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A Conversation with Caitlin Gooch

Horse in tack

by Omaha Equestrian Foundation Team

Caitlin Gooch wants to change the narrative in more ways than one.

She began riding horses at age 3 and had never taken an official riding lesson growing up, saying she lived the “ultimate equestrian dream,” on her father's farm in North Carolina.

Gooch, the founder of Saddle Up and Read, saw an opportunity to give back to her community. Literacy rates haven't seen an uptick in America since the 1990s. With an increasing gap in adults who can't read above an eighth-grade level, there is a need for immediate and intense intervention. The equestrian decided to work with a local library and created a raffle for any student who checked out three or more books. Out of 150 entries, five winners were chosen to see a horse up close.

Enter: a non-profit combining her love for reading, children and horses.
Developing the program as she sees a need, Gooch wants to see an increase of diversity in the world she grew up in. “If a child sees a character in a book with a pink shirt, and they have a pink shirt, they’ll think – ‘Hey! That’s me!’”. This increase of diversity starts at showing differences in race, hair, height, body type, and ability; extends to expanding how much of the western discipline is shown in the media and includes promoting books by diverse authors and illustrators.

Some equestrian series have upwards of 100 books, with little diversity of types of stories told within them. “Books with diverse characters don't exist in this industry,” said Gooch. These types of stories are often relegated to historical figures, we do not often see minority children included.

All access is not created equal. The minority students who need the program are often the ones whose parents do not have the resources to get them there. This may be because both parents have jobs, must work late to provide for their children, or do not have reliable transportation. This is why Gooch solicited donations, had a truck and trailer donated, and other businesses came together to get this program up and running. Saddle Up and Read wants to create a safe space for students in the barn, inviting them to come and read to horses. Gooch also encourages parents to read with their children.

So what does the future hold? The nonprofit has plans to provide 80 books to 100 different families, totaling 8,000 books. This will create a personal library for every child to get their love of reading truly kickstarted. For now, they have the good problem of not having enough space of all the books.

Learn all about this organization that has been featured on the Kelly Clarkson Show, retweeted by Oprah and continues to make a remarkable difference in its community.

Saddle Up and Read