Growing up on her family’s horse farm in Wendell, N.C., Caitlin Gooch always had a passion for both animals and literacy. While working as an education coordinator, she recognized a problem: Many of the children she worked with didn’t like to read. 

Literacy rates in her area were low, especially among Black children. She decided she needed to do something  — an idea grew into the literacy nonprofit “Saddle Up and Read.”

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Known online as The Black Cowgirl, Gooch uses her growing platform to advocate for diversity and inclusion in the horseback riding community. In 2022, Wake County Public Schools inducted her into its hall of fame for Community Service.

“I feel like this is my calling,” said Gooch. “Let’s take books, let’s take horses and put it together.”

To learn more about Caitlin Gooch and Saddle Up and Read, visit and

Julia Wall is The Assembly‘s lead producer and videographer. She grew up in Wilmington, N.C. and earned a degree in photojournalism from UNC-Chapel Hill in 2013. She previously spent five years on staff at The News & Observer.