I recently had the absolute pleasure of interviewing Caitlin Gooch when we collaborated with The Young Black Equestrians on The Equestrian Pulse Podcast. I was really interested to learn more about the reading programme she created called ‘Saddle Up and Read.’
1) Tell us a bit about yourself, where you are based and your experience with horses.
I am from Wendell, North Carolina, which is where our horses are located on my dad’s horse farm. I started riding at the age of 3. Western riding and trail rides! I now ride bareback which is so much fun. I am married, I have 3 daughters, I’m 27yo, I have 4 siblings, 3 dogs, and 7 horses. I graduated from East Carolina University in 2015 with a Bachelor’s in Sociology.
I have competed in rodeos doing the relay races. I work hard when I am on the farm. I grew up taking care of the horses. Feeding, grooming, mucking, etc. I sweat a lot when I’m out there and the farm is quite big so I have to do a lot of walking haha. I currently live in Chesapeake, VA with my husband (he is in the navy). The farm is 2hr 45mins away and I drive to Wendell on the weekends to teach horseback riding lessons.
2) Tell us all about Saddle Up and Read and what are your goals?
Saddle Up and Read is on a mission to raise literacy rates in America. We encourage youth to achieve literary excellence through horses. We partner with local libraries 3-4 times a year during their non planning months. This is when the libraries do not have scheduled activities. Kids who check out 3 or more books for the month are entered into a raffle. They write their name down then place it in a box. At the end of the month, the librarians will choose 5-10 names. Those children are receive a gift from the library and an invitation to the farm. During Black History Month, we have a Black History Month Reading Tour. Schools, churches, after-school programs, Girl Scout meetings, etc. will schedule us to read to their class. We read books based on historical Black cowboys and cowgirls. Our third program is hosted at the farm (my dad’s) in Wendell, NC. We have reading sessions in which families can attend and read to our horses.
Our goals are bigger than before. We plan to conduct our own research to prove reading to horses increases literacy skills and the literacy rates in America. We hope to be well known for the impact we are making. We would love to travel to the inner cities to deliver books in other states. To work with youth programs which focus on positive youth development. We are also looking forward to the day we can supply 80 books to 100 families in need! That’s 8,000 books!
3) How and when did Saddle Up and Read start?
Saddle Up and Read started in 2017 when I saw there was a need to fill. I worked in child care. I volunteered with kids. I volunteered at a therapeutic riding center. I have so many younger cousins. No matter what group of children I was around, I noticed the struggle to read, pronounce and spell 3-5 letter words. One night I decided to actually research literacy rates. What I found brought me to tears. Black students were lagging so far behind their white peers. The numbers were not close. Not even half of the Black students were reading at the same level as their white peers. I looked at schools in MY community. I wondered why this was happening and what could be done.
The children I work with LOVE seeing pictures and videos of my horses. If they get excited about horses, then I will use my horse to get them excited about books. And that’s what I did. I reached out to Wendell Library and Ms. Connie helped bring my idea to life. Our first program was with the library. Kids who checked out 3 or more books were entered into a draw. At the end of the month, the librarians picked 5 names and those kids were given a horse pillow and an invitation to come to the farm. They read books to the horses, groomed them, and sometimes had a chance to ride.
4) How do you fund Saddle Up and read?
Saddle Up and Read is funded by donations, but at first I was funding it with my own money. Now we get book donations and monetary donations via go fund me https://www.gofundme.com/f/saddle-up-and-read-fundraiser
5) How can people get involved and help?
People can get involved by reading to their own children. If you don’t have children, read to nieces, nephews, god kids, grandkids, cousins, your elderly family members. READ for 20 minutes a day. Get the kids excited about reading. Read books with diverse characters. Not just history books or books based on history. Choose books with diverse characters featuring awesome stories.
6) Could you list some BAME authors/books for people to look out for?
We have found, I think, every book published featuring Black equestrians. In my search for these book titles, I do not recall seeing any with other people of color. However, I have authored a book which includes EVERYONE! From race to disabilities to height to weight to hair and so on. It is currently being illustrated. Be on the lookout for it this year.
As far as other books, “Let Er’ Buck! George Fletcher the People’s Champion” is my favorite. I have had phone conversations with the author and illustrator. They always give me positive words of encouragement. When people ask for my book list, I will admit I am hesitant to give it. There are not many books. In fact, there are less than 40. Some of which are not even in print any more. Now the demand for them is high. These books are also based on history. Only a few of them have colorful images. Most of them are like textbooks. The stories aren’t contemporary. The stories are about real people who were once slaves or discriminated against.
7) What does the future look like for Saddle Up and Read?
Our future is so bright! I had no idea Saddle Up and Read would turn into something this big. Our ultimate goal is to be able to start Saddle Up and Read chapters around the world. This way more people can have a hand in making an impact. Once we have our truck and trailer, we will haul the horses and books into the communities who need us the most. We have to meet the needs of children in the community. Their current need is having us come to them.
It is a struggle to get the children who need our program to the farm because of transportation. This is a barrier with other barns as well. I want people to realize this. I can offer free lessons, free books, free rides, etc. but if the children have no way of getting to the farm, it doesn’t matter. This is why we need a rig!
If anyone fancies donating you can via PayPal
Follow Caitlin on social media at www.saddleupandread.org
Instagram @saddleupandread @theblackcowgirl