We have had a couple gorgeous late-spring weeks of excellent weather and little-to-no bugs bothering us at the barn. It. Was. Glorious. But that time is about to come to a screeching halt. Fly season will soon be upon us in full force.
Some horses have thick skin and can tolerate the biting black flies fairly well, but most horses will be tormented by them, and will spend all day running away from them (which can cause rapid weight loss) and stomping their feet (which can cause bruising and abscesses). It's our duty to minimize their discomfort as much as we can. Being the owner of several very thin-skinned Thoroughbreds during my life, I've had to utilize several methods simultaneously for dealing with bugs. Here are the things I've found to work:
It wears off too quickly to protect them all day (even when the label says it lasts 24 hrs), but it is effective for a couple hours so use it liberally before a ride to keep your horse comfortable while you work. Never be without it at horse shows or clinics.
I like to make my own out of natural ingredients that I know to be safe for my horse to breath in (because those spray bottles create a lot of over-spray that I know is ending up in both my and my horse's lungs), but the downside of the homemade kind is that it doesn't last longer than an hour, or less if the horse is sweating. You may want to have a bottle of the heavy-duty store-bought kind on hand for really intense bug days or horse shows.
Here are my two go-to recipes. I like them both, they both smell really good! The first one doubles as a mane/tail/skin moisturizer as well.
If your horse has a dark coat, skip the lemon juice because it can cause bleaching in the sun. The recipe is still effective without it, but it acts as a preservative and keeps the repellent active for longer.
Fly sheets/protective clothing:
All my horses are so sensitive to bugs that they need to be almost completely covered with protective clothing every day during the summer. Mesh leg protectors and ear/face protectors are a "must" for them, but actually I would put mesh ear/face masks on my horses even if they weren't terribly sensitive. I don't like seeing flies clustering around my horse's eyes and causing sores in their sensitive ears. Those masks also double as "sunglasses" for horses. They can get painful headaches from bright sun, believe it or not!
As far as sheets go, there are great fly sheets and there are not-so-great fly sheets on the market. Here are some things to think about before purchasing one:
- Is your horse turned out with another horse that likes to "play" by ripping your horse's blankets/sheets to shreds? If so, maybe buying the $200 fly sheet is not a financially wise decision since you will likely need to replace it halfway through the season. Go for the $50 one.
- Is your horse so sensitive that they need almost every inch of their body covered? If so, buy a sheet that comes with the ability to have a neck piece attached if needed. Sometimes the neck piece is included with the body sheet and sometimes it is sold separately, but if you buy a sheet without the connection points to add a neck piece and then find out you really need a neck piece, you will have to buy an entirely new sheet.
- Is your horse living outside in hot weather all summer? If so, steer clear of the fly sheets made from very tightly woven mesh, as this fabric does not allow enough air flow through and will make your horse sweat all day long and lose important electrolytes and minerals through their sweat. Look for loosely woven mesh sheets.
If the protective clothing isn't cutting it or is just too expensive to buy and re-place every season, you may want to consider boarding your horse inside during the day and having them turned out at night when bug activity is lowest. Inside their stall they will have fans blowing on them and much fewer flies bothering them. If your horse is prone to losing weight when the flies show up, this is probably the best and healthiest option for them. Once they get used to the routine, you will find them waiting at the gate every morning asking to be brought in away from the bugs. The added bonus of this method is that their coats don't fade in the sun and they say beautiful and dark all summer long.
What are your favorite fly-control methods? Supplements? Garlic? Introducing natural fly predators to your property? Any favorite sheets or products?