Black Beauty tells his life story from his earliest memories to his "forever home" around the age of 14. Beauty is not only beautiful to look at but is a noble, generous, and faithful animal who serves his masters loyally. In spite of his excellent character, he has multiple owners who do not care for him properly because of ignorance, indifference, or selfishness. Beauty is called by several names throughout the book, but Black Beauty is his name in his first adult home and in his last. Beauty learns much about the ways of men, and nearly dies several times because of mistreatment. In the end, his inherent good nature is rewarded, and he finds a happy home to live out the rest of his days.
Beauty meets Ginger at Squire Gordon's, his first adult home. Ginger is more cantankerous than Beauty, but still has a good heart. Ginger was raised in a less loving home than Beauty. While not actually mistreated, she was not well cared for and thus can be ill-tempered and mistrustful. She slowly improves her disposition at Squire Gordon's, but she suffers when she and Beauty are sent to the earl, who is less kind than the squire. Ultimately, Ginger's fate is crueler than Beauty's, and her spirit is broken.
Primarily responsible for Beauty during his years at Squire Gordon's, John Manly is one of Sewell's models of an outstanding horse caretaker and virtuous man. He is rewarded by finding a good job after leaving Squire Gordon's employ.
Jerry Barker is another of Sewell's examples of a model horse owner. He goes to great lengths to care for Beauty and his other horses, despite his limited financial circumstances. Optimistic, kind, and cheerful, Jerry Barker is a loyal and caring father and husband, as well as a man of principles, which he will not compromise for financial gain. He lives by the Ten Commandments, in which he strongly believes, and feels that people's actions speak louder than their words.
Squire Gordon purchases Black Beauty from Farmer Grey and gives the horse a good home. As a model horse owner, Squire Gordon is caring and knowledgeable about his animals. He hires responsible, attentive grooms and makes sure they take good care of the horses. The squire and his wife are also advocates for animal welfare and repeatedly make efforts to help other horses that do not belong to them.
At 14, Joe Green is hired when he is too young and too small to do much. Although he almost kills Black Beauty by accident through his ignorance, he works hard under John Manly's tutelage. Joe eventually becomes a good groom and an animal advocate, like John and Squire Gordon. Years later, when Beauty arrives at the Blomefields', Joe is the head groom there. He is delighted to be reunited with Beauty once more, promising him a safe, happy home forever.