Shoo Fly – How to Protect Your Horse Against Flies

Flies live to eat and to procreate. Horses and their habitats provide a perfect medium for both of these activities. Although wild horses can take evasive action, like mud baths or running, to escape pesky fly hordes, domestic horses are often at the mercy of flies.

That’s why our horses need all the help we can give them. Fly populations can be reduced by using fly traps, insect predators, misting systems and good management practices. Applying fly spray to your horses will give them varying degrees of relieve for a limited time. Fly gear can provide nonchemical fly protection, and it can be used on horses in stalls or pens, out on pasture or while you’re riding.

Flysheet: There are two types of flysheets – scrim sheets for use on stalled horses and turnout sheets for horses in pens or pastures. A scrim sheet is usually made of lightweight cotton or nylon mesh and fits more like a cooler – quite loosely. This makes it unsuitable for turnout, but it works quite well for keeping flies off a well-groomed horse in a clean stall. The most popular flysheet is the turnout style made of the same type of mesh fabric that covers your lawn chairs. It not only keeps a horse’s body fly free, but it also protects the horse’s coat from the sun and helps keep him cool.

Fly Mask: A well-fitting fly mask can protect the sensitive areas of a horse’s head from flies or gnats without the use of chemical sprays or creams. Sometimes, applying a mask makes a nervous horse noticeably calmer, perhaps partly because it stops flies and partly because of reduced visual stimuli. A fly mask can also be used to protect a horse’s eyes from wind-blown objects when trailering him in an open trailer or during turnout, and from dust and contact when treating an eye for an injury. A mask that blocks more light can give relief to a horse with light-sensitive eyes. 

Muzzle Guard: A muzzle guard is either integral to a fly mask or it attaches to a mask, halter or bridle. It protects a horse from those nasty no-see-ums or nose bots that can drive him insane and make him dangerous to handle. A muzzle guard is especially good for a horse that is hypersensitve to flies around his nose.

Neck Cover: A neck cover wraps around a horse’s neck and fastens with snaps or Velcro. Some neck covers are an integral part of the flysheet while others detach or can be rolled back and fastened out of the way, much like the hood of a jacket. A neck cover protects that sensitive area where the neck and chest join, a spot where crusty scabs often form from feeding flies.

Hood: A hood combines a fly mask with a neck cover. It overlaps and attaches to a flysheet with Velcro or snaps. It provides more complete coverage than a separate mask and neck cover because it eliminates the space between them.

Breakaway Halter: Some fly gear, such as a muzzle guard or browband, attaches to a halter. It’s not uncommon for a horse turned out wearing a standard halter to suffer injury or even death when he gets the halter caught on a post, a branch or even his own horseshoe. If your horse needs to wear a halter during turnout, use only a breakaway (safety) halter.

Ear Bonnet: Insects entering your horse’s ears can cause not only annoying and dangerous head shaking but can also cause serious skin infections. An ear bonnet covers the horse’s ears and can be a part of a fly mask or a separate piece held in place by the bridle or halter.

Leg Wraps & Bands: Leg wraps are usually made of the same poly-vinyl fabric as flysheets, and wrap around a horse’s cannon bones to keep off flies. Some models extend down over the coronary band and cover the back of the pastern where flies like to bite. Leg bands containing fly repellents are only a few inches wide and are applied around the cannon bones. You can apply fly spray to any leg wraps to increase fly protection.

Tail Bag: A horse’s own best weapon against flies is a long, full, healthy tail. But some horses, for whatever reason, don’t have a full tail, and show horses often have their tails braided or wrapped to protect them from damage. A tail bag with a tassel on the end can protect a tail and give it added reach.

Collar: Fly-repellent collars containing natural (citronella or cedar oil) or artificial insect repellents (permethrin) can be sued to keep flies and mosquitoes away from a horse’s neck. Some collars are applied snuggly while others should be loose – follow the manufacturer’s instructions.