Upon publication of the book, many readers related to the pain of the victimised horses, sympathised and ultimately wanted to see the introduction of reforms that would improve the well-being of horses. Two years after the release of the novel, one million copies of Black Beauty were in circulation in the United States. In addition, animal rights activists would habitually distribute copies of the novel to horse drivers and to people in stables. The depiction of the "bearing rein" in Black Beauty, spurred so much outrage and empathy from readers that its use was not only abolished in Victorian England, but public interest in anti-cruelty legislation in the United States also grew significantly. The arguably detrimental social practices concerning the use of horses in Black Beauty inspired the development of legislation in various states that would condemn such abusive behaviours towards animals. The impact of the novel is still very much recognised today. Writing in the Encyclopedia of Animal Rights and Animal Welfare, Bernard Unti calls Black Beauty "the most influential anticruelty novel of all time". Comparisons have also been made between Black Beauty and the most important social protest novel in the United States, Uncle Tom's Cabin, by Harriet Beecher Stowe, on account of the strong degree of outrage and protest action that both novels triggered in society.
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