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Saddle Up And Read (SUAR) is on a mission to encourage youth to achieve literary excellence through equine activities. In 2017, founder Caitlin Gooch noticed the literacy rates in North Carolina were low, and acted immediately by creating an incentive with a local library. As a prize for reading, this incentive included a day at her father’s horse farm. The only requirement was for children to check out 3 or more books from the library. The rest is history!
In April 2019, Saddle Up and Read became established as a 501(c)(3) non profit organization. “Horses connect people and get kids excited. Why not use that energy to encourage kids to read?” Caitlin states. To this day, SUAR has visited elementary schools, libraries, child care centers, church youth groups, and community events.
“Horses are non-judgmental,” Gooch says. “They don’t snap at you, they don’t undermine any of your thoughts.” She’s been around horses all her life, and starting riding when she was 3 years old. Her family lived on a farm owned by her father. Although he worked as a used car salesman, he built a race track on their 87-acre farm, where he hosted races. He also boarded other people’s horses.
“When I was younger, I didn’t really notice how different the way I grew up was,” Gooch says. “I didn’t realize that other people didn’t live this way. I’m extremely blessed to have grown up with horses.”And then the opportunity to show others what they had been missing presented itself to her.
She says she’s raised over $20,000 from supporters across the world who want to help fund an equestrian facility and in-house library for SUAR.
Gooch isn’t just encouraging children to read more. She’s also showing them that horseback riders can look like her. Gooch co-hosts a podcast about Black equestrianship and recently released a “Color & Learn Black Equestrian Coloring Book” featuring 12 Black trailblazers. “It feels amazing to be that kind of representation,” Gooch says. “And I’m happy to share these experiences.”