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Wendell, NC Equestrian Uses Horses To Inspire Children’s Literacy

A Black woman smiling while holding an orange book titled 'Black Equestrian; coloring book.' The woman is wearing silver dangly earrings and her hair is pulled back into a ponytail
Courtesy of Caitlin Gooch
Caitlin Gooch is the author of a new coloring book, 'Black Equestrians, Volume One: The Trailblazers.'

When Caitlin Gooch began working at a daycare center and a Boys and Girls Club in her hometown of Wendell, North Carolina, she noticed that students were not as interested in reading as she would have hoped. She started showing them pictures of her horses at her father’s farm, if they agreed to read and work on their vocabulary.

'I want to create a safe space for kids to just be themselves. That's not something that you can find everywhere ... My entire life I've had horses to help me through everything. And I thank God for that.'

When that worked, she visited a local library and partnered with it to enter children who checked out books into a raffle. The winner could win horse rides at the farm. When that worked too, she scaled up to create Saddle Up and Read, a nonprofit initiative dedicated to raising literacy rates — including one program that brings donated books to children in underserved communities, with one of Caitlin’s horses in tow. Host Anita Rao talks to Gooch about the history of Black equestrians and the intersection of horse husbandry and children’s literacy.

Interview Highlights

On the assumptions about equestrianism:
I think the assumption is that this is something that's exclusively for rich people only. And I am by no means rich yet!

On representation of Black equestrians in books:
I have found roughly 60 books that feature Black equestrians. But most of them are for adults ... A lot of those boooks are about Black equestrians and their history. It's about the discrimination that they faced in the horse industry. Some of them, the equestrians were once slaves, and they rode horses to freedom. And those stories, I truly, truly keep those stories close to my heart, because some of the equestrians didn't know how to read, and what they talk about is that they wish that they knew how to read and the importance of reading. But it's really sad that I can't just go and have a bookshelf full of books of Black children and children of color doing normal things with horses in the books.

On introducing kids to horses for the first time:
I still have my first horse, and her name is GOAT. And it stands for Goes Over Anything ... I let children ride her. And I use her to introduce horses to children, because I know everything about her. We've just been a team that long. It's been over 20 years. And she is very, I guess, independent ... I want kids to see that. That that's normal. You can build a life with a horse. They can be your buddy for life. Just like a dog.

Stacia L. Brown is a writer and audio storyteller who has worked in public media since 2016, when she partnered with the Association of Independents in Radio and Baltimore's WEAA 88.9 to create The Rise of Charm City, a narrative podcast that centered community oral histories. She has worked for WAMU’s daily news radio program, 1A, as well as WUNC’s The State of Things. Stacia was a producer for WUNC's award-winning series, Great Grief with Nnenna Freelon and a co-creator of the station's first children's literacy podcast, The Story Stables. She served as a senior producer for two Ten Percent Happier podcasts, Childproof and More Than a Feeling. In early 2023, she was interim executive producer for WNYC’s The Takeaway.
Anita Rao is an award-winning journalist, host, creator, and executive editor of "Embodied," a weekly radio show and podcast about sex, relationships & health.
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