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Because of his shifts from master to master, Beauty doesn't have a lot of lifelong friends—except one. Ginger is probably Beauty's closest equine friend, and certainly the horse he spends the most time with over the course of the book. Ginger is a beautiful horse, a tall chestnut with a long neck and a white stripe on her face.
But Beauty and Ginger don't really start out on the right foot. In direct contrast to Beauty, who's gentle, willing, and eager to please, Ginger is feisty, quick-tempered, and easily irritated. "So it is you who have turned me out of my box. It is a very strange thing for a colt like you to come and turn a lady out of her own home" (4.12), she says haughtily to Beauty after they meet. When Beauty explains that he didn't mean to displace anyone, she replies, "[…] of course I do not want to have words with a young thing like you" (4.14). Oh, snap.
Beauty's other new stable mate, Merrylegs, explains that Ginger "[…] has a bad habit of biting and snapping" (4.16), which is why she's called Ginger—well, that and the color of her coat. Merrylegs says that she does it because none of her previous owners ever treated her well.
Ginger's tendency to be high-strung and snappish has its roots in neglect and mistreatment, but underneath that prickly exterior is a horse just as sweet as Beauty or Merrylegs. Ginger's personality serves as a cautionary tale to horse owners: Poor treatment at a young age clearly results in a horse prone to bad habits.
While at Birtwick, however, Ginger mellows out. John Manly, the groom, treats Ginger gently and carefully, and her temper gradually improves. Beauty, paired with her to pull carriages, describes her as a hard worker: "She did her work honestly, and did her full share, and I never wish to have a better partner in double harness" (5.23). After pulling the carriage together, Beauty and Ginger start to become "friendly and sociable" (5.23), and before too long they are swapping life stories.
Ginger's life before Birtwick was one of neglect. She tells Beauty that she "[…] never had any one, horse or man, that was kind to me, or that I cared to please" (7.4). She was taken from her mother at an early age and broken in roughly, an experience she describes as painful and frightening. She felt that her first master only wanted "[…] to wear all the spirit out of me, and just make me into a quiet, humble, obedient piece of horse-flesh" (7.7). Yikes.
This is a far cry from Beauty's childhood, and Ginger is very aware that her past has made her wary and mistrustful of humans. After time spent with a master who used the harsh, unpleasant bearing rein, Ginger tells Beauty she decided "[…] that men were my natural enemies and that I must defend myself" (8.7). Can't say we blame her given what she's been through.
With these honest, painful tales of her upbringing, Ginger earns Beauty's sympathy and they become close friends. When at last they must leave Birtwick, they're sold to Earlshall as a pair of carriage horses, and there, Ginger's irritable nature quickly returns when they're made to wear bearing reins. Sadly, this proves to be her downfall: Overcome with frustration, Ginger fights back one day, injuring herself and several grooms in the process. She's never paired with Beauty again in a carriage, and becomes a riding horse.
Some time later, she and Beauty are reunited in a field while he is recuperating from his bad injury at the hands of drunk groom Reuben Smith. There, Beauty finds Ginger's been "ruined by hard riding" (27.2). Turned out into the field together, both in poor health, Beauty and Ginger find comfort in their friendship, but Ginger knows it's not for long. "They'll soon take you away," she tells Beauty, "and I shall lose the only friend I have, and most likely we will never see each other again" (27.8). Say it ain't so…
Alas, Ginger's almost right. Beauty is taken away a week later, and they call out to each other as they're separated. Their heart-wrenching separation reminds us that horses don't have any control over staying with their loved ones.
But that's not the last we see of Ginger. Beauty finds her again in London when he's working as a cab horse. They've both fallen on hard times, but it's Ginger who's gotten the worst deal. Beauty describes the changes that have come over her:
[…] the face, that was once so full of spirit and life was now full of suffering, and I could tell by the heaving of her sides, and her frequent cough, how bad her breath was. (40.2)
Through no fault of her own, Ginger has been sold down the line, her situation getting worse and worse. Beauty asks why she doesn't stand up for herself anymore, and Ginger tells him it's no use. All the spirit has been driven out of her, and she tells him, "I wish I was dead" (40.7). Beauty is heartbroken, and so are we.
In the book's most poignant moment, a short time later Beauty sees a dead horse on a cart and recognizes the body as Ginger's. He actually hopes it is her, "[…] for then her troubles would be over" (40.10). Rest in peace, Ginger. Fiery, spirited, and full of life, she's a surprisingly sweet soul who finds true and lasting friendship with Black Beauty.