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Giving Equine Breeding Programs the Blue LightBy Kentucky Equine Research Staff · October 19, 2015

Light masks that provide blue light therapy are novel introductions to the equine industry. Although originally designed to advance the breeding season by providing a source of artificial light to broodmares, blue light therapy also has nutritional, reproductive, and behavioral benefits.

“The natural breeding season for horses in the Northern Hemisphere extends from April to September, which coincides with longer day length. Due to the industry-imposed birthdate of January 1 for many breeds, artificial light is frequently used to advance the breeding season,” said Kathleen Crandell, Ph.D., an equine nutritionist with Kentucky Equine Research.

The breeding season can be moved up by three months with the assistance of a simple 100-watt lightbulb. Providing mares with 16 hours of light, either natural or artificial, will trick mares into thinking spring has arrived. The problem is, this necessitates housing mares in a stall before sunrise or after sunset for many weeks.

Individual management strategies are associated with a number of health concerns. For example, individualized stabling as opposed to turnout can result in the development or exacerbation of stereotypies. Mares fed in stalls with “unnatural” timing or restriction of appropriate feeds sometimes experience a negative impact on reproduction.

Enter: The Mobile Blue Light Mask. Described in a recent study*, these masks emit short-wavelength, or blue, light to a single eye, allowing mares to be housed outdoors in a group setting. Such an approach is a successful means of moving the breeding season closer to the beginning of the year; decreases costs associated with bedding, labor, and energy; and potentially reduces stress, improves quality of life, minimizes welfare issues, and often increases reproductive efficiency.  

Consumers should be aware of some potential drawbacks, said Peter Huntington, B.V.Sc., M.A.C.V.Sc., director of nutrition at Kentucky Equine Research (Australia).  “The breeder must purchase the blue light mask, which only lasts a single season, and the mare can’t be fed as an individual when she’s part of a group.”

*Murphy, B.A., C.M. Walsh, E.M. Woodward. 2014. Blue light from individual light masks directed at a single eye advances the breeding season in mares. Equine Veterinary Journal. 46:601-605.