CSU showcases human-horse connection at Girls & Science event

For the past three years, Colorado State University has hosted a clubhouse at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science‘s annual Girls & Science event, a fun-filled day focused on STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics) career exploration and mentorship for kids, mostly between eight and 13 years old. This year, the event drew more than 8,000 parents and children from across the state.

“It is so important for girls to see and connect with role models doing science-based work that inspires them. We hope Girls & Science inspires many to become the next generation of STEAM professionals,” said Gabriela Chavarria, vice president of research and collections at the museum. “We’re thrilled our collaboration with Colorado State University includes and extends beyond Girls & Science, providing inspiration and connections through many avenues.”

Female mentors from a wide range of professions led participants through a total of 22 hands-on experiences to inspire early interest in historically male-dominated fields.

“When I was invited to be a mentor for Girls & Science, I couldn’t have been more thrilled! I was able to share my passion for equine assisted activities and therapies (EAAT), using horses to help improve quality of life for people with physical, emotional, or social challenges,” said Debbie Mogor, EAAT coordinator for CSU at the Temple Grandin Equine Center in Denver. Mogor served as the primary mentor at the CSU clubhouse — aptly called “The Human-Horse Connection.”

The human-horse connection

To elucidate the connection, CSU staff and volunteers guided participants through a short series of activities: comparing horse and human skeletons, watching a short video highlighting similarities in gait between both species, and mounting a mechanical horse to perform balance, coordination, and core strength activities.

“Getting these young ladies interested in learning about the human body and its systems and how to incorporate that with horses’ movements creates endless opportunities in both healthcare and equine science,” said Mogor. She is hopeful that the experiences at Girls & Science will increase young girls’ “appetite for the sciences.”

Seven CSU students volunteered at the CSU clubhouse, including Lillian Esterl-Byrne, a sophomore dual-majoring in Equine Sciences and Agricultural Business. She learned about Girls & Science through the Equine Sciences Stewards ambassador program on campus.

“Volunteering with Girls & Science was right up my alley,” said Esterl-Byrne. As part of her undergraduate studies, she enrolled in a course in Equine Therapeutic Riding, where she helped patients from Front Range Exceptional Equestrians one or two times each week.

Esterl-Byrne was able to put her education to use at the CSU clubhouse by comparing horse and human bones, noting the similarities between the two species’ skeletal makeup while indicating how each use them differently due to their weight. Her favorite part of the day was seeing all the young participants’ amazement at the anatomical commonalities between humans and horses, “hopefully inspiring them to do something science-related in life and pursue their goals.”

Exploring STEAM careers

Tara German has attended Girls & Science for four consecutive years. This year she brought her daughter, Karis, to the event to learn about and consider the myriad career opportunities available. German worked with the National Parks Service for a number of years before becoming an orthopedic nurse.

Karis wants to be veterinarian when she grows up. After experiencing the activities at the CSU booth, she said, “It was neat doing a trick on the back of the mechanical horse!”

“I was never exposed to this many different fields when I was a kid, although I went into science,” said German. “I’m just appreciative of the exposure in general [at Girls & Science] — being able to see and make contact with so many people doing so many different things. I still learn, every time I come here, that there’s new things out there that I could have done [with my biology degree].” 

Another participant, Amelia, is currently considering what college to attend after high school and attended Girls & Science to further inform her decision. “It was cool and interesting learning about equine-assisted activities and therapies with CSU,” she said.

Colorado State University and Denver Museum of Nature & Science

Two leading Colorado educational institutions, CSU and Denver Museum of Nature & Science, have an agreement to work together to elevate research, enhance learning opportunities for students and the public, and highlight academic alignment. The museum and the university have a history of education, innovation, and outreach. The institutions also work as key stakeholders in the revitalization of the National Western Center, a planned 250-acre site in North Denver, which will be home to the National Western Stock Show in January, and year-round educational, cultural, and entertainment activities.