Black Beauty starts at the beginning, with Beauty's birth. Beauty's story is set in Victorian England, a time when horses were crucial since they were the main mode of transportation for humans. Raised by his mother, Duchess, under the kind care of Farmer Grey, Beauty learns from a young age that humans can be either a horse's greatest ally or their worst enemy. Beauty spends the early part of his life with thoughtful, caring people who know how to keep horses healthy and happy, but he is always aware that other horses aren't so lucky.
After an idyllic childhood with Farmer Grey, Beauty is sent to Squire Gordon at Birtwick Park, where he spends the happiest years of his life. There he's cared for by John Manly, a wise and perceptive groom, and makes friends with the other Birtwick horses, including spunky and feisty Ginger, who learns to chill out under John's care, and sweet Merrylegs, a pony who adores the young children on the estate.
But Beauty's life isn't all rainbows and sunshine, since he often encounters other horses that have been mistreated by their masters. At one point, Beauty's caught in a stable fire, and on one very memorable night he rides to fetch a doctor and saves the life of Squire Gordon's ailing wife.
Sadly, it's Mrs. Gordon's illness that closes the chapter on Beauty's happy time at Birtwick. Ordered by the doctor to move to a warmer climate, Squire Gordon and his family leave their estate in England and sell their horses. From this point onward, Beauty's story becomes a struggle as he falls victim to ignorant treatment and negligence from a series of new owners. One night, a drunk groom causes Beauty to fall, a mishap that kills the groom and permanently scars Beauty, turning him from a fashionable carriage horse to a horse-for-hire, thus moving him down the ranks of the horse hierarchy.
When Beauty is finally sold to London cab driver Jerry Barker, it looks like maybe he'll be okay. Jerry is basically the Horse Whisperer of London cabbies, and Beauty adores him. Even though the work is hard, Beauty grows to love his life with Jerry and the Barker family.
But illness once again changes Beauty's fate, and after a near-deadly round of bronchitis, Jerry gives up his London cab and moves to the country with his family. After that, Beauty suffers at the hands of brutal owners who work him until he literally drops. Along the way, he encounters his old friend Ginger, who's been treated so cruelly that Beauty eventually sees her carted away, dead.
Although Beauty's nearly dead himself from overwork and injury, he's saved by a perceptive horse doctor who thinks he can still be fixed up and sold. Beauty is bought by a kind farmer and his grandson, who rehabilitate him. They sell him at last to a family who recognizes him as Squire Gordon's beloved Black Beauty, and give him the happy ending he deserves. Phew.