a duchess, and insists that the horses’ heads be reined in tightly once and for all—“no more of this humoring nonsense.” York starts with the black horse while a groom stands at Ginger’s head; he makes the reins so tight they are almost intolerable to Black Beauty. Ginger impatiently jerks her head up and down against the bit; when York prepares to tighten her reins, she rears up, hitting York in the nose and causing the groom to lose his balance.

Both men grab for her head, but she is too quick for them and continues plunging, rearing, and kicking desperately. Finally she kicks over the carriage poles, hitting Black Beauty, as well. She would no doubt have done more damage, but York sits on her head to keep her from struggling. He then orders that the black horse be unbuckled and the carriage unhitched from the mare. The black horse, free of both Ginger and the carriage, is returned to his stall. If he had been raised to kick and rear, Black Beauty is certain he would have acted as Ginger had. He is miserable, inclined to kick anyone who comes near him at this moment.

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A bruised and battered Ginger is soon returned to her stall, as well. York comes to assess the situation, muttering about bearing reins and controlling one’s wife and washing his hands of the problem, unconcerned that his mistress might not get to her garden party. None of the stable workers hear him, though, as he maintains a respectful tone in front of them. York feels a lump on Black Beauty where he has been kicked and directs that it be treated immediately.

Lord W—[sic] is not happy when he hears what has happened, scolding York for giving in to his wife's demand; York replies that he would prefer to take orders only from his master. Nothing changes, however, except that Ginger is never placed in the carriage harness again. Once her bruises heal, one of the master's sons asks to ride her while hunting. Black Beauty is still forced to pull the carriage while wearing a tight rein; his partner now is Max. Black Beauty asks his new partner, a veteran carriage horse, how he tolerates such treatment. Max says he bears it because he must, but it is shortening his life. He adds that the bearing rein will shorten Black Beauty’s life, as well, if he has to wear it for long.

The two discuss whether masters understand how detrimental bearing reins are to their horses’ health. Max is not sure they do understand, but he is quite certain dealers and doctors recognize the truth, that using them causes horses to wear out or get sick. Dealers continue to train horses with bearing reins, Max explains, because it is the fashion for horses to carry their heads unnaturally high. Dealers choose to please their customers and make sales, even at the expense of shortening horses' lives.

For four months, Black Beauty suffers the bearing rein. After pulling his mistress’s cart, he sometimes foams at the mouth, and his breathing is often labored; his neck and chest hurt from the strain, and his tongue and mouth are sore. Even though he is a young horse, he feels worn out. York undoubtedly knows the damage that is being done to Black Beauty, but he is unable or unwilling to help him. Later, Black Beauty realizes he would have suffered a terrible fate in body and spirit if his suffering had continued. Aside from being forced to wear the barbaric rein, he is treated well, but he does not have a friend. He is quite lonely and depressed.

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