Assateague Island to Debut Horse Identifying App
Identifying horses on your smartphone.
Assateague Island National Seashore plans to debut the Assateague Wild Horse Identification Application, a free app that will provide visitors to Assateague Island and Assateague State Park the opportunity to correctly identify individual horses among the Maryland herd by taking a photograph on their smartphone.
The idea for the app came from Ashlie Koslowski, outreach coordinator for Assateague Island Alliance. Koslowski says the app will cater to the younger generation by providing information at their fingertips.
“The real drive was to figure out ways to connect with a new generation of park visitors,” Koslowski says. “We were trying to figure out ways to engage with new park members who are invested in their devices.”
The Wild Assateague Horses are a major part of what makes Assateague, ‘Assateague.’ By creating this app, AIA aims to help everyone discover and understand more about why and how the horses are adapted to survive and thrive in the island.
Koslowski says the app is about new ways to think about interpretation, explaining the resource to the visitor and showing the importance of visiting parks, spending time in parks and preserving parks.
“One of the biggest things we get on Facebook is ‘I took a picture of this horse, can you tell me who it is?’ We have a book in the visitor’s center and a portion online which is one way people can identify a horse… this is an extension of that.”
So how does it work?
This app will utilize visual recognition software and a short series of questions when necessary to provide specific information about the horses the public are encountering during their visit.
Koslowski says a lot of horses on Assateague are unmarked. An examples of this is the floral horse, which is all brown. If a visitor snaps a photo of a floral horse, the app will ask a series of questions such as: Does the mane fall to the left or right? Does the horse have a white marking on the face? Does the horse have white marks on the feet or hooves?
“It’s going to be targeted towards people that aren’t horse people,” Koslowski says. “It will ask questions like ‘Does the horse have socks?’ and it will explain what that is…”
If the image quality is not sufficient, the app will ask a series of questions or it will prompt the user to take another photo.
The app will also be used to serve as a new way to reach visitors in the age of technology and will include horse viewing safety and ethics as well as information about the National Seashore’s wild horse management plan.
“There will be a big safety push on the app, letting people know they need to keep their distance from the horses, to leave their food in their vehicles, to strap their coolers…” Koslowski says.
In addition to naming horses and the safety aspect, AIA says the app will foster connections among the public and create a network of people communicating about the horses. The app will link to the Assateague Island Alliance website where users can upload their photos with a GPS Geo-tag to report sighting and leave a comment.
According to Koslowski, users will have access to a detailed description of the horse and will have the opportunity to join the Foster Horse Program which is a symbolic adoption outreach effort designed to inform the public of the Park’s management strategy and raise funds to support it. Lastly, this will serve as a resource for the public to locate the horses when visiting Assateague.
A kiosk in the visitor’s center dedicated to AIA will help spread the word of the app. In addition, staff at the visitor center’s front desk will know about the app and signs in different areas will market the app.
AIA has received support from the Lower Eastern Shore Heritage Council for the initial development phase which includes creating the visual recognition software from the images of 89 horses and creating the app. AIA is currently seeking private donations via GoFundMe for phase two of the project: implementation and website support development.
“We have a very enthusiastic group of people with the Assateague Island Horses… It’s a wonderful cause and great opportunity for people,” Koslowski says. “I’m surprised so far, we’ll be delighted with what we get.”
Funds for the app need to be raised by March 1, 2017 in order to launch the app for visitor use in Spring 2017. To learn more about the app, visit www.gofundme.com/assateague-wild-horse-id-app.