They itch, they suck, they bite, and — worse — they can spread disease. Flies (and other insects that cling on) are the ultimate pests, especially if you are a horse. What is more, these creepy crawlies love long, warm spells of weather with the odd day of rain thrown in.
There are two different kinds of flies: biting flies pierce a horse’s skin and feed on blood, while others have mouthparts designed to lap fluids in and around a horse’s eyes, mouth and nose, or worse, around wounds.
Horseflies have been particularly prevalent recently and are usually found clinging on to the horse’s underside, legs, neck and withers. Black flies, on the other hand, prefer to congregate around the face and ears where can they trigger allergic skin reactions to their saliva.
The good news is that there are precautions you can take to keep these pests at bay — or at least make life a lot more comfortable for your horse. Here’s our guide to horse fly protection:
Using a fly mask or fly fringe will help, while mesh turn-out rugs and neck covers can be extremely useful in the hot weather, as they are specifically designed to protect your horse from flies and other biting insects. They are soft and durable, which means that they are comfortable and won’t deteriorate quickly.
For ridden work, you can try a fly veil or one of the relatively new ride-on fly rugs if your horse is particularly sensitive.
A good-quality rug will also help protect the horse’s coat against the sun, preventing coat and skin damage.
Applying long-lasting fly sprays can also be beneficial, though, often, the more effective the fly deterrent, the more toxic the chemicals used, so selecting the right product can be tricky. Whatever you choose, it is important to use a spot test on a small area first to check for sensitivity.
Aside from giving your horsed direct protection from flies, there are other important management steps you can take. Removing droppings regularly and positioning your muckheap at a reasonable distance from the stables will help reduce fly numbers in the immediate vicinity, while, if possible, you should avoid using grazing fields with standing water in the warmer months, as these areas are a magnet for flies and pesky midges that can cause sweet itch.
Midges seem unable to cope with wind speeds of more than 4mph, so a field with a breeze — or a fan in the stable — is a good option. Spraying the stables with insecticide or using fly-trap tapes can also help.
Flies are annoying, there is no getting away from this. But new products and clever innovations thankfully mean that these days we can give our horses the best possible protection from these flying pests.
See our pick of 5 great fly-repellent products to help keep pesky insects at bay.