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A product that could transform thoroughbred breeding by allowing foals to be born closer to 1 January will go on the market next year.

Dr Barbara Murphy of University College Dublin (UCD) has created the Equilume mask, which shines light to the mare‘s eye, advancing her season.

“The thoroughbred industry maintains mares under artificial light, from 1 December to when they are scanned in-foal,” said Dr Murphy. “But keeping horses in for that time is expensive and many mares are happier at grass. The mask can be worn in the field with a headcollar.”

The mask provides timed, low-level blue light to a single eye from dusk until 11pm.

It limits levels of the hormone melatonin, which inhibits a mare’s reproductive activity during winter months.

Dr Murphy said research in Ireland has shown that 20% of mares foal up to two weeks later than their due date. But those wearing the Equilume should foal on time, which is another benefit.

The mask was tested in Ireland, Kentucky and Japan.

Irish breeder Dermot Cantillon said: “Having used the masks during this year’s breeding season, I am sure they will be a major success.”

Other potential uses of the light mask include treating equine jet lag and enabling show horses to shed their winter coats earlier.

The Equilume should be on the market by August next year and will cost around €300.

This news story was first published in the current issue of Horse and Hound (16 August 2012)