War Horse: Summary & Characters

Instructor: Erica Schimmel

Erica has taught college English writing and literature courses and has a master's degree in children's literature.

Nick Stafford's theatrical adaptation of Michael Morpugo's novel 'War Horse' follows the unlikely friendship of a boy and a horse. In this lesson, we will take a look at the characters in the play and summarize the action.

Man's Best Friend

Have you ever had a pet you were really attached to? A pet you would do anything for? That's the case for a boy and his horse in Nick Stafford's version of War Horse. Originally published as a novel by Michael Morpurgo, Stafford adapted the book into a play. Set during World War I, the play follows a horse who is separated from his beloved owner by the war. Let's get to know some of the more important characters in the play as we go over a synopsis of the plot.


At the center of the play is Joey, a ''hunter colt'' who is ''half-thoroughbred, half-draught.'' When the play opens in Devon it is August of 1912. Joey is a beautiful horse, meant for riding instead of working. He is very upset when his mother is taken away to be sold. The one human who seems able to reach him is Albert Narracott, a young man who is at the auction with his father, Ted, the town drunk.

Ted bids the thirty-nine guineas meant to pay the mortgage in order to win Joey instead of his brother-in-law Arthur, who wanted to buy the horse for his son Ned. Albert promises his mother Rose that he will raise and train Joey. Albert does a great job, and after two years Joey is full grown and well-trained. Arthur and Ned catch sight of the horse running and decide they still want him. Arthur provokes a drunken Ted to bet that Joey will be able to plough in one week. When Ted tries to take Joey out of the stall, Joey kicks Ted in the head. Rose and Albert come running at his screams and find out about the bet. Albert vows he will teach Joey how to plough, but only if he gets to keep the horse.

Albert teaches Joey to plough. But then church bells ring, indicating that they are ''now at war with Germany.'' As Ned is signing up to join the troops, Ted volunteers Joey for a hundred pounds. Albert is heartbroken, but he is only sixteen and you have to be seventeen to enlist. Major Nicholls, who has sketched Joey before, promises to take care of him. Albert swears they will be reunited someday.


Unfortunately, Joey, along with another horse named Topthorn is ''posted to France.'' Nicholls is killed when the British cavalry is overwhelmed by German machine guns. His companion, Captain Stewart, arranges for his sketchbook to be sent to Albert. When Albert receives the book, he runs away and lies about his age so that he can join the troops and search for his horse.

Meanwhile, under Captain Stewart's orders, Ned has been caring for Joey and Topthorn until the Germans capture them and Ned is brutally killed by one of the soldiers. The horses are left in the care of the Germans now. Fortunately, Hauptmann (Captain) Friedrich Muller has orders to train them to pull an ambulance cart, which keeps them safely out of the fighting at a farm being used as a makeshift hospital.

Desperate to stay out of the fighting so he can return home to his wife and young daughter, Friedrich exchanges his uniform with a dead private's so he can act as an ambulance orderly. His ruse is discovered when Karl, the soldier he worked with who killed Ned, finds him on the farm and forces him to use the two horses to pull a gun-cart. It is hard work, and eventually Topthorn dies of exhaustion. Joey is standing next to his dead friend when a tank rolls up and machine gun fire kills Friedrich. Joey runs away.

No Man's Land

It is now November of 1918, and Joey finds himself caught in barbed wire in ''no man's land,'' an area of space with the German troops on one side and the British troops on the other. Both sides see and want him, and so one man from each side must meet in the middle to discuss who will take him. The two men flip a coin, and the winning British soldier takes Joey back to camp to seek medical treatment.

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