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Pesky Flies - Prevention & Repellents

If pigs did sprout wings and acquire the ability to fly then they would undoubtedly attack horses because just about everything else that is airborne does! Horses can be the victims of bites from a wide variety of flying insects and this can make life extremely unpleasant. Insect bites can also cause serious health issues and so are best avoided if at all possible by using horse fly repellents, fly protection and good practice.

Flying Menaces

If you ride then you will be familiar with horse flies. These are members of the Tabanidae family of insects and are most unwelcome visitors who will bite both horse and rider as the females require a blood meal before they are able to reproduce. They have long mandibles which tear open the skin and this is why the bites are so incredibly painful. Gnats, black flies and bot flies may also strike.

Save Your Horse from Health Issues

Insect bites have health implications and can cause equine infectious anaemia, encephalomyelitis, worm infestation, sores, scabs, respiratory depression and conjunctivitis. So quite a lot really! Horses may also suffer from sweet itch which is a condition that appears if the horse has an acute allergic reaction to insect saliva. There is no cure for this nasty condition which results in itching, flaking skin, sores and even hair loss.

Prevention is Better than Cure

So the prevention of insect bites is clearly a major priority and you can tackle the issue in a variety of ways. Good husbandry should be your starting point. Ensure that waste around the stables is minimised and stored away from the horses. Try to avoid turning out your horse into pastures or paddocks where there is standing water and invest in a good fly sheet and fly mask.

Flies are generally attracted to sweat, so after you have ridden or exercised your horse in warmer weather remember to wash off any sweat on their bodies. Particularly around the girth, chest and between the back legs.

Horse Fly Repellents

You can also use horse fly repellents and here you have several options. Some repellents are chemical based and others rely on natural protection. It is tempting to think that the natural route is best. However, horses can be sensitive to even natural substances and all chemical formulations have been rigorously tested. The truth is that we know more about the chemicals than the natural alternatives. It is best to test a small area on your horse before covering them with any repellent! Your horse could have an adverse reaction to DEET or Citronella which are common ingredients in fly repellents.

Fly repellents for horses are available as sprays, gels, creams, wipes and even as shampoos. Creams, gels and wipes are useful for treating sensitive areas such as around the face and ears. The creams and gels often come with a sponge for application. Do be careful not to get any horse fly repellent too close to their eyes. They are also a good choice if your horse is spooked by sprays. Fly sprays are great for quick all over coverage but be careful not to overdo the DEET!

Introducing Fly Spray To Your Horse

If your horse is sensitive to the fly spray then it could be that they have had a bad experience in the past.  They may be new to the sensation of being sprayed or they find the smell/sound/feeling irritating. Avoid quick movements, if you have a particularly noisy or tickly spray bottle then consider pouring the contents into a new quieter or less tickly new bottle. Perhaps introduce the bottle to your horse first rather than springing it on him/her. Use a gradual process to get your horse used to being sprayed (it takes patience and treats can be a helpful distraction); start somewhere on the body such as the chest - not the head. If you really struggle then try spraying the horse fly repellents onto a cloth or sponge and wiping over the horse instead.

Some people believe that adding garlic to a horse’s diet will give the animal a natural defence to insect attacks. This has not been scientifically proven but there are many health benefits to garlic. So why not give this a try?

Protecting your horse from flies is crucial and will involve a multi-pronged attack. Good husbandry, a fly sheet and the fly repellents should all be part of your care regime. Check out our latest.


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