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 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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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:
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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