Caitlin Gooch, also known as the “Black Cowgirl,” is the founder of Saddle Up and Read, a nonprofit that uses horses as a way to encourage children to read more. On December 10, Oprah retweeted Gooch—and made her mission go viral.

Can you tell me a little about how and why you started Saddle Up and Read?

I started Saddle Up and Read because I love horses. I love sharing my horses, which I’m very blessed to have grown up with. I wanted to share that with other children who wouldn’t have that same experience, and also meet the need to help encourage kids to fall in love with reading and become avid readers.

Can you tell about how living on a farm impacted you growing up, and why you think that environment is so impactful for kids?

So my family has always had this farm. Before I was born, my dad brought horses to it. And I started riding when I was three—and just being outside and around animals, especially the horses.

That was my peace, my comfort—where I feel most myself, to be honest. Children get very excited when they see horses, because either they haven’t seen a horse before and want to know more, or they have seen horses and love horses. I think horses are quite magical; they connect us all together in a really mysterious way. I don’t know how often some of the kids read at home or like to read to their pets, but I know most of them have never read to a horse before.

You’ve mentioned your desire to celebrate the forgotten history of Black equestrians.

For Black History Month, everybody learns about Martin Luther King Jr., and he was definitely great, but there are a lot of other great Black people who have done amazing things.

Representation is very important. I made a coloring book—it’s on Amazon—called Color and Learn Black Equestrian Coloring Book. In the book, there’s a note, and it says, “You are the next generation of equestrians.” I made sure to put that in there for the representation. I’ve been to a classroom—it was a thing where the parents were there as well—and a Black man told me that when he was little, he wanted to be a cowboy. And his mother told him that Black people were not cowboys.

Tell me about the moment you discovered Oprah’s quote tweet.

When she tweeted me, I was actually sleeping. Very busy with Saddle Up and Read. I was running around doing a lot of stuff, and it was also my birthday, so I took a nap. When I woke up, I went outside. I went back to my Twitter feed and happened to look at some random person on Twitter, and she was like, “Oprah tweeted at you.” And I was like, is this tweet fake? Like, is this a bot? And so I went to Oprah’s page and, oh my God.

What does business look like after that tweet?

There is a huge difference. So many emails, a lot of phone calls, a lot of text messages, a lot of people sharing on their Facebook, I think we have like 1,000 likes on our Facebook page or something now—closer to 2,000. I have a stack of checks that I have to take to the bank. You know, I’ve been doing my best to respond to the emails and also reach out to people who would be a great addition to Saddle Up and Read. For the most part, everything has been handled by me. I’ve been doing all of this by myself. This is so amazing but I’m also tired. I’ve been trying to figure out how to balance that and work within my means for now.

Where do you see Saddle Up and Read going from here?

The first thing, I really definitely see us forming an amazing team, and then having a place—not just a place for Saddle Up and Read. I want a farm for myself—to live on it and have my house and the farm, but the farm would also be used for Saddle Up and Read and my lesson program. I have a lot of inquiries [from] people who want to start something like Saddle Up and Read. I’ve just been asking people to be patient so that we can get everything in order to do that in the future. I know there are a lot of amazing people out there who want to do great things, but it takes a lot of work. A lot. 

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