The introduction of Equilume Blue Light Therapy Mask as an equine management tool has sparked much discussion and at times heated exchanges regarding their use. The problem is that as with the introduction of most new technologies, much of the discussion is based on off the cuff comments, attitudes or ideas that expose a real lack of understanding of the science behind the product and how to use them correctly. Equilume is no different. I will attempt to address many of the misconceptions I have seen thrown around and answer some of the common questions I get. My first thought is to give a physics lesson on light (my other job is a Science Teacher) but I will try to stick to the points that really resonate. So here goes…
Blue Light does not harm the horse!
Did you know that natural daylight has a high amount of blue wavelength light? This blue light is biologically effective and regulates a horse’s circadian rythym (24 hour clock) through receptors in the horses eye. This is what happens in natural daylight for all horses.
In actual fact the lights that are commonly used in stables such as incandescent bulbs and fluorescent tubes are far more artificial to the horses because they contain very low levels of blue light and overall the wavelengths and intensity of them is far different to natural daylight. Refer to figure 1.
The light sits behind one eye and does not shine directly in the eye as some people think. It is low level and not a “bright blue light” as I have also seen mentioned.
Why use blue light therapy?
There are two main reasons to use blue light therapy. These are to achieve earlier pregnancies in mares and to have a sleek summer competition coat at a time when a horse normally wouldn’t, however the benefits are not limited to these.
For a long time it has been common practice to put horses under lights in a stable or yard to manipulate their hormonal response to the seasons (by inhibiting the hormone melatonin) in order to achieve early pregnancies or achieve a competition coat outside the summer months. Stabled horses receive insufficient and often erratic exposure to light, especially biologically effective blue light contained in natural daylight. The Equilume light therapy mask uses blue light (which you now know is natural for them) to achieve these aims whilst keeping the horse in a much more natural environment in the paddock and optimizing their exposure to the biologically effective blue light.
Keeping a horse in a more natural environment reduces stress and behavioural issues, it optimizes reproductive health, reduces costs in terms of labour cleaning stables and also in bedding costs.
The use of blue light therapy has also been shown to :
- Increase milk yields and give higher quality colostrum;
- Increase libido and fertility in stallions;
- Improve muscle tone, weight gain and performance.
- Improve mood and wellbeing through increasing prolactin and serotonin. An increase in Seratonin is one of the reasons many people feel happier in summer. If it has that effect on humans it can have the same effect on horses. I know it is certainly the case for me.
Which mask is right for my needs?
Many people don’t realise that there are in fact three different models of Equilume Masks, the Belfield, the Curragh and the Cashel. The Belfield is a one season only mask and to be honest I don’t get asked about these much at all. The other two are different in terms of cost, whether the cup is replaceable or rechargeable and in the hours in which they light is active. This in turn means that each model is more suitable for different purposes.
The Curragh Mask (Replaceable cup):
- The light is active from 4pm – 11pm each day
- The cup is replaceable when battery runs out
- Battery lasts four months if used every day
- Generally used for breeding purposes
- Cost $660 and replacement cup $325
The Cashel Mask (Rechargeable Cup):
- The light is active from 8am – 11pm each day
- The cup is rechargeable and needs to be charged every 7 days
- The cup does not last forever – generally 18 months if used every day.
- Recommended for coat maintenance and performance
- Cost $990 and replacement cup $520
There seems to be lots of questions surrounding which mask to use for coat maintenance. The Cashel is recommended because it is active for 15hours per day. This does not mean you need to leave it on for 15 hours. If the horse is in natural daylight during the day it can be taken off and put back on later in the day as it has access to natural light in the paddock. However what it does allow you to do is put it on when the horse is travelling, away at a competition when it is stabled with no lights, low light or you can’t control the lighting without risking the horse blowing a coat. It is also necessary if the horse is stabled full time or for the majority of the day in a stable with poor lighting. It is also more beneficial if you are trying to get a horse to shed a coat early as at these times the natural daylight can be lower intensity and it is helpful to have the longer periods of active light. Having said that you can use the Curragh mask if you choose.
When using an Equilume for coat conditioning in Australia, to prevent a horse getting a winter coat, the Equilume needs to be on by the 21st of January. 21st of December is the summer solstice and you have a period of one month after that in order to get it on to prevent the coat growing. In terms of shedding a winter coat, they will generally complete shedding within 6-8 weeks of applying the mask. It is important to remember that all horses need a “winter” period of rest where the mask is not on for a period of 8 weeks, but you can choose when you do this according to your competition schedule. It is important to remember that the horse will still need to be kept warm so correct rugging is important. It does take time for the horse to respond to the light stimulus and interrupting the hair growth process by clipping or exposure to stress can influence how quickly this happens.
When using for reproductive purposes in Australia these are the important dates:
Dry mares and Stallions need to have the mask on by the 1st of July in order to reduce the production of melatonin and be effective.
Pregnant mares should commence 90 days prior to their due date to optimize foal birth weights and prevent prolonged gestations. It is important to note that they should not be applied prior to 15th of June regardless of due date.
Hopefully this has clarified some of the common misconceptions and questions that people have. When it is all said and done Equilume was developed and tested by scientists and horse people who have the best interest of the horse at heart. It is a management tool and if used correctly and appropriately has some fantastic benefits for all involved.
If you have any further questions please feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Stay tuned for a further blog on the Equilume Stable Light!