ASSATEAGUE – One of Assateague Island’s famous wild horses has a new name this week after a young girl won the rights to name it in a recent drawing.
Danielle Barnard, who was visiting Assateague Island this year for the first time with her family, was recently drawn as the winner in the third annual “Name that Horse” contest conducted by the Assateague Island Alliance (AIA), a non-profit group that oversees the health and welfare of the barrier island’s most famous wild residents among other things.
Barnard named this year’s mare “Aliyana Grace,” which means “beautiful girl” in Spanish. Barnard told AIA officials she decided on the name after careful research.
“I have researched the history of the ponies and was very intrigued by the Spanish galleon folklore,” she said. “So, I would like to give her a Spanish name.”
There are several legends surrounding the origins of the famous wild horses on Assateague. One of the more popular legends has it that a Spanish galleon transporting horses shipwrecked off the coast of the barrier island and the current herd of ponies’ ancestors swam ashore and started to breed. Another legend tells the story of mainland farmers shuttling their animals onto the barrier island to avoid paying taxes on their livestock. In either case, the horses have thrived on Assateague for centuries.
Every year, from April to September, visitors to Assateague have the opportunity to enter the “Name that Horse” contest with the lucky winner’s name drawn at random in October. This year, Barnard’s name was drawn by Amelia and Olivia Cox, who visited the barrier island earlier this month for the first time ever.
According to AIA officials, Barnard was surprised and excited to have her name drawn this year. She plans to visit Assateague sometime this month with her family and she intends on spending time searching for Aliyana Grace.
While the contest is a popular yearly event, there is only one other way for a private citizen to name an Assateague wild horse. Each November and December, the right to name one the current year’s new foals is auctioned off on eBay with the highest bidder earning naming rights.
This year, there will be three such auctions beginning Nov. 8 with each auction lasting two weeks. The final auction is set for Dec. 20.