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Free Study Guide-The Red Pony by John Steinbeck-Free Online Book Notes
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CHAPTER 1: The Red Pony


The first chapter begins on a bright early morning, late in the summer. Billy Buck, the middle-aged cowhand for the Tiflin family, comes from the bunkhouse. He sees the clear sky and then walks down to the barn, where he curries two saddle horses. When he hears Mrs. Tiflin ring the iron triangle, he leaves the barn to go and have breakfast at the ranch house. Billy Buck sits down on the steps and waits for Mr. Tiflin to come.

Jody, a ten-year old boy, wakes from his sleep at the sound of the triangle; he dresses and goes to the kitchen, where he washes and sits down at the table. Billy Buck joins Jody, and then Carl Tiflin, Jody's father, comes in. The two men are going in to Salinas and are uncertain when they will be back. After they leave, Jody goes up on the hill to look around before leaving for school. After school, he finishes his chores of filling the wood box and gathering eggs. At supper he waits anxiously for his father and is disappointed when he does not come. The next morning after breakfast, Mr. Tiflin presents Jody with a red pony. It will be the boy's responsibility to care for the colt, keeping it fed and clean. Jody names the pony Gabilan. When his friends come over to see it, Jody feels superior to them, since he is the proud owner of a horse. Even though he cannot ride Gabilan, he proudly shows off the red Moroccan saddle he will use after the pony is trained. After his friends depart, Jody brushes the pony. His mother warns him to finish his chores.

The red colt brings a distinct change in Jody. He becomes a more responsible and disciplined boy. He does not wait for the triangle to wake him in the morning, but gets up on his own to care for Gabilan. Billy Buck patiently teaches Jody how to care for the horse and helps him train Gabilan. By thanksgiving, Mr. Tiflin allows Jody to ride the pony. As the weather begins to turn to winter, Jody makes sure he keeps the pony dry and out of dampness. One morning when the sun is bright, Billy Buck asks him to leave Gabilan in the corral while he is at school; he assures Jody that it will not rain. Unfortunately, it does rain heavily and Gabilan gets soaked. After school, Jody is upset to find his pony drenched. He tries to rub him dry and gives him hot grain. He also covers the pony with a blanket. When Billy Buck comes home after dark, he feels very guilty about Gabilan. Mrs. Tiflin assures Jody that Billy is as good as any horse doctor, and the pony will surely be all right. The next morning Jody goes to the barn and is told by Billy that Gabilan has taken a little cold. By evening the pony is worse. Together they prepare a mixture of carbolic acid and turpentine in steaming water to clear out the animal's nasal passages. The pony looks better after breathing the mixture.

After supper, Carl Tiflin tells stories by the fireplace, but Jody is not interested, for he is too concerned about Gabilan. The next morning the pony is worse and groans with misery. That night Jody sleeps in the hay in order to rub the pony's legs repeatedly. As he sleeps, Jody hears a crashing noise and wakes up. He finds Gabilan out of the barn and out in the darkness. He gently leads the pony back to his stall. The next day, Billy says that he wants to open a little hole in the windpipe of the pony in order to make him breathe more freely. He carefully performs the operation and mops the wound with carbolic salve. Mr. Tiflin tries to get Jody to go for a drive with him, but the boy refuses; he does not want to leave Gabilan.

When Jody sees the dry, dead hair of the pony, he loses all hope for the pony's recovery. As Jody sleeps in the barn with the pony again, the wind blows fiercely, but Gabilan seems to be breathing quietly. When Jody wakes, it is daylight. He finds the barn door wide open and the pony missing. He runs out of the barn and begins to follow Gabilan's tracks. He notices a high circle of black buzzards, obviously waiting for the moment of the pony's death. Jody then sees Gabilan; a buzzard with a dripping beak sits on the pony's head. It is obvious that Gabilan has died. Jody is upset; he furiously attacks the buzzard and kills it. When Carl Tiflin and Billy Buck arrive, Jody is sill beating the head of the dead bird. Billy Buck tries to calm Jody, while Carl wipes the blood from Jody's face. Billy then carries the boy home.


The story, which opens at daybreak, gives a picture of the discipline of early morning ranch life. Billy Buck and Carl Tiflin are already at their chores, while Mrs. Tiflin prepares breakfast. When it is time to eat, she rings the triangle, waking her son Jody and calling the men. Carl Tiflin, Jody's father and owner of the ranch, is introduced as a tall, stern man with little sense of humor. As a father, he is a strict disciplinarian, wanting his son to grow up in a mannerly fashion. He also runs the ranch in a disciplined way. Although Billy Buck has been the Tiflin's ranch hand for a long time, he understands his place and respectfully waits on the porch for his boss to arrive before going in to breakfast.

This morning Mr. Tiflin is in a good mood, happier than normal. He is going into Salinas with Billy for the day, and he plans to get a pony for his son. He feels if Jody has a horse of his own to care for, it will teach him responsibility and help him to mature. He wants Jody to understand independence; he also wants him to respect the earth, like he does. It is obvious that Mr. Tiflin is in tune with Nature, for he feeds the wild birds and does not allow shooting near the house because he fears that the birds may go away.

Jody Tiflin is pictured as a typical ten-year old boy. He sleeps until the last minute and dawdles before leaving for school. On the way, he mischievously smashes a muskmelon, although he knows that it is wrong. It is one small way that he can rebel against his stern father. Although he loves Mr. Tiflin, Jody feels closer to Billy Buck, who is kind and patient with the boy. Serving as Jody's mentor, Billy answers the boy's questions and tries to teach him about horses and the ranch. Jody totally trusts this older friend, for he knows that the ranch hand truly cares for him.

When Jody is presented with the pony, which he names Gabilan, he is truly excited. He promises his father he will take care of the horse, and his father warns him that the pony will be sold if he does not keep his promise. When Jody shows the horse and the saddle to his friends, he feels a bit superior, even though Gabilan is not trained and cannot yet be ridden. As his father hoped, the pony makes Jody more responsible; he does not even have to be summoned out of bed in the morning. He is up early to care for his pony. It is Billy Buck, not his father, who patiently teaches him the best way to raise Gabilan. Therefore, when Billy asks Jody to leave the pony out in the corral while the boy is at school, Jody agrees, especially since Billy has promised that it will not rain. Jody knows he can trust his ranch-hand friend.

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Free Study Guide-The Red Pony by John Steinbeck-Free Chapter Summary


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