Spring is here! And so are the flies.
As much as I love that the temperatures are warming, a quick trip to the pasture to pull my guy from the field confirmed a fear of mine — the flies are back. And, it seems, with a vengeance. It’s time to crack out all of the preventative measures for proper fly control to keep your guys and gals happy and comfortable during the next few months, but what methods are best for you? Here are a few options with some pros and cons:
The basic, traditional go-to that almost all equestrians use. I can’t go a day without this in the spring and summer. Joey will stomp all day long on the hard ground to keep the flies away and ruin his hooves. And I can forget about having a productive lesson if I fail to spray him down. We will spend the whole hour trying to regain our focus as all sorts of buggies bother my sensitive-skinned boy.
My current barn has a spraying system throughout the stalls that blasts out fly spray every so often to reduce the population in the barn area. At my last barn, however, my barn owner didn’t love the thought of fly spray because of the different chemicals in it. She allowed us to use it when preparing for a ride, but that got me thinking: is fly spray harmful? While there are different opinions and theories out there, there has yet to be any confirmed studies that any common fly spray chemical is dangerous when used occasionally to spray down a horse. More innovative all-natural methods have been created, but I have found most of them to fail at keeping the flies off of Joey during our rides.
Also invest in some fly cream or gel if your horse is super sensitive. You obviously don’t want to go spraying the liquid spray in their eyes (if you have a horse that lets you get remotely close to their face with the deadly bottle of fly spray, kudos to you. I don’t even come close), but spreading a thin layer of the cream around the eyes and other sensitive areas of the face both during turnout and a ride will help bring an extra level of comfort to your horse.
Another debated method of fly prevention, fly masks are a go-to for me during the buggy months. Our current barn has a fly mask for every horse, but at my former barn the owner (who was a wise horsewoman with many years of experience) tended to lean against fly masks as they could pose a safety concern if they didn’t break away properly. The best thing when shopping for a fly mask is to do your research. You want something that will obviously stay secure on the horses head in the pasture for optimum protection, but I prefer something with easier breakaway potential. That being said, I tend to buy fly masks with only one Velcro strap, rather than the double Velcro closure.
Fly masks can be as simple or as complex as you want them. Traditionally I go with the face mask with ears, but you can get them without so that just your horse’s eyes are covered. This year, I might opt for a face mask with ears and a nose cover if I feel that Joey is experiencing extra sensitivity. He is an OTTB, and as we all know they tend to be thinner-skinned and have more reactions to bug bites than a thicker skinned horse.
These are still relatively new, yet intriguing to me, and while I have no first-hand experience with Fly Predators I have had several experienced horseman tell me about their benefits. A Fly Predator is another type of insect that you purposefully place on your property to seek out the pest flies’ pupa, eliminating flies before they hatch. You order packages of Fly Predators and sprinkle them in high manure areas every four weeks starting in spring and continuing through summer. The earlier you get a head start with these bad buggies, the better. The best thing is, these bugs are harmless to humans and animals. They only control pest flies, however, so you will still have to tackle horse flies in other manners.
Another advance in fly control is supplements directly geared towards keeping those nasty buggers off of your equine friend. SmartPak offers their Smart Bug-Off pellets which gives your horse increased doses of garlic, brewers yeast, and apple cider vinegar to help deter bugs from targeting them. On top of that, it includes higher fish oil and MSM to promote healthy skin for your horse and diatomaceous earth to prevent the growth of larvae in manure.
I know lots of horses that benefit from supplements such as Smart Bug-Off, but I also know a few picky eaters who don’t enjoy the taste. It might be worth it to do a test trial to see if similar supplements would be worth the investment!
This is another new product I am going to incorporate in my daily fly preventative measures this spring and summer. Joey is a dark bay and not only is he plagued by insects in the warmer months, but he also bleaches out to that wonderful orange hue we all know and love (insert sarcasm here). The caveat? I live in Southeast Missouri where the humidity is worse than the overall temperature. I have spent hours (seriously, hours) researching fly sheets to see if he would stay comfortable temperature wise in one during the summer heat.
Thankfully, there are many options when shopping for a fly sheet and each year companies are putting out better product to bring the best to the table for your equine pal. What seems to be the general consensus is that the lighter the color blanket, the happier your horse will be. Find lightweight, breathable fabrics with UV protection that will dissipate any moisture. Several seasoned equestrians claim that with the right sheet, their dark colored horses wearing one will be sweat free and comfortable while their dark horses without a sheet will be sweaty thanks to the direct contact of the sun. It is worth noting that areas with lining to prevent sheet rubs will show some sweat marks because the fabric is heavier in those areas. A good rule of thumb is to check your horse on hot, humid days to ensure they are comfortable. Night turn out can help alleviate many of the heat concerns as well.
Like fly masks, there are several different designs that can help you pick what is best for your horse. I am going with a full coverage sheet with a neck attachment to keep Joey fully covered. Like winter blankets, you can choose between two straps for the stomach closure or a belly band, and I am going with the latter. If you want extreme protection, they even make leg wraps designed for fly protection but we aren’t quite going to that extreme… yet.
And these options aren’t the only forms of fly prevention and protection either. The best thing to do is get out there and do your research. Let us know what you do for your sensitive skinned horse in the comments — trust me, I am still looking for all the advice I can get!