Dr. Barbara Anne Murphy
Sallins, County Kildare, Ireland
Head of Equine Science, University College Dublin; Founder & Chief Scientific Officer, Equilume
How long have you been part of the horse world? How did you get started?
I rode ponies as a kid, exercised Thoroughbreds as a teenager, did a four-year bachelor of science in equine science at the University of Limerick, spent a year working on stud farms and then a further six years at the Gluck Equine Research Centre, Kentucky, doing my PhD before starting my job running the equine science program at University College Dublin, and then Equilume happened — so I think it’s fair to say my whole life (and I’m not saying how long that is)! The experience of a student internship on a beautiful stud farm in Kentucky in 1999 as part of my degree program was really what kickstarted my scientific career, and the passion to understand how lighting influences equine physiology.
What part do you play in the horse world?
I’m privileged to be able to share my knowledge with the future leaders within the equine industry through my role as program director for the Animal Science — Equine degree at University College Dublin. Teaching is a passion, and I cherish having the opportunity to encourage young people to go after their dreams, ask the hard questions and do the research so that they too can have an impact on the industry they love.
What’s your favorite thing about what you do?
The excitement I feel when research uncovers a new way that blue light can benefit equine health or behavior is my favorite thing about my job. I love knowing that something so natural can have such a profound effect on physiology and having the privilege to be able to apply this knowledge to advancing our understanding of horse management.
What’s your biggest achievement?
Outside of my PhD in veterinary science from the University of Kentucky, of which I am very proud and grateful for the education I received there, it has to be the development of the Equilume Light Mask. To take an idea that was in my head, test the science, develop the prototype (overcoming a lot of naysayers in the early days) and produce a product, develop a company around it and see it being used on a global scale for equine breeding and performance is truly humbling. It was hard! It was exhausting! And there were many moments I wondered if I was quite mad to be trying to do it! But then I would receive feedback from a client saying that a really difficult mare is cycling well for the first time, or that an eventer has never had such good muscle tone, or a stallion’s aggressive behavior has all but disappeared, and it just totally felt worth it.
What are your goals for the future?
To keep spreading the word and educating people about the power of light. The equine industry is so geographically spread and incredibly diverse. Introducing new scientific advances to each specific discipline is a challenge, but one the Equilume team is embracing. Also, my goal is to continue to generate more research that evaluates the use of lighting for different health conditions, behaviors and performance parameters in horses.
What’s the best thing about your life?
Getting to see and experience so many different aspects of the equine industry through my research collaborations and client visits. From cutting horse ranches in Texas to Thoroughbred stud farms in New Zealand to sport horse breeding facilities in Belgium — getting that taste of the many varied equine disciplines and to appreciate the athletic capacity and adaptability of the horse, and of course meet the amazing people who care for them. I then get to share this excitement for the industry with my students and encourage them to go out and explore it.
Best-kept secret about what you do?
I’ve developed a blue-light mask for dairy cows and they produce more milk when wearing it. The field trials make for very mucky work, and they’re not as easy to catch!
Photos courtesy of Equilume