Fly – Away!

By Laurel van der Linde

The rainy season is over. The temperature signals it’s time to get back in the saddle. But, ideal as this climate is, with the warmer temperatures comes – flies.Less than aesthetic, these pests are the bane of every horse and horseman. For a creature that has a longevity factor of 24 hours, they quickly become profuse and are not only annoying but, in the case of horse flies, can draw blood when they bite. While today’s technology allows us to orbit the earth for prolonged periods of time, we still haven’t figured out how to eradicate flies from the planet. (Maybe we should ask Elon Musk to work on this one.) Still, we can control the situation. Here are some tried and true tips and a few new ones to add to the mix.

As flies are attracted to moist areas, they love to plague a horse’s eyes. Fly masks are essential. There are many brands on the market and can be purchased at tack and feed stores, in addition to equine catalogs, individual product web sites and, of course, Buy a good quality mask and it should last you a few seasons – depending on how creative your horse(s) is/are in getting out of them. It is also a good idea to spray some fly spray on your hand and rub it around your horse’s eyes for an extra deterrent.

Fly strips and bands that go around a horse’s legs can be good deterrents. Their longevity factor is somewhat limited, however, due to your horse’s activity in turn out. Mesh fly sheets can also help keep your horse comfortable in his stall. But the best deterrent is a good fly spray used consistently.

It’s the latter part of that statement that needs to be emphasized, but let’s examine the available products first – particularly the labels on the bottles. Stay away from any product that issues the disclaimer: “Do not use on pregnant or nursing mares or foals.” This statement is usually followed by an additional warning advising that, should you come into direct contact with the product, wash the affected area immediately with soap and water. What?! These products contain chemicals that are dangerous to both horse and rider. The alternative is to use one of several organic fly sprays currently available. For example, Equiss and Espree are available in tack and feed stores and online, as well as some “home grown products” such as Buh-Bye Bugs and Ma Parkers Natural Fly Spray. The latter two products are conscientiously made by two small business owners in the Santa Clarita Valley (see info at the end of this article as to how to contact/order). Bottom line, if you can’t use it safely on you, it isn’t safe for your horse. Whichever product you choose, you need to use it consistently, preferably on a daily basis. The ones that advertise an effective rate of 14 days beg the immediate question of, “So, what’s in it?” and perhaps the additional query, “Why you haven’t groomed your horse for two weeks?”

Fly traps are exactly that and can either be hung in the stalls or are configured to be set on the ground. They do work. The downside is that they are smelly and need to be disposed every month or six weeks. You might want to try the opposite approach; in other words, rather than attract the flies, discourage them. You can do this by slicing lemons in half, inserting cloves into the halves, wrap them in cheesecloth and hang those in your barn. Flies will avoid these and they sure smell better than the rotting meat used in fly attractants. Yes, you will have to replace them as they dry out, but it is an inexpensive and far more pleasant experience for both you and your horse.

Of course, manure management is key. It is the prime breeding ground for flies. If you board your horse, it is up to the facility to dispose of manure properly. If you are on private property, have it hauled out professionally, the frequency determined by the number of horses stabled. (Both Burrtec and Waste Management provide this service in the Santa Clarita Valley.) If you have the space available, you can also compost it. Not only does it make terrific fertilizer, when correctly managed it can become hot enough to actually kill fly larvae. Just don’t spread it in your pastures or paddocks. This also brings up the possibility of using fly predators. The effectiveness of this endeavor is determined by your barn’s specific location. If there is no other stabling facility in your immediate vicinity, you have a stronger likelihood of these working. However, if you are situated on a privately owned horse property in relative close proximity to other ranches, the predators will not work effectively unless everyone in your neighborhood is using them, as well. Despite your best efforts, the flies from your neighbor’s untreated property will fly directly over to yours. Delivered monthly, fly predators are reasonably enough priced, but again, it depends on how geographically isolated your facility is.

Summer sores are fairly rare, but due to the warmer weather of prolonged spring and summer seasons, they are on the rise in certain areas. Summer sores result from the larvae of worms living in the horse’s stomach. They are eliminated in the manure but find their way back in if they are swallowed or deposited around the eyes or in an already existing wound as minor as a scratch. Always maintain a regular rotational worming schedule for your horse. Spring and summer are the seasons to use Ivermectin. In the event that you do see a summer sore appear – and they can appear anywhere on the horse, the pastern, abdomen, sheath – treat the condition internally by administering Ivermectin every three weeks. Also, if the area can be bandaged, do so using a topical treatment (your veterinarian will be happy to recommend and/or prescribe a medication) to prevent further deposits of the larvae. As it heals, it will get “crusty” and this may need the attention of your vet, as well. When the seasons change and the flies disappear, so will the summer sore, but be on the lookout the following year as they tend to come back in the same location(s). Start your Ivermectin treatment early in the season.

While the profusion of flies may seem interminable halfway through the summer, these procedures will help keep you and your horse more comfortable. And remember, this too shall pass. (Anyone have a number for Elon Musk?) Happy Riding …

Laurel van der Linde is the owner and trainer of Avalon Arabian Farms specializing in balanced, centered and relaxed training for both horse and rider. For further information, email [email protected]

Buh-Bye Bug, available through
Ma Parker’s Natural Fly Spray is available by emailing [email protected]