Tuesdays with Tony
A couple weeks ago I talked about flies from the how not to have them breeding around your farm perspective. It was a solid blog if I do say so myself, but I wanted to dive a little deeper into keeping those little *?@%ers off the poor horses. For one thing, you humans can only conquer so many of the bug breeding grounds. For another thing, there are some horses who really, really, really just don’t like bugs. Yep, I’m looking at you, super fancy warmblood recently flown on a plane here from Europe. Luckily, you humans have been super creative at ways to keep bugs off horses, and sprays are only the tip of the iceberg!
Yes I know, I discussed these in the last fly blog. However, I have noted you humans aren’t great at remembering details so let’s discuss fly sprays again. First, they should be called fly wipes. That’s right, you’ve been doing it wrong for years. The very best way to apply a fly “spray” is to wipe it on. This can be done with a rag, a microfiber mitt, or even spray on a brush then brush it on. Wiping it on wastes less by putting the product where it needs to be, and not in a huge cloud around your horse, and it more effectively gets the product onto the hair. I expect to see everyone wiping fly sprays from now on. I have decreed it to be so.
Second, I talked about which ones worked best in a recent study. Here’s the study info if you want to look it up yourself: “Behavioral Inhibition of the House Fly (Diptera: Muscidae) When Exposed to Commercial Equine Fly Repellents,” Elizabeth V. Tuorinsky and Erika T. Machtinger, Journal of Economic Entomology, September 2019. TLDR version: EcoVet kicked booty, OutSmart was pretty darn good (side note: very similar to Bye Bye Flies from the Fly Predator people), and Equiderma’s fly spray wasn’t too shabby either. No matter what, fly wipes are an assist but shouldn’t be the cornerstone of your no-flies-on-me plan.
The Fly Mask
Take note of the following: every horse should have a fly mask! That’s right. Every. Single. Horse. There is no more important piece of how to avoid seeing my Docs for eye issues piece of equipment than a fly mask. They also, for the purposes of this week’s blog, keep the flies off the eyes, and as noted above we are discussing keeping flies off horses. There are approximately 8.3 million different kinds of fly masks. Surely there’s a kind your horse will wear out there somewhere. Find it. Get it. Make your horse wear it. Gnats around eyes lead to itchy eyes, which leads to horse finding pointy thing to itch eye on, which leads to Sunday evening call for one of my Docs to stitch eyelid back on. Get a fly mask. We are partial to Nag Horse Ranch fly masks around here. They do a great job blocking UV rays as well as keeping the bugs out, and they can custom make a mask if your horse has a weird head size.
The Fly Sheet
If you have one of those super sensitive souls who just can’t handle the thought of a fly touching them, fly sheets are a great option. More importantly, fly sheets are a lifesaver to the horse who is allergic to gnats. As a cat with allergies, I genuinely feel for these horses! Being itchy just plain sucks. Fly sheets come in slightly fewer options than fly masks. We’re down around the 1.7 million different varieties number. The biggest downside to this: it’s way more expensive to experiment with fly sheets than fly masks. Allow me to give you some Tony words of wisdom on fly sheets.
Note on fly sheets: always go for either the neck cover or the head-to-toe coverage variety. You really want to cover your entire horse. For long-term turnout, I like the Schneider’s mosquito mesh variety of fly sheet. It’s very light and airy, but does a pretty decent job keeping the buggers OFF! The mosquito mesh sheet is the coolest of the many I’ve tested. It also provides head-to-tail coverage when you add the generously-cut neck cover.
Next up on my list of likes are the Rambo Fly Sheets. I have found the softer versions are warmer in the lovely Florida summers. These fly sheets don’t go high enough on the neck for my cultivated feline tastes. Also, that upper neck area is particularly prone to gnat itchies.
If you are looking for what is likely the best gnat allergy fly sheet on the planet, I recommend the Boett sheet. It covers as much of a horse as possible while still being tough enough for turnout. It isn’t cheap, but it is well worth the cost. I also recommend checking out used tack sales for fly sheets when starting the process. This will allow you to try different kinds to give you an idea about what works and doesn’t work for your horse at less than full retail pricing.
Pour-on Fly Repellent
For the horse that won’t tolerate any of the above options, or for the owner who is looking for more economical alternatives for a herd, I bring you the pour-on fly repellent (also works well for ticks). There are many, many varieties of these. Some are marketed to horse owners in particular; many are marketed as cattle pour-ons. I personally find the cattle ones are more economical, come in a big container, and allow the use of small or big amounts as needed. Who doesn’t want the more economical thing when it comes to horses??
Many of the cattle versions are too harsh for the delicate equine skin. We have found that Ultra Boss does the best at lasting, while not burning the skin. I do recommend starting with a very small amount in one location, and monitoring your horse for 24-48 hours to see how they do before going all out. When you do go all out, pour a stripe down the back from ears to tail, then a small amount down each of the four legs. Add a drop or two to the backs of each ear to keep those nasty gnats away. If it doesn’t rain (ha! We do live in Florida) Ultra Boss will repel gnats for a good 7-10 days.
One final repellent tip: spraying fly masks and sheets with a made-for-fabric repellent will boost the fly-blocking abilities of these horse clothes to superhero levels. Re-application is necessary every 2-3 weeks in the fun Florida summers.
Bugs and Florida go hand in hand. Find the system that works best for you and your horse so that both of you can enjoy life more!
Until next week,
P.S. Looking for more information on fly control? The humans did a great podcast on just this subject. Be sure to take a listen here.
Tuesdays with Tony is the official blog of Tony the Clinic Cat at Springhill Equine Veterinary Clinic in Newberry, Florida. If you liked this blog, please subscribe below, and share it with your friends on social media! For more information, please call us at (352) 472-1620, visit our website at SpringhillEquine.com, or follow us on Facebook!