John Steinbeck’s The Red Pony contains four related stories. The best-known story is “The Gift” where young Jody Tiflin is given a red pony by his rancher father which he names Gabilian. Billy Buck is a ranch hand who teaches Jody to care and train the horse. Gabilian eventually catches a cold and his head and neck fill with puss and the only way to save him is to poke a stick in the horse’s neck to open it up so the horse can bring saving him but then only to have him escapes the ranch corral one night and be found dead.
In another story Billy Buck and Jody’s father decide he should raise a colt from birth. A mare named Nellie is chosen and Jody takes her to be bred. When the colt is born something goes wrong and it becomes necessary to kill Nellie and cut the colt out of her stomach.
This isn’t a cute little book about a boy and his horse, it is about some hard reality of life and death on a ranch.
Eventually Jody’s grandfather comes to the ranch for a visit. Jody is interested in knowing more about his grandfather’s life and how he crossed the plains and came west. Instead of the expected inspiring story he is told that his grandfather wonders whether it was all worth it.
Even with the many struggles Jody aspires to grow up and be a leader. This seems a little surprising considering that the stories this book tells are about hard slices of life.
“Why, a trick horse is kind of like an actor—no dignity, no character of his own.”
“No matter how good a man is, there's always some horse can pitch him.”
“It would be a dreadful thing to tell anyone about it, for it would destroy some fragile structure of truth. It was truth that might be shattered by division
“I take a pleasure in inquiring into things. I’ve never been content to pass a stone without looking under it. And it is a black disappointment to me that I can never see the far side of the moon.” (this quote from East of Eden)