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

Caitlin Gooch is the author of a new coloring book, 'Black Equestrians, Volume One: The Trailblazers.'
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. Host Anita Rao talks to Caitlin Gooch, Black equestrian and founder of the children's literacy initiative, Saddle Up and Read.

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.

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Anita Rao is the host and creator of "Embodied," a live, weekly radio show and seasonal podcast about sex, relationships & health. She's also the managing editor of WUNC's on-demand content. She has traveled the country recording interviews for the Peabody Award-winning StoryCorps production department, founded and launched a podcast about millennial feminism in the South, and served as the managing editor and regular host of "The State of Things," North Carolina Public Radio's flagship daily, live talk show. Anita was born in a small coal-mining town in Northeast England but spent most of her life growing up in Iowa and has a fond affection for the Midwest.
Stacia Brown comes to WUNC from Washington, DC, where she was a producer for WAMU’s daily news radio program, 1A. She’s the creator and host of two podcasts, The Rise of Charm City and Hope Chest. Her audio projects have been featured on Scene on Radio, a podcast of the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University; BBC 4’s Short Cuts; and American Public Radio’s Terrible, Thanks for Asking.