Volunteering at a horse farm in Mount Holly inspired a senior from East Gaston High to do a science project that she will soon be showcasing on the international stage.
For Hannah Mullis, science is more than what is traditionally taught in schools.
Mullis’ project on how horses respond to the use of hippotherapy – a type of therapy in which horse riding helps people with intellectual, behavioral and physical disabilities – has been chosen for display at the International Show of science and engineering in Atlanta.
From Saturday May 7th to Friday May 13th, Mullis will present his project titled “The Effect of Capacity and Movement on Stress and Discomfort Indicating Behaviors in Hippotherapy Equines”.
“This competition is the Olympiad of science, it’s exciting to have come this far,” said the Stanley resident.
Mullis started working at Shining Hope Farms five years ago.
She joined to earn community service hours for the Army’s Educational Outreach Program, intended to help students and teachers in science and technology engineering and math.
The inspiration behind Mullis’ project comes from research she conducted on the farm in 2020 for a biology class.
The farm is a non-profit organization that uses horse-assisted activities and therapies.
While working with various horses on the farm, Mullis noticed how the horses’ behaviors changed depending on who was riding them.
“The idea germinated when my favorite horse was in trouble. He was stressed and I wanted to see how his stress levels varied in different settings,” Mullis said.
For weeks, Mullis collected data on how horses’ stress levels changed in different settings.
“I wanted to look for things out of the ordinary in the behavior of these horses. I had different riders do three activities and that’s how I was able to track their stress levels,” Mullis said.
With the support of his science teacher, Brian Johnson, Mullis presented his project on how to reduce stress in horses after therapy sessions.
Mullis placed second at the Gaston County Science and Engineering Fair held in January. She then moved on to compete in the North Carolina Region Six Science Fair held at UNC Charlotte in February, winning the fair overall.
Family, friends and teachers at the school surprised Mullis by telling him about the recent victory.
“I didn’t see my name on the regional winners list and I thought I was done with my project,” Mullis said.
During the celebration, Mullis was informed that she would be skipping the state-level science fair, which will be held on Friday, March 25, and automatically participating at the international level.
“I never thought I would get this far,” said the prospective Appalachian State University student, who will be majoring in communication sciences and disorders or exercise science.
She will compete with hundreds of other participants from around the world at the international science fair in the animal science category.
“Hannah is one of those generational students I’ve had the pleasure of teaching,” Johnson said in a statement. “His ability to set up a project and follow it is incredible.”
Beatriz Guerrero can be reached at 704-869-1828 or on Twitter @BeatrizGue_.