Horse problems and family problems evolve and solve themselves in an emotional story set in Portland, Oregon. When Charcoal, a range horse of questionable origin but fine physique, is brought in for slaughter, fourteen year old Peter , whose father runs a riding academy, is allowed to keep him instead. For a time coal's good and bad points about equal each other and there is mounting tension as the horse creates problems that threaten to ruin the academy yet shows promise of being a brilliant jumper. Peter's own trials are in counterpoint. He is recovering from a physically weakening accident; at the same time he would basically rather than school Charcoal in jumping, much as he loves the horse. How these elements work out, with the help of Peter's friend Dodo and the discovery of Charcoal's identity makes the proper ending.