Whether you’re at a world championship show, an A-circuit event, or a high-stakes barrel race, restful, deep sleep plays a major role in your success. The same holds true for your horse— without reparative, restorative sleep, his performance and, possibly, his overall health, will suffer.
It’s a widely held misconception that horses aren’t affected by sleep deprivation, but the truth is many are. Horses require at least four hours of slumber, including about 60 minutes of rapid eye movement (REM) sleep during a 24-hour period. If a horse misses out on sleep for several days, he can become so exhausted that he literally falls asleep on his feet, collapsing.
Horsekeepers can do many things to help a horse get the sleep he needs: These include keeping the barn quiet, making sure the horse feels comfortable and secure in his surroundings and addressing physical problems that may make it painful for him to lay down. And now there is equipment that can help—specifically, the patent-pending REM™ Restorative Equine Mask from XpertEquine™
The rhythms of sleep
The term “circadian rhythm” refers to the internal clock, influenced by the daily cycles of daylight and darkness, that governs all humans and animals. In relation to sleep, darkness triggers the release of melatonin, the hormone that initiates sleep and restfulness and maintains slumber throughout the night.
Circadian rhythms are especially strong in horses, meaning they are more susceptible to losing sleep when darkness is reduced or removed from their environment—as at major horse events where barn lights are on all night or veterinary clinics when lights are left on for continued observation of patients. This means the horses in those situations are constant exposed to blue light, which has been shown to suppress melatonin levels and reduce restful sleep.
Designed for sleep
Developed and tested by veterinarians, the REM™ mask is designed to ensure that a horse gets a good night’s sleep, even where barn lights can’t be shut off. The mask comes in a variety of sizes and fits similar to a fly mask, so most horses quickly accept it. In clinical studies, horses wearing the REM™ mask showed substantial increases in melatonin levels, even while exposed to continuous light, while horses housed under the same light conditions without the mask had melatonin levels below the measurable threshold.
The REM™ mask features specially designed eye coverings made of material that keeps blue light from entering the eye, which encourages the production of melatonin. The mask is designed with safety in mind and is resistant to shattering and scratching. Additionally, the patched-style mask can help horses with eye injuries and can ease anxiety during travel and other stressful situations.
Along with clinical trials, the REM™ mask has been tested by riders in real-life situations. During the Fall 2020 championship season, XpertEquine™ sent masks to several riders from diverse disciplines in different competitive environments. Each situation had one thing in common: lights left on 24 hours a day in the stable areas. Each of the testers reported success in the arena and in terms of their horses’ comfort and performance.
“I felt like my horses rested better and were more settled,” says WPRA barrel racer Jana Bean, who won the futurity at the WPRA Finals. “I used the masks on my mare and on my stud, and they each seemed to have a little different calmness to them. They were relaxed, rested, and performed better.”
National Reining Horse Association Two Million Dollar Rider Casey Deary who piloted America’s Supermodel to the 2020 AQHA World Championship Show Junior Reining title, says using the REM™ mask helped his mare seem more rested and settled in at the marathon-length event.
“The first day at the show, we didn’t use the mask,” Deary admits. “As usual, it took my mare a little longer to settle in and be ready to work. We tried the mask that night, and the next day when I threw my leg over her, she seemed more mellow and went right to work.”
Deary also used the REM™ mask at the NRHA Futurity and noticed his horses resting better—even to the point of finding them laying down in their stalls sleeping. “I’m a fan,” Deary concludes. “If your horse rests at a show like he does at home, it decreases his stress and increases your chance at success.”
Lindsey Smith competes on the hunter/jumper circuit and saw remarkable results with the REM™ mask on a particularly anxious horse.
“We took this horse to a venue that’s a coliseum where they keep the lights on 24/7—it’s very bright in the barn,” she explains. “We schooled the first day, and the next morning the horse was colicky, so we took him to the vet where he had IV fluids for a few days. I talked to the vet about the possibility of it being linked to my horse’s lack of sleep, and the vet had a prototype of the mask for me to try.
“We used the mask at the next show, and he was a different horse,” Smith continues. “It was really surprising, but undeniable. We came to feed, and the horse was laying down sleeping! Now we use it every time that horse travels. We put it on at night check and take it off when we go feed in the morning. It replicates the normal day/night experience, even under 24-hour lights.”
At the first show using the mask, Smith and her mount were champions on the $750 Take 2 Thoroughbred Jumper Division at the 2020 Blue Ribbon Winter Festival.
For more information on the science behind the mask, and how to purchase one visit XpertEquine.com.