Enjoy FREE Next Day Shipping on Orders Over £50! Buy More, Save More with our Multi-Buy Discounts! *Terms Apply*

Here come the Flies!

Here come the Flies!

Here come the Flies!

Every horse owner looks forward to spring with eager anticipation. Keeping horses in the UK’s wet and muddy winters is hard work – the longer, warmer days make it all worthwhile. However, spring and summer are not without problems of their own. Flies generally pester horses, particularly horse flies, although the horse fly season is usually a bit shorter. Horses can be driven to distraction by flies and other biting insects, so with warm sunny days just around the corner, now’s the time to get prepared.

Protecting your Horse

Protecting your horse is an excellent way to start, and there are two ways to do this. The first option is using fly creams and fly sprays. However, these vary in effectiveness and must be reapplied several times throughout the day. Most people use fly rugs to cover up their horses and only use fly sprays when they ride. Fly rugs come in many designs with different features like tail flaps, belly flaps and neckpieces. Most fly rugs are white or silver in colour, but some interesting research at the University of Bristol suggested that there could be a better option. A recent study has revealed that zebra stripe rugs are more effective at deterring flies.

Horses wear Stripes because they don’t want to be Spotted!

The study by Professor Tim Caro compared the behaviour of horseflies, which are a particular menace, around captive zebras and domestic horses on a yard in North Somerset.  Scientists have felt for some time that zebra stripes are a genetic mechanism which has evolved in response to biting insects. Fewer flies landed on the zebras compared to the horses. The research team also used zebra print fly rugs on a selection of horses, concluding that fewer flies landed when the horses wore these in comparison with conventional white fly rugs or no fly rugs at all. The same number of flies approached both the zebras and the horses, but the striped pattern of the rugs and the movement of the horses deterred the flies from landing. Don’t forget to protect your horse’s face. Fly masks prevent flies from working away at the moisture around the horse’s eyes. Flies cause irritation, rubbing, inflammation like conjunctivitis and sometimes infections.  Scientists have been working on a vaccine to prevent the allergic reaction in hypersensitive horses. In the meantime, owners of Sweet Itch ponies and horses rely on physical barrier methods to protect them from biting midges plus alterations to their daily management routine.

Final Thoughts

Flies are not just a nuisance for horses, they incur horse owners in a lot of extra work and expense dealing with this repeated seasonal irritation. Preparing for the fly season is essential to minimise the problem and prevent any adverse issues for equines during a long, hot summer. The excessive temperatures of last summer’s heatwave provided an early end to the horse fly season. The lack of rainfall and moisture also made it hard for other fly species to survive. However, every year is different, and horse owners must be prepared for the usual insect invasion. Good fly management protocols both on the yard and in the field help minimise numbers, with horses protected by physical barriers like fly rugs and topical products such as fly sprays.

Yard and Pasture Management

Most horse owners focus on protecting their horses, but it’s no coincidence that some locations just seem to have fewer flies than others. Stable yards are a fly trap, but not in the way you might think. Flies are attracted to the warm damp conditions of the stables and muckheap; there is usually moist bedding and an endless supply of manure. Some simple steps, such as those poultry farms follow, can help reduce the general incidence of flies in the warmer months between April and October. Here are some steps to make your yard or farm less attractive to flies.
  • Site the muck heap away from the stables and, if possible, any grazing paddocks
  • Have the muck removed as frequently as possible – muck heaps are a breeding ground for several different fly species due to their moisture content
  • Use physical fly traps around the yard; these can be bought relatively cheaply from agricultural wholesalers
  • Disinfect empty buildings with spay insecticides – some require a licence, so you may need to contact a contractor or farm company to do this for you. Always ensure horses are well out of the way if you treat a building or barn. Many of the sprays have a long-lasting residual action, so check carefully how quickly you can use the building after it’s been treated
  • Smoke bombs work well in buildings with inaccessible roof voids and awkward corners, again check the chemical content and follow the manufacturer’s guidelines carefully
  • Some yards install giant fly balls in the field which deflect flies away from your horse and somewhere else
  • Midge screens made of fine mesh can be installed over stable windows and in the top door gap of the stable
  • Stable fans discourage flies as they dislike constant air movement, and this also keeps horses cool in hot boxes

Managing Sweet Itch

Most horses are irritated by flies and horseflies, and many are bitten with few adverse effects. However, some horses may develop an allergic reaction to certain biting insects, and the most common example of this is Sweet Itch. Sweet Itch is an allergic reaction to the saliva of biting midges and mosquitoes. Sweet Itch affects around 5% of the UK’s equine population. Susceptible horses experience intense irritation and will rub their skin raw, usually the mane and the top of the tail. Secondary infections are common, and repeated rubbing thickens the skin with a ridged appearance once it has healed. A range of total barrier Sweet Itch rugs called Boett blankets encase the horse from head to tail in a fine, dense mesh that repels the insects. Turning out at night rather than during the day also minimises the problem.

Leave a comment

* Required fields

Please note: comments must be approved before they are published.