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Q&A: CAITLIN GOOCH,
MUCK FIELD TEAM MEMBER, FOUNDER OF SADDLE UP & READ

Since 1998, Read Across America has celebrated reading by building literacy programs to motivate and encourage kids across the U.S. to read. This year we are highlighting Saddle Up & Read, a non-profit organization led by Muck Field Team member, mom, cowgirl, and horse whisperer, Caitlin Gooch, and her mission to improve kids’ confidence in reading in her home state of North Carolina through live equestrian events that offer kids the opportunity to engage with and read to horses.

IG: @THEBLACKCOWGIRL | MAR 23

Q: Caitlin, tell us about Saddle Up & Read.
A: Through working with kids as an Education Coordinator and a teacher’s assistant, I saw a need to get kids excited to read. Most of the students I worked with had some interest in horses, or at least knowing about mine. After doing more research online, I discovered there is a literacy crisis in the USA. I immediately began to invite families to bring their kids to read to horses at our farm. I also reached out to our local library to collaborate on a program.

Q: What do you hope to achieve through Saddle Up & Read?
A: A very simple answer for this. I want us to have a part in increasing the literacy rates! Specifically, because more kids are enjoying reading. 

  • Caitlin, holding a purple bucket, with a wide smile.
  • Caitlin and a little child with a brown and white pony.

Q: How do you engage with children to help promote literacy?
A: Through Saddle Up and Read I visit schools, neighborhoods, and libraries (with or without my horse) to read and/or give books away. The horses really draw people in. Kids think it is fun to read to a horse. Or to do a literacy activity with a horse by their side. I always ask kids if they like to read or what books they like to read. We have conversations about what reading is to them. Kids hear the “read 20 minutes a day” line often. When having a conversation about reading, it changes the perspective about reading. I believe the perspective goes from “this is something they are making me do” to “this is something I am choosing to do because I enjoy it.” In the few instances I meet a kid who doesn’t want to read to a horse, I ask them more questions. What I typically find is that they don’t know what kind of books they want to read. 

Q: How many kids have you worked with?
A: Oh, this is a hard one. Since 2015, I have worked with at least 300 kids. I’ve worked with a lot of groups and schools. Man Man [Caitlin’s horse] and I read to the entire Kindergarten class of one school before. 

  • Caitlin and a group of kids outside of a school.
  • Promotional display for the Saddle Up and Read Program, inside the school gymnasium. Muck Boots posed on a table.

Q: How do you engage with children to help promote literacy?
A: Through Saddle Up and Read I visit schools, neighborhoods, and libraries (with or without my horse) to read and/or give books away. The horses really draw people in. Kids think it is fun to read to a horse. Or to do a literacy activity with a horse by their side. I always ask kids if they like to read or what books they like to read. We have conversations about what reading is to them. Kids hear the “read 20 minutes a day” line often. When having a conversation about reading, it changes the perspective about reading. I believe the perspective goes from “this is something they are making me do” to “this is something I am choosing to do because I enjoy it.” In the few instances I meet a kid who doesn’t want to read to a horse, I ask them more questions. What I typically find is that they don’t know what kind of books they want to read. 

Q: How has The Original Muck Boot Company impacted the work you do and have accomplished with Saddle Up and Read?
A: The Original Muck Boot Company has been a huge help and a great resource! Footwear is pretty important considering I am outside and dealing with horses. Having boots ready to put on for any climate makes me more comfortable. This partnership has also opened the door for me to talk with high school students about the importance of keeping their social media clean and following their dreams! Muck Boots have always been my favorite. I had one pair (my first pair of brand-named boots), and I wore them EVERYWHERE! It is a dream to be a brand ambassador. 

Q: Can you share one anecdote of a specific individual or group of children that you worked with and how Saddle Up and Read made a change in their lives?
A: I will never forget when two young Black boys visited the farm with their mom. They were SOOOO excited! We read, they rode a horse, and we laughed. It was such a great evening. Fast forward three months from that outing, their mom texted me a long message. She expressed that the boys had never stopped talking about that evening, and she said every time they see a horse, they think it is mine. They think all the horses in NC belong to me. Then she thanked me for the work I do and showing her sons that they are equestrians. Those are the moments kids will never forget.