13 Sep 2013
Optical modification of breeding time can boost racehorse boost performance, cut costs.Equilume, Dublin, Ireland, a University College Dublin (UCD) spin-out company supported by Enterprise Ireland, is expecting to become a world leader in light therapy solutions to assist global Thoroughbred breeders to maximise the reproductive efficiency and performance in their horses.
The company has developed and is now selling the Equilume Light Mask, an automated mobile lighting device which fits comfortably under a horse’s head collar. The Mask has been scientifically proven to provide the optimum level of blue light to a single eye of a mare to successfully advance her breeding season.
Why change the date?
The universal birthday for a Thoroughbred foal (born in the northern hemisphere) is January 1st in the year in which a foal is born which contrasts with the natural foaling season of the horse which is from May to October. This crucial date creates a demand for thoroughbred breeders to advance the onset of their mares’ breeding season to produce early foals, to ensure mature yearlings for sales and precocious two-year olds for racing.
Horses are naturally ‘long-day’ seasonal breeders and daylight is a primary regulator of their reproduction. As days start to get longer in Spring, the inhibitory action of the hormone melatonin on a mare’s reproduction activity is reduced and mares come into season.
Thoroughbred breeders have known about the importance of light on a mare’s reproduction cycle for decades. In order to fool a mare’s reproductive system into activating earlier than in nature, many breeders currently maintain, at a significant cost, their non-pregnant mares indoors, under artificial lighting for 8 to 10 weeks prior to the official start of the breeding season in February.
However by using the Equilume Light Mask Thoroughbred breeders can now still meet crucial industry timelines and at the same time eliminate the requirement to maintain their non-pregnant mares indoors under artificial lighting and save at least €1,000 per mare per season.
The Equilume Light Mask has been developed as a result of ground breaking research carried out by company founder, Dr Barbara Murphy, of UCD’s School of Agriculture and Food Science in collaboration with Professor John Sheridan, an optoelectronics researcher in UCD’s School of Electrical, Electronic and Communications Engineering.
Dr Murphy said, “Our research at University College Dublin found that very low intensities of blue light are required to inhibit circulating concentrations of melatonin in the horse and that it is sufficient to deliver blue light to a single eye of a mare and still inhibit melatonin levels to daylight levels.”
“We developed the Equilume Light Mask to provide a safe and cost-effective method of administering an automated, low-level light to a single eye of a mare and thus advance the mare’s reproductively active season. An important advantage of the Equilume Light Mask is that it also allows horses be horses, and live outdoors in their natural environment where they are happier and healthier.”
The Equilume Light Mask can also be used to provide pregnant mares with the light stimulus required to ensure timely gestation, increased foal birth weights and reductions in post-foaling cyclicity problems which are associated with early foaling dates outside of the natural breeding season.
Dermot Cantillon, one of Ireland’s leading commercial Thoroughbred breeders, and owner/manager of three stud farms in Ireland and in the USA, said, “I have been excited since being introduced to this concept and having successfully used the Equilume Light Masks for the last two breeding seasons, I am confident that it will be a worldwide success for breeders.”
UCD’s technology transfer team at NovaUCD facilitated the identification and protection of the intellectual property arising from Dr Murphy’s research which resulted in the development of the Equilume Light Mask. Dr Murphy was also a participant, and an award winner, on the NovaUCD 2011 Campus Company Development Programme. This Programme assists UCD academic and research entrepreneurs in bringing their innovative ideas from intellectual concepts to fully developed and sound commercial businesses.
About the Author
Matthew Peach is a contributing editor to optics.org.