The first English novel to be written from the perspective of a non-human animal and one of the top 10 best-selling novels for children ever written was the story of a working horse - Black Beauty. 

The novel, by Norfolk-born Anna Sewell, who would have recently marked her 200th birthday, was first published in 1877.  The book is still in print today, testament to its enduring appeal and ability to connect with generations of children.

Anna wrote Black Beauty for those who worked with horses, her aim being “to induce kindness, sympathy, and an understanding treatment of horses.”  She was a frequent user of horse-drawn carriages, having slipped when walking home from school and severely damaging both her ankles.  For the rest of her life, she struggled with mobility and could not walk for any length of time or stand without the aid of a crutch.  Being so reliant on horses, she was able to observe them closely and from this grew her love of them and her concern for the humane treatment of animals.  She said: “We call them dumb animals, and so they are, for they cannot tell us how they feel, but they do not suffer less because they have no words.”

Understanding the emotional state of animals – what they are really feeling and whether or not they have good welfare, is something that animal welfare scientists desire, but is very difficult to achieve.  A charity which has been working hard for nearly a century to help us understand how animals, including horses, feel and what matters to them is UFAW.  

UFAW is an animal welfare charity unlike any other – it’s motto is ‘Science in the Service of Animal Welfare’ because it uses science to help us to improve animal welfare by giving us a greater understanding of what matters to them.  For example, through its grants funding programme, UFAW supported research which showed that mirrors were an effective way to reduce weaving (the swaying side-to-side movement of the head) in stabled horses.  The scientists concluded that the mirrors enriched the stable environment and acted to reduce feelings of social isolation.  Similarly, through its outreach programme the university LINKS scheme, UFAW has also supported a seminar workshop at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences to discuss ethical and animal welfare related aspects of horse management and handling. The seminar was live streamed to reach as wide an audience as possible, with the majority of delegates saying that it would have a positive impact on their future behaviour when dealing with horses.

The charity has also provided information through its genetic health pages on what inherited welfare problems may occur in horses, and what checks may need to be made with breeders or suppliers in order to avoid buying affected or carrier animals.  (Link to genetic health page)

In many parts of the world, horses are still working animals.  In the 143 years since Black Beauty was written, mankind has already made great strides forward in understanding horses and improving their welfare.  But without science, we can only guess or theorise at what animals are truly thinking and feeling and whether this is good welfare.  UFAW has made a tremendous difference to millions of animals all around the world – but we need your help to continue.  We rely on voluntary donations, subscriptions and legacies to help us to continue to discover what really matters to animals.  Because our work changes attitudes and legislation relating to how animals are cared for and treated, your support can help make real, practical and lasting advances to animal welfare throughout the world.   

For example, just £3 a month could help us to provide educational materials to improve animal welfare in developing countries whilst a one off donation of £50 helps us to fund projects like the study which showed that providing mirrors for stabled horses helped them to feel less isolated.

Making a donation to UFAW couldn’t be simpler – just click to make a secure donation online.

Thank you.