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Fly control tips for healthy horses

Contributed by Aimee Robinson Published on 24 June 2021
Hourses in a pasture

It’s a nice, sunny day – perfect for a trail ride with your horse. You sink into the saddle in pure relaxation. Then, suddenly, a horse fly lands on your horse’s rear end.

He swishes his tail, and the tranquility of just moments ago is halted as your horse bucks midair to rid itself of the biting pest. Can you relate? Most of us with horses admittedly can.

“Summer days provide the perfect environment for a rapid increase in fly populations. When flies are abundant, horses become irritated and stressed. More than that, flies cause far greater damage than being a nuisance alone,” warns Arnold Nagely, DVM, co-founder and CEO of Valley Vet Supply. “Flies also contribute to significant equine diseases and conditions. By controlling the fly population through a multipronged approach, horse owners can reduce risks for a number of health challenges, such as strangles, influenza, eye worms and summer sores.”

With risks heightening as summer temperatures climb and fly environments thrive, summer sores can have a painstaking impact on equine health and comfort. While curing them can be a relentless battle, preventing them begins simply – by controlling the fly population.

Summer sores are caused by house flies, face flies and stable flies, as they transfer parasitic nematode larvae (habronema species) to moist areas around a horse’s open wounds, eyes, nostrils, mouth and genitalia. When the larvae create a hypersensitivity reaction, chronic, fleshy and non-healing wounds can result, known as summer sores. The condition is costly and can require months off from riding and training as the infected horse heals.

Anne-Marie Morgan is a horse owner and trainer. She’s no stranger to the negative impact flies can have on a horse, especially relating to summer sores. “Thankfully, we have a very clean barn with a great fly spray system that keeps flies, and the risks they present, to a minimum,” Morgan says.

Florida-based horse owner Miriam Wohlers also shares that “In the summertime, it is a constant battle with summer sores. Flies are horrendous due to the constant humidity. All you can do is work to contain the flies.”

Flies can be relentless, especially during the summer months.

Nagely says, “Horsemen likely have seen a rise in flies since April, and they can expect to see increased fly populations through September, even into October in some regions of the country. It’s best to begin fly control strategies as early in the season as possible to curb the numbers, reduce horse health risks and keep horses comfortable overall.”

Reduce the fly population at your horse barn with these simple strategies.

Stop flies before they hatch

  • Insect growth regulators pass through the manure of treated horses, preventing flies from developing into adults by inhibiting the development of the exoskeleton in fly larvae.

  • Barn managers also have success in eliminating the fly population using fly predators, which are beneficial bugs that conquer the fly’s cocoon and kill immature pest flies naturally.

Clean stalls and turnout areas daily

  • Regular cleanings help rid fly-attracting odors and the warm, moist environment that is a fly haven for laying eggs and source of food.

  • Help manage moist, wet areas of pastures through drainage where practical.

  • Remove manure piles off-site from pastures, or spread manure over fields and paddocks, to help dry out piles and attract fewer flies.

  • Spread out or remove uneaten hay to dry quickly.

  • Keep overburden of plant residue at a minimum by controlling and cutting back excessive weeds and plant growth.

Hang fly traps

  • From sticky traps to fly attractant bags that can catch up to 40,000 flies, there are many options horse owners can find to stop flies.

  • Be sure to read the product label and directions, as it’s not uncommon to see these fly attractant products hanging in areas in which horse owners would ideally want fewer flies. Be sure to pull flies away from the barn, not encourage more flies to come in.

Maintain a tidy barn

  • Remove dropped grain and supplements from stalls and feed rooms; doing so also will help prevent visits from opportunistic rodents and the snakes that might be right behind them.

  • Place tight-fitting lids on all garbage cans to stop flies from enjoying an all-you-can-eat buffet, plus prevent wafting, unpleasant aromas with regular cleanings.

  • Empty and scrub feed tubs and water buckets regularly to help keep flies at bay, as well as ensure horses have access to fresh, clean water at all times. (A horse consumes an average of 10 gallons of fresh water per day.)

Use premise and fly sprays

  • Using a premise spray quickly controls adult flies and other barn-residing insects, as well as helps deter new ones from entering the area.

  • Barn insecticide spray kits can offer reliable fly control measures, through automatically timed spray applications.

  • Fly spray is a must for quick and easy on-horse protection against flies. For the best results, make sure your horse is clean so the spray sticks to the hair, not to dirt or mud.

  • Ensure the horse’s face is shielded from flies, too, by using a fly control product that is safe to use nearby their eyes. There are specially formulated ointments that can be applied using a cloth for this sensitive area.

Ensure protection through fly gear

  • Fly apparel – such as fly sheets, masks and fly boots – also offers more protection than from a fly’s painful bite alone. Fly gear can provide UV protection for horses, with some sheets and masks blocking more than 80% of harmful UV rays.

Install barn/stall fans to increase air circulation

  • Circulating air helps to deter flies because the air requires more work and energy from flies to travel to and land on your horse.

To help shield her mare from flies and Florida heat, Wohlers has three fans mounted and running in her mare’s stall at all times during warmer months. Coupled with using fly spray, she also regularly washes and switches out five fly masks, and uses fly traps.

“I want my mare to be happy and healthy,” Wohlers says. “Flies are not only annoying, but they also carry a lot of diseases, and I don’t want her to contract anything from them. Flies can be so frustrating for her, and I want to do everything I possibly can to prevent them.”  end mark

PHOTO: Keeping pastures and paddocks relatively clear of manure piles can help avert the risk of flies for your horses. Photo by Cassidy Woolsey.

Aimee Robinson
  • Aimee Robinson

  • Valley Vet Supply
  • Content Marketing Manager
  • Email Aimee Robinson