Protects against more than flies!
Fly masks have long been a summer staple of the equestrian world to protect the horse’s face from nuisance and biting flies (and yes, for heralding in that other sign of summer, the endless “why is your horse blindfolded?” question). There seems to be little reason to improve on the basic design: breathable mesh that fits around the horse’s head, protecting his eyes and sensitive face from flies, with or without ears. A fly mask is a fly mask … right?
Surprise, because Noble Outfitters has, in fact, built a better mousetrap. The Guardsman Fly Mask has a few key differences from your run-of-the-mill mask that, while subtle, improved the entire experience for my horses and have so far kept them comfortable and protected all summer long.
Instead of the typical darts over the eyes to create the shape of the horse’s face, the Guardsman includes a patent-pending flexible “spine” that holds the shape of the mask over the horse’s eyes and across his forehead. Ever rescued your horse from the pasture with his mask caved in at that point over the eye, poking him in the face and rendering him uncomfortable? That’s exactly what the flexible spine prevents, effectively acting like a tent pole to keep the mask suspended away from the horse’s face. This feature also keeps my horses’ faces cool and ventilated — I’ve never had an issue with sweaty horses in the Guardsman, even on the hottest days of the summer so far!
Other nice features include the Velcro hanging loop, which could also serve to attach the mask to a turnout halter or a bridle. I also appreciate the space to add your name and your horse’s information, which would be helpful at a large equestrian facility or a boarding barn. The double-Velcro attachments under the jaw are super-durable and I haven’t had any issues with my horses tearing them open in several weeks of use.
As we learn more and more about preventing skin cancer in humans, we’re learning the vital importance to use sun protection all summer long — and the same holds true for our horses. Especially if you have a horse susceptible to skin cancers, protecting his face and eyes is vital to ensure his health and well-being. The Noble Outfitters Guardsman is made of UV-coated mesh, protecting the horse’s face from the sun.
This really hit home for me when I adopted a team of Belgian draft horses early in the summer, a breed particularly susceptible to squamous cell carcinoma: regular readers might remember that one of my horses, Randy, did in fact need to have two squamous cell carcinomas surgically removed, and he was just a few months away from being too far gone for even the surgery. Protecting his eyes from further UV damage became vitally important, and I was immensely relieved to discover that the Guardsman came in draft horse sizes. Even better, the UV treated mesh combined with the flexible spine construction means that there is no danger of the mask caving in to rub the horses’ eyes, making this the ultimate tool in protecting Randy post-surgery as well as his teammate Rocky, who I seek to protect from developing squamous cell himself.
Especially for horses with white hair on their faces or sensitive skin, the Guardsman comes with a removable extension that covers the lower half of the horse’s face. Getting the right size of mask is vitally important if you intend to use the extension; one of my guys is wearing a mask slightly too large for him and the extension nearly covered his nose, so I’m not using it on him. I do appreciate that this feature is removable, allowing my to customize the fit according to the needs and preferences of each animal in my herd.
Durability and comfort
Barring an incident in the first 24 hours when Randy decided that a fly mask with ears was REALLY not his thing — I swapped his mask for an earless version and there have been no problems at all — I’m impressed with the Guardsman’s durability. Some of the fine details, like the Noble Outfitters logo, have been scraped off after half a summer of use, but the mask itself is in great shape and looks like it should hold up for several seasons.
I’ve had a bit of a learning curve trying to figure out exactly how tight or loose to attach the masks, as the construction is a bit different from a conventional fly mask. It does appear that I can get away with a slightly looser fit, which should also help prevent rubs in future seasons — I’ve noticed a bit of hair rubbed off on the jawline and have loosened the fit accordingly without losing any masks to the pasture.
Overall, I’m really impressed with the Noble Outfitters Guardsman Fly Mask. The innovative design combined with some nice features sets this mask apart on the market, and the peace of mind that comes from knowing I’m protecting my horses’ eyes from further UV damage doesn’t need a price tag.