The invention of a therapeutic light mask for horses by Dr Barbara Murphy at University College Dublin (UCD) has won the Enterprise Ireland ‘One to Watch’ award.
The Equilume light mask provides timed, low-level light to a single eye. It limits levels of the hormone melatonin which is usually produced in darkness and inhibits a mare’s reproductive activity during winter months.
It is used to advance the breeding season in thoroughbred mares so that their foals are born close to their universal birthday of 1 January.
Other uses include reducing extended gestation lengths in mares due to foal early in the year, treating ‘horse jet-lag’ and enabling competition horses to shed their winter coats earlier in time for the start of the show circuit.
This new technology will allow breeders to keep their mares outside in their natural environment while the special light in the mask adjusts their reproductive cycle.
In addition, the breeders will save around €1,400 a season per animal on the costs associated with indoor maintenance of horses.
A spin-out expected in 2013
Head of subject for equine science at UCD, Dr Murphy is currently working with Enterprise Ireland to build a spin-out company around the technology which will be called Equilume.
Dr Murphy has already demonstrated her prototype to horse breeders in Kentucky, US and Japan who she says are very interested in her product. She plans to incorporate Equilume in 2013 and to manufacture the light mask in Ireland.
Dermot Cantillon, one of Ireland’s leading commercial thoroughbred breeders, and owner/manager of three stud farms in Ireland and the US, 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.”