Caitlin Gooch, the founder of Saddle Up and Read, uses horses as an incentive for children to learn how to read. The initiative became a non-profit organization in 2019 and went on to make a significant impact on children’s literacy success.
My late mother often watched Bonanza. When I was younger, I would join her after school, sometimes eating a snack while witnessing the life of the Cartwrights in their Nevada ranch. My mother stopped watching after I graduated high school, although the theme song plays in my mind whenever I think about the popular Western show. I still haven’t explored much in the Western genre, but recently my interest in history has led me to this truth: the popular portrayals of cowboys in the media, particularly Hollywood, have been whitewashed.
It’s not surprising. Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) in American history have been either obscured or erased. The historical figures and events taught in schools today don’t entirely cover all the contributions and achievements of racial and ethnic minorities. Even during the late 1800s, Mexican vaqueros, Black cowboys, Chinese gold hunters, and Indigenous cattle raisers populated the West and Southwest (note: Bonanza does have BIPOC characters, but the main cast is white). BlPOC cowboys still exist today, and my research has led me to this amazing Black equestrian, Caitlin Gooch.
Gooch currently resides in Wendell, North Carolina, where she rides her family’s horses and has daughters of her own. In 2017, while volunteering in an after school program, she found out that the children in the program had trouble with reading and spelling. The kids were also fascinated with the photos of the horses on her phone. So she offered to take them to visit her father’s farm, but only if they excelled in their next spelling test. After fulfilling their promise, those kids got to meet the horses.
On the Saddle Up and Read’s official website, it’s pointed out that two-thirds of children in America aren’t proficient in reading. Black children and children of color are more at risk of experiencing poverty or jail time in the future (more info here). Saddle Up and Read not only provides resources and rewards to improve literacy, but the organization also includes books about Black equestrians. When children can find books that represent their identities and experiences, they read more.
After learning the truth about North Carolina’s child literacy rates, Gooch created another incentive: children in the area would need to check out three or more books from the local library if they want a day at her father’s farm. She rides one of her family’s horses to visit libraries, schools, and community groups to encourage more children to read.
To support Gooch and her initiative, you can donate to her GoFundMe page.
You can find out more about Black creators and their work on The Geekiary here.
Author: Brahidaliz Martinez
Brahidaliz (pronounced Bra-da-leez) is a 2019 graduate of American University’s MFA in creative writing program. Their cross-genre chapbook, Coquí’s Song, is forthcoming (2023) from Mason Jar Press.
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