Horse Care, Product Guides

11 Top Tips for Fly Protection

With spring around the bend, it’s time to ready your barn for seasonal fly assaults. From mid-spring and even into early fall, expect to be harassed by everything from biting stable flies, deerflies, and horn flies, to mucous membrane-loving faceflies and houseflies.

The Problem with Flies

Flies can transmit potentially fatal diseases to horses, like Equine Infectious Anemia (EIA), plus cause sores, lesions, and other diseases.

Flies can also cause indirect hoof damage. As horses stomp their feet to shoo flies, they increase break-over rate and chipping, which means more frequent trims.

Your ideal fly control strategy depends on several factors, like where you ride and how you keep your horse or horses. We’ll look at what you can do in the barn, at pasture, and while riding to stay as fly-free as possible.

First, let’s start with the horse:

The Fly-Free Horse

Long tails, manes, forelocks, and ear hair are nature’s way of helping your horse fight off flies. If he’s not showing, or if your breed standard allows it, consider letting him grow out long, healthy hair to help keep flies away.

Fly Sprays

Fly spray is probably your #1 go-to when it comes to keeping flies from landing. Fly repellants come in sprays, concentrates, roll-ons (great for sensitive faces), and ointments.

The right product for you depends on the most prevalent insects in your region, and what your horse will tolerate. For skittish animals that don’t like the sound of a spray bottle, douse a cloth with fly spray and wipe it on.

Fly Predators

These biteless beauties are actually a species of super-small fly. They live on manure and eat fly pupa (AKA the next generation of pest flies!) Shipped while in the cocoon phase and sprinkled around paddocks, they’re a natural, non-toxic way to control the fly population.

Image by rihaij from Pixabay 

In the Barn

Shade, manure, damp corners, standing water… Barns are a playground for annoying insects. Here’s how to ruin the fun for barn flies:

Stay Dry

Moist areas attract insects. Eliminate any standing water (like birdbaths, abandoned buckets, and old tires), and use a stall deodorizer to dry out damp spots and reduce odors.

Minimize Manure

This won’t come as a surprise, but removing manure ASAP and keeping the muck pile far away will reduce flies in your barn and run-in sheds.

Keep it Ventilated

Ventilation is vital for horse (and human) health. Open doors and windows will help damp areas dry, and breezes will push small flying insects away.

Fans are great for ventilation and summer climate control. Make sure fans and cables are where horses can’t get to them and keep fan grills free from dust and debris.

Be Safe

Fly control is especially important when your horse gets a visit from the farrier or vet. An angry, irritated horse stomping at flies can be dangerous to your horse pro. 

That said, try to avoid traps, strips, and zappers around the barn. You want to drive flies away from your barn, not lure them into it (even if it is just to kill them). If you do decide to use them, place sticky traps well above horse height, and keep zappers and traps in areas away from horses.

In the Pasture

At turnout, there are tons of spiffy options to keep flies off your horse:

Fly Masks

One of the most common ways to keep insects away from your horse’s sensitive eyes, some fly masks cover ears and noses too. Fitting is crucial, as a fly trapped underneath a fly mask is just about the most uncomfortable thing in the world. You may need to try options from different manufacturers to find the one that works best for your horse. 

A low-tech (even DIY-able) alternative to a fly mask is a fly veil, a fringed browband that brushes flies off the horse’s face. These have the advantage of being easy to fit and impossible to trap a fly next to a horse’s face. 

Fly Sheets

Fly sheets form a physical barrier around a horse’s body, preventing flies from landing. They come in a range of colors and patterns, and many have the advantage of being UV treated, blocking harmful rays. Like any turnout sheet, take care to ensure they fit properly and don’t leave a horse unsupervised in one.

Fly Wraps

Relatively new on the market, fly wraps are an ingenious way to protect lower legs from flies. Made of the same material as fly sheets but with the same design as shipping boots, or made from light nylon mesh and gathered at each end, these form a physical barrier around the horse’s lower leg, preventing flies from biting.

While Riding

Fly assaults while riding are brutal for horse and rider alike.

Make sure to keep arena windows open to allow as much ventilation as possible. Ceiling fans are great for this too.

Ear Nets

Keep your mount fly free while looking fly! These keep insects out of ears, and the flap at the front keeps them off his face. Not just for the ring, they’re a great way to protect your horse on the trail, too.

Speaking of the trail, you’re going to need a way to keep flies out of his eyes, but fly masks don’t always fit well with a bridle. Fly masks made for bridles are a great option, but take care that they form an unbroken seal around the horse’s face to keep flies out.

Wrap Up

Flies, like vet bills, are a fact of horse ownership. While you’ll never create a perfectly fly-free environment, there’s a lot you can do for your barn, your pasture, and your horse, to keep these biting menaces at bay.

What’s your #1 fly control tip? Share below!

Featured Image by Louise Pilgaard

4 Responses to “11 Top Tips for Fly Protection”

  1. Avatar
    Leigh Hunter Jumperz

    Very simple solution to a fly free barn; fly & other pasture pests annoying your babies out in the pasture or just taking a rest in their stalls during the blistering heat & amongst all the winged annoyances and especially the flies. The trick to maintaining a fly free barn using ZERO contraptions or harsh chemicals & keeping them far away from your precious babies is SO simple & inexpensive you’ll either (a) not believe me; (b) try to debunk it; or (c) be curious & reasonable and just TRY it out for the sake of the state of your barn, and the comfort of your precious babies. Get a lot of paper & a full 🖊; ready? “WHITE Apple Cider Vinegar!!” Slowly incorporate the 🍎 cider vinegar into the feed twice daily. It’s a natural fly & pest repellent as well as a kind of natural cleanser for the horse’s blood. It works SO well I use it not only at the barn, but in my dog’s food, and WE take a teaspoon of it daily! NO MORE expensive fly spray that doesn’t really work at all; no more barn overrun with flies & NO you don’t have to share this simple idea w/others as it’s readily available for anyone to find. I’ve learned that most people don’t want to hear my little tips of the trade anyway. So there’s MY tip of the day. Remember: this works from the inside out–so NEVER a need to “re-apply” or “re-spray,” EVER. 🤗

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