Caitlin Gooch’s passion for the Western lifestyle began during her childhood on her family’s horse farm. Growing up surrounded by horses, she had always dreamed of becoming a veterinarian, but her focus shifted when she got to college and decided she wanted to help people instead. Upon graduating with a B.S. in Sociology, she found herself working in childcare. That’s where she realized that students weren’t taking reading seriously.
After researching literacy rates in her area, the results shocked her. “Every demographic breakdown pointed to Black students scoring far behind their peers,” she recalls. “That’s when I knew I needed to do something. Any chance I had, I would talk to the kids about horses. So I thought, if I use my horses as an incentive, then maybe they will actually practice their sight words or read.”
Her theory proved to be effective, and the first program was held in 2016 at a local library. If a child checked out three or more books during that month, they were entered into a drawing. At the end of the month, five names were chosen. Those kids came to the farm to meet the horses and receive books. Since then, Caitlin continues to go into neighborhoods and community parks with her miniature horse, Man Man. She is working to secure grants and funding to hire paid staff, as well as diving more into research to collect data to prove how and why children reading to horses works.
“Kids deserve to know what loving and knowing how to read feels like. When I think about how amazing it is to share my horses with youth, I am motivated to keep going. I remind myself that this is for their future. They are the future of the world. My four daughters have to live in this world, so this is also my way to make it a better place for them.”