Irish scientist onto a winner with horse-breeding mask

Tuesday 17 July 2012 20.27
The mask uses light to manipulate the breeding season
The mask uses light to manipulate the breeding season

A therapeutic light mask for horses which was invented in Ireland could be a "game-changer" for the breeding industry, scientists say.

The Equilume light mask has been developed by Dr Barbara Murphy, lecturer in Equine Science at University College Dublin.

It has earned her the Enterprise Ireland 'One to Watch' Award 2012.

The device, which provides timed, low-level light to a horse's eye, is used to advance the breeding season in thoroughbred mares.

The reason breeders want to adjust the reproductive cycle of mares is that the industry applies a universal birthday of 1 January to all foals.

This means that if a horse is born in August, it is called a yearling just 5 months later, despite being too immature for sale.

The Equilume light mask works by limiting levels of the hormone melatonin, which is usually produced in darkness and inhibits a mare's reproductive activity during winter months.

The technology will allow breeders to keep their mares outside in their natural environment, while the special light in the mask adjusts their reproductive cycle.

It also means breeders will save around €1,400 a season on the costs associated with indoor maintenance of horses.

Keeping the lights on until 11pm during winter has long been used to encourage mares to breed earlier.

Dermot Cantillon, one of Ireland's leading commercial thoroughbred breeders, and owner/manager of three stud farms in Ireland and the USA, trialled Equilume's light mask this year.

He said "the Equilume light mask has enormous potential for many breeds and categories of horses. I have been excited since being introduced to the concept and having used the masks during this year's breeding season, I am very confident that they will be a major world-wide commercial success".

Dr Murphy is currently working with Enterprise Ireland to build a spin-out company around the technology which will be called Equilume Ltd.

She has already demonstrated her prototype to horse breeders in Kentucky, USA and the Japanese Breeders Association is very interested in her product.

She plans to have Equilume Ltd established by the end of 2013 and to manufacture the light mask in Ireland.