John Steinbeck adapted his own novel about a boy brought up on a ranch who is given a pony.
Fred Tiflin (Shepperd Strudwick) asks Alice Tiflin (Myrna Loy) if their son Tom (Peter Miles) spends too much time with Billy Buck (Robert Mitchum); but Alice says Billy is teaching him ranching. On his way to school Tom imagines being a knight with Billy. While feeding chickens, Tom visualizes himself in a circus with horses. Grandfather (Louis Calhern) arrives and tells old stories they have heard before.
Fred gives Tom a pony, and Billy gives him a saddle. Tom shows the pony to his friends. Billy teaches Tom how to break him. Fred complains that Grandfather is late for breakfast and then apologizes to him. Tom asks his Grandfather to tell him stories. Grandfather describes how he led people west. Fred asks Alice to go to San Jose, but she tells him not to run away. Fred says he feels like a stranger and goes to San Jose alone.
Alice plays piano while Tom does a lesson. Tom gets up early and shows Billy what he has taught the pony. While Tom is at school, it rains. Billy brings the pony in out of the rain. Tom runs home and finds the pony out in the rain. Alice reprimands him for cutting school and makes him read.
At night Tom helps Billy take care of the sick pony. Alice wires Fred, who comes back and tells her he may join his brother's business. Fred tells Tom he can be with his pony. Tom embraces his father and cries. Tom watches Billy lance a lump on the pony. When the pony can hardly breathe, Billy cuts his windpipe and puts in a tube. Grandfather helps, and Tom watches.
Tom won't let his friends see the pony. While Tom sleeps, the pony goes out in the rain. In the morning Tom follows the tracks and sees vultures on the pony. He catches one, and it claws him. Fred makes Tom let go of the buzzard and reprimands him. Billy carries Tom and says he will give him his colt.
Tom tells his friends he does not want the colt. After the mare follows Tom, he tells Billy he wants the colt. Billy tells Grandfather he had a dream and will kill the mare to get the boy a colt. Tom overhears him. Fred tells Alice that he is staying home, and they kiss. Tom wants to stop Billy from killing the mare, but they see the new-born colt and laugh.
This family drama reflects on the passing of the western
frontier as life becomes more mundane. Yet a boy on a ranch is
still able to learn natural ways from a man who knows horses.