Meet the Two Inspiring Equestrian Entrepreneurs Behind the Young Black Equestrians Podcast and Saddle Up and Read (and About Five Other Impressive Ventures!)
After spending just five minutes in conversation with Abriana Johnson and Caitlin Gooch, it’s likely that you’re going to want to be their fast friends.
Abriana and Caitlin’s positivity, sense of humor, passion for horses, and incredible entrepreneurial energy are contagious and quickly make you want to hear more about what the two inspiring equestrians have to say. Fortunately, you can, thanks to Abriana and Caitlin’s Young Black Equestrians podcast.
The two riders, both hailing from North Carolina, launched the podcast in 2019 to share “the ins and outs of equine culture with an extra dose of melanin” and have since recorded more than 45 episodes. However, it’s not Abriana or Caitlin’s only passion project.
Caitlin is also the founder of Saddle Up and Read, a 501(c)(3) non-profit literacy program that encourages children to read through equine-related activities. Abriana is the author of the Cowgirl Camryn book series, and together the girls have launched other projects, including the Black Equestrian Network.
With their impressive list of business and charity ventures (that likely either motivates you to want to do something similar, or makes you want to take a nap on their behalf!), it’s not surprising that, when we at BarnManager spoke out about wanting to amplify the voices of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC), others were quick to recommend Abriana and Caitlin as the girls to talk to!
Over the coming months, Abriana and Caitlin will be sharing a few of their own tips and stories here on the BarnManager blog. (Spoiler alert: we’ve requested that Abriana tell the story of her “mini mobile,” converted from a minivan!) Before they do however, read on to get to know just a bit more about the powerhouse women you’ll be hearing from!
Improving Literacy Through Horses
With her father owning a horse farm in Wendell, NC, Caitlin grew up riding and loving horses, and, as early as her teenage years, she yearned to use horses to help others. It was that passion and desire that led her to create Saddle Up and Read.
In 2017, after learning that the literacy rates in North Carolina were surprisingly low, Caitlin decided to start an incentive program with a local library. Any child who checked out three or more books from the library in a month was entered into a raffle to get to spend the day at Caitlin’s father’s horse farm.
“Horses connect people, and get kids excited,” said Caitlin, who has two daughters with her husband, JaQuan. “Why not use that energy to encourage kids to read?”
The program was a huge success and ultimately led to the launch of Saddle Up and Read.
Today, Saddle Up and Read visits schools, churches, libraries, and more, and Caitlin hosts reading stations at the farm, where participating children read books to the horses and get to enjoy time with them.
“The horses are the incentive,” explained Caitlin, who graduated from East Carolina University with a bachelor’s degree in Sociology and a concentration in Marriage and Family Therapy. “You can give a treat to this horse, you can pet it, you can groom it, and possibly ride it.”
“The horses sell it!” added Abriana. “For the kids, if you say, ‘This horse is interested in you reading the book that you brought,’ and the horse like sniffs the book, the kid is like ‘Whoa!’ They love it. They’re not just reading to adults. There’s a program that brings dogs into schools, and they sit beside the kids while they read. This is a similar concept except outside.”
After also getting involved with Saddle Up and Read, Abriana too discovered a need when it comes to literacy and literature: one for more minority-based books about horses.
That discovery led Abriana to create the Cowgirl Camryn children’s book series. Each book, written and illustrated by Abriana, teaches a lesson about teamwork, communication, bullying, or other life topics, as well as telling stories about farm living.
When she is not authoring and illustrating children’s books, it’s possible to find Abriana doing one of about 100 other things, including training her miniature horse, Encore; running Black Unicorn Creative, her company specializing in brand development, social media marketing, and content creation; or co-hosting the Young Black Equestrians podcast alongside Caitlin.
“When we first started out, we said, ‘let’s just talk about this and get the word out about black equestrians,’” explained Abriana, who graduated from North Carolina State University with a bachelor’s degree in animal science. “Season one is a lot of solo, just us episodes. Then, we realized that there are obviously a lot of equestrians who have experiences that are not like ours or who come from different disciplines, so we started reaching out to different Black equestrians. These people all have such interesting stories.”
The podcast has taken off and has featured riders from across the country and across disciplines including eventers, barrel racers, dressage riders, polo players, and more, and now Caitlin and Abriana have also taken the show to YouTube.
“People are always asking us about things that are not easily conveyed just over voice, like, ‘How do you get your hair to fit in a helmet?’” explained Abriana. “I can tell you that, but if you see it, it’s a lot easier to understand. We put the video of the podcast on our YouTube channel, and we also have more exclusive content for our YouTube subscribers that talks about stuff like that.”
In addition to the podcast, Abriana and Caitlin recently launched another project dedicated to connecting the Black equestrian community: the Black Equestrian Network.
The newly created network features a Google map identifying Black-owned equestrian businesses of all types, including boarding facilities, tack shops, trainers, non-profits, farriers, and more.
“The resource is only as good as the people that participate,” explained Abriana, who encourages businesses are encouraged to submit their information to become a part of the growing network and resource.
To find out more about the Black Equestrian Network or to submit a Black equestrian-owned business, visit www.BlackEquestrianNetwork.org. To keep up with all that Caitlin and Abriana are up to, follow the Young Black Equestrians podcast on Facebook here and Saddle Up and Read on Facebook here, and be sure to check back here on the BarnManager blog for more to come!