The Red Pony

The Red Pony

"The Red Pony" is a novella written by American author John Steinbeck in 1933. The stories in the book are tales of Steinbeck's childhood recounted by a ten-year-old boy named Jody Tiflin. The book has four different stories about Jody and his life on his father's California ranch. Other main characters include Carl Tiflin - Jody's father; Billy Buck - an expert in horses and a worker on the ranch; Mrs. Tiflin - Jody's mother; and Jody's grandfather - Mrs. Tiflin's father, who has a history of crossing the Oregon Trail, and enjoys telling stories about his experiences; Gitano - an old man who came to die at the Tiflin ranch. Along with these stories, there is a short story at the end of the book titled "Junius Maltby." However, in the edition published by Penguin Books, there is no short story at the end of the book.


Chapter 1 - The Gift

The book's action begins when Mr. Tiflin gives his son Jody a red pony colt. Overjoyed, Jody quickly agrees to all of the conditions his father places on the gift (to feed the pony, to clean his stall). Jody is so awed at the pony's magnificence that he decides to name him Gabilan, after the majestic Gabilan Mountains.After several weeks of training and getting to know Gabilan, Jody is told by his father that he will be allowed to ride the horse by Thanksgiving. One day the pony is caught in a downpour and catches what appears to be a cold. Billy tries to cure the horse of its illness to no avail. and finally diagnoses the illness as strangles, places a steaming wet bag over the pony's muzzle and entrusts Jody to watch the pony. In the night, Jody becomes sleepy in spite of his constant worry and drifts off to sleep, forgetting about the open barn door. By the time he awakens, the pony has wandered out of the barn. When Billy arrives, he deems it necessary to cut a hole in the horse's windpipe so he can breathe. Jody stays by his side, constantly swabbing out the mucus that clogged the windpipe. After falling asleep, Jody dreams of increasingly powerful winds and wakes up to see that the pony is gone again. Following the pony's trail he then notices a cloud of buzzards circling over a nearby spot. Unable to reach the horse in time, he arrives while a buzzard is eating the horse's eye. In his rage, Jody strikes the feasting buzzard it repeatedly with a piece of white quartz until it is dead. Mr. Tiflin and Billy arrive at the scene and attempt to comfort Jody.

Chapter 2- The Great Mountains

Jody is bored. He looks with longing at the great mountains, wishing he could explore them. Suddenly, an old Mexican man named Gitano appears, claiming he was born on the ranch. Gitano requests to stay on the farm until he dies. Carl Tiflin refuses, although he does allow him to stay the night. That night, Jody secretly visits Gitano. He is polishing his old rapier. Jody asks if he has ever been to the great mountains, and Gitano says he has but remembers little. The next morning Gitano is gone. A neighbor reports seeing him riding into the mountains on Easter, Mr. Tiflin's 30 year old horse, with something in hand—the rapier, Jody assumes. Jody is filled with longing at the thought.

Chapter 3- The Promise

Jody's father Carl thinks it is time for Jody to learn more responsibility, so he arranges for Jody to take the mare Nellie to be serviced at a neighbor's ranch. The stud fee is five dollars and Jody works all summer to satisfy the five dollar credit his father held over him. After a few months, Billy Buck determines Nellie is pregnant.

While Jody and Billy take care of the mare, Billy states that his mother died in childbirth and he was raised on mares' milk. That's why Billy is supposed to be so good with horses. Jody dreams often about his coming foal. Billy explains that mares are more delicate than cattle and sometimes the foal has to be cut out to save the mare's life. This worries Jody. He thinks of his pony Gabilan, who died of strangles. Billy failed to cure the pony, and now Jody worries something will happen to Nellie.

At the end of the story, Nellie goes into labor. The birth is breach (feet first) and Nellie will not survive. Billy must kill Nellie and perform a quick Caesarian. He hands the foal to Jody "here's your colt, just like I promised." He tells Jody he will have to raise the colt himself, and tells him how. Billy was very angry, for he felt he was a failure in Jody's eyes.

Chapter 4 - The Leader of The People

Jody's grandfather comes to visit. Carl complains about how his father-in-law is always re-telling the same stories about crossing the plains. Grandfather overhears him and is upset. Jody comforts grandfather by telling him that he wants to be a leader.


Lewis Milestone produced and directed a 1949 motion picture of the same name for Republic Pictures in Technicolor, starring Myrna Loy and Robert Mitchum along with child actors Beau Bridges and Nino Tempo. The music for the movie was composed by Aaron Copland, who also arranged a suite for orchestra from the film score. Copland recorded this music for Columbia Records in London in 1975. Another film version was made for television in 1973, starring Henry Fonda and Maureen O'Hara.

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