During the coronavirus pandemic, many young students are floundering academically, low-income kids being the most vulnerable. In certain regions, entire classes of children are struggling in learning to read. The good news is that Caitlin Gooch, a self-described cowgirl whose family runs a farm in North Carolina, has found a great way to help: Read to horses.

When kids found themselves forced to study at home, Gooch had the idea of calling her horses to the rescue. About once a month, she gathers a few ponies and horses, bringing them to book fairs in parks and library events that will attract kids. On site, the young visitors can select a free book to take home and, before leaving, they can even read the chosen book to a horse. A welcome break from boring online learning.

Gooch herself learned to ride at age 3 on the horse farm run by her father. Due to the importance of horses in her life, she wanted to share her happy experience with other kids, especially those in need. In the beginning, through some research, Gooch learned that more than half of third-graders in North Carolina had reading difficulties and that, nationwide, nearly two-thirds of fourth-graders read below proficiency level.

Her equine-focused reading initiative was so successful that soon Gooch wanted to expand it and open it to everyone. “I put a post on Facebook inviting parents to bring their kids and a book and read to my horses. After they’d each read a book, I showed them how to brush my favorite horse, Goat, and taught them about horse safety”, she said.

As the program developed, the cowgirl offered other incentives, such as free books and free pony rides to keep the kids motivated. Since the program was launched, about 500 of them have come to Gooch's dad's barn and selected a docile and patient reading companion among a herd of 40 horses.

Picture: Mariyah Perez rides a horse for the first time with Caitlin Gooch leading (Jazmin Perez, w/Effects)