Biting and blood-sucking insects around your horse can be a real source of misery for them throughout the fly season. There seems to be even more flies than usual this year but that’s probably because they prefer warm, wet conditions…which is exactly what we’re getting at the moment.
There are two main types of fly. Those that hover around your horse’s eyes, mouth, nose and any wounds, lapping up fluids - yuk and those that actually pierce the horse’s skin and feed on blood – double yuk!
The good news is that there are a number of precautions you can take to help make the summer months more comfortable for your horse by keeping these horrid pesky flying insects at bay.
Use horse fly repellents
Flies rely mainly on smell to find their prey (such as horses). Although other senses, such as sight may be used to varying extents - depending on the type of insect. Repellents work by releasing strong scent molecules, which confuse the insect by mixing in with and masking the smell of the horse, so they are unable to home in on the smell of the horse. Trying to find their ’victims’ through these added smells is like us trying to see a distant object through fog.
Bearing all this in mind, the term 'repellent' is misleading, as these products don’t actually repel the insects but rather confuse their sense of smell. Although the flies may eventually leave, it’s not because they were driven away by the smell, but rather they simply moved on as they couldn’t find their way to their prey due to the additional smells produced by the 'repellent'.
Fly repellents for horses are available as ready to use sprays, which tend to be the most convenient method of applying the repellent onto the majority of horses. Wipes, gels, roll-ons and creams are ideal for use on horses that are anxious about the sprays, or for sensitive areas such as around the mouth, eyes and wounds.
Whichever type of repellent you choose, please always remember to spot test a small area first to check for sensitivity.
Add a fly mask and rug to your horse’s wardrobe
Fly sheets are generally lightweight mesh rugs that have been designed to offer your horse the greatest protection from the irritating flies and midges that appear with the warmer weather. Along with fly masks, they’re an essential part of any horse’s summer wardrobe! Although a sheet may not safeguard every square inch of your horse, though some come close, it can banish insects from large tracts of skin, enabling you to use fly repellents more selectively on what remains exposed.
Plus, if you have concerns that days in the sun will fade your horse's show-ready coat, or even sunburn his sensitive white areas, a fly sheet has the added bonus of shielding him from harmful ultraviolet rays.
A well-fitting fly mask will protect your horse’s eyes and face from flies, midges and any other annoying flying insects without the use of chemical sprays or repellents. A mask will also protect your horse’s eyes from sand, grit, dust and other kinds of airbourne objects while turned out, or being ridden – making it particularly useful for horses who are prone to eye infections. Fly masks need to be removed at least once a day—twice is better—to check for any problems. It’s also recommended that you remove fly masks at night unless there is a medical reason to keep them on.
Keep your surroundings clean
Removing droppings from your horse’s stable and field regularly and positioning your muck heap away from any areas that your horse spends time in, will help to keep fly numbers in the immediate vicinity to a minimum. You can also try using fly traps (the sticky tape variety) in your stable, just make sure they’re out of your horse’s reach or it could get messy!
Avoiding grazing fields with standing water in them is a huge plus, as these areas tend to be a magnet for flies and also midges that can cause sweet itch. Midges seem unable to cope with wind speeds of more than 4mph, so a field with a breeze is a great option.
Flies really are the bane of horse owners lives – but luckily, as listed above, there are various things we can do to help minimise the irritation and discomfort they cause our equine friends.