How to Protect Your Horse Against Flies
by Parelli Natural Horsemanship on Feb 15, 2023
You watch the stable flies gathering around your horse's face and know how incredibly irritating it is. Aside from the annoyance, flies and biting insects carry many potentially fatal diseases for your horse. While it is not possible to eliminate every fly from your barn, there are many things you can do to reduce the fly population during fly season.
Management practices help minimize pests in and around the barn. The first practice we're going to tackle is manure management. Insects are attracted to manure, which means cleaning stalls and small paddocks daily. This will reduce the number of areas where insects can gather.
Removing manure from pastures is an excellent way to prevent internal and external parasites. If you cannot remove the manure, drag your field to break it up, and expose it to sunlight. Dragging your field has the added benefit of distributing natural fertilizer to plants.
Prioritize Pasture Management
Wet, muddy conditions are the perfect breeding ground for mosquitoes, deer flies, horse flies, and biting midges. Whenever possible, turn horses out in drier pastures to prevent muddy areas from being created. If you live in a wet area or have fields near water, consider adding crushed gravel or coarse sand to reduce muddy areas. The gravel will speed up drainage for wet soil and prevent more mud. Create these sacrifice areas where your horse stands or walks frequently.
Face flies, biting midges, deer flies, and horse flies do not like entering dark areas. Provide your horse with a shelter or if you have an especially sensitive horse you can bring them in the barn before dusk, when insects are most active. We recommend good ventilation and fans to increase air movement and blow away insects. Good ventilation is also helpful for horses prone to respiratory issues.
Water Supply and Management
Water is an essential part of an insect's life cycle. Ensuring your horse has a clean water supply is not only healthy for your horse but disrupts insect reproduction. If you are not in an area with extreme temperatures, adding a few goldfish into large water troughs is an effective method. While this sounds odd, the goldfish will eat algae and mosquito larvae, drastically reducing the population. Many equine diseases are spread through mosquitos.
Aside from your horse's drinking supply, consider stagnant and standing water near the barn and in the pastures. Ensure your barn gutters divert water away from paddocks to reduce the chance of mud and standing water. If water is in one location for more than 5-7 days, it will become a breeding site for mosquitos. Mosquitos can reproduce in tiny amounts of water—think about old tires, flowerpots, birdbaths, dog water bowls, buckets, etc.
As horse owners, we tend to buddle all insects into the pest category. But not all insects are pests; in fact, many are beneficial. One beneficial insect is the fly parasite. This nocturnal wasp lays eggs in developing flies, which reduces the fly population. For ongoing fly control, you can purchase commercially raised fly parasites to place in your barn and pastures. You may worry about creating another insect problem, but fly parasites do not harm humans or animals, and many people don't even notice them. Pat Parelli has used Spaulding Fly Predators for years on his ranches as a way to natural reduce the fly population.
Many people fear bats, but they are beneficial around a farm. Bats can consume over 1,000 insects in less than an hour! If you live in an area with bats, you can install bat houses around your property to encourage them to live and hunt in your area.
Use Fly Sheets and Fly Masks
You've worked to reduce the fly population, but you can provide additional protection for your horse. If your horse is sensitive to bugs, providing protective gear can be a great way to help them through the fly season. Fly masks, sheets, and boots are safe and practical for fly control. These physical barriers protect sensitive areas like the horse's eyes and ears. Many come with UV protection and cooling technology for horses prone to sunburn. Many horses appreciate the protection, while others will regularly ruin their fly masks and sheets.
Fly spray and repellent are good options during training sessions or riding. These sprays last a few hours and can provide some added protection for a more enjoyable ride. Make sure to spray your horse's legs, chest, and belly area, as this is where most insects bite. Repellent ointments are also a good option for sensitive areas like the eyes and ears.
If your horse has been clipped, they will have less protection against pesky insects. You may need to consider a combination of protective gear, fly repellent, and ointment to keep them comfortable.
Use Fly Traps
Fly traps come in several inexpensive, non-toxic options. The cheapest option is sticky tape. Sticky tape can be attached above doorways and easily removed when full of dead flies. Choose your placement carefully if you use them. They are well-named and get stuck to anything walking by.
Sticky tubes are a cleaner option and come in brightly colored tubes to attract the flies. Some brands are scented to attract flies. Similar to sticky tubes, pesticide-free bags lure flies into a container filled with water where they cannot escape. These come in reusable or disposable and are easy to hang.
Where you place your fly traps is important regardless of the type of trap you prefer. Hang sticky traps in areas where insects congregate. If your trap has a smelly attractant, place it outside your barn to keep the flies away from high-traffic areas.
Bringing It All Together
Fly management for horse owners is simple but not easy. Ongoing fly control combines management changes, protection, and traps. Once you've implemented this routine into your daily horse care, you will quickly notice a difference in your horse's comfort and the insect population around your barn.