Let there be light

Let there be light

Using light to optimise health and breeding cycles

Text: By Charlotte Bastiaanse

Ever wondered why foals are born during the summer? Horses are seasonal breeding animals, meaning that they prefer to breed during the light summer seasons. A horse’s gestation period is 11 months, so a mare will then foal down in the next summer season. The reason for this is that prey animals who are born during the warm and light season have a better chance of survival.

The influence of light on breeding

The hormone melatonin is produced during the hours of darkness and is at low levels during hours of light. When released, it provides the horse with a means of translating the seasonal changes in day length into a hormonal signal that regulates the reproductive system, as well as other physiological changes such as losing winter coats and increased robustness.

Managing foaling seasons

For some time breeders have manipulated horses’ natural breeding seasons to accommodate various factors. In many instances there are challenges in getting barren mares in foal, or getting mares to return to normal cycles after foaling. The practice of exposing barren mares to artificially lengthened days has been used successfully for decades.The period of artificially extended day ‘tricks’ the horse’s body into thinking that summer is approaching. Artificial light exposure has been used to allow for earlier conception in a number of breeds, especially Thoroughbreds.

Health aspects

Artificial light has also been used for competition horses so that they don’t grow excessive winter coats and maintain healthy condition. To obtain an early summer coat, or to prolong the existing summer coat for a few more weeks into the autumn, artificial light can be used to simulate those longer days.

Light options

Various manufacturers have responded to the research conducted in the use of light on horses. The Equilume Light Mask was developed at the University College Dublin in Ireland. It is an automated device, worn on the horse’s head as a mask which provides optimum levels of blue light to a single eye. The mask increases day length to 14.5 hours by activating at dusk and remaining on until approximately 11pm. It is low frequency, low intensity and non-heating – meaning that it emits light that will not attract insects in the way that normal wavelengths of light would.

The manufacturers claim that the device provides the following benefits:

  • Advances breeding season for early conception
  • Helps to prevent prolonged gestation
  • Increases average foal birthweight
  • Improves coat condition for sale or competition
  • Optimises stallion performance early in the breeding season
  • Permits outdoor maintenance
  • Reduces maintenance costs
  • Encourages natural behaviour for happier, healthier horses.

For more information, visit www.equilume.co.za