Monday, May 20, 2013

Fly Season: It's Coming

I thought this winter would never end - and suddenly it did. Pretty much skipping spring, we're already battling summer bugs out at my barn. Foxie (AKA The Princess) is not a bug fan, so let's get down to the business of battling flying pests of all sorts.

Non-horse people, seriously. 

There are a lot of products out there to help you take on the pests -I'm covering fly masks, sprays, spot on's, sheets and boots. There are also products like fly predators that can really help you get ahead of the fly population. I've never used bands or anything else from above, so I will leave that for someone more knowledgeable.

Things to keep in mind: Spring and summer is mud season. Keep your fly products clean and in good condition. Check yourself and your horse often for ticks - that means ears, legs, tails bone and the base of the mane for your pony! Lyme Disease is nasty in horses and you don't want it, either! Keep an eye out for hives or other signs of buggy distress in your horse, too, and try to keep stalls and paddocks clean of manure so they attract and provide breeding grounds for fewer flies.

When riding, don't forget to wear sunscreen (my bad, this week - Ouch!) and bug spray. If it's bad, I wear old breeches and spray them with bug spray, since the mosquitoes can often bite through the fabric, and itchy  legs and knees are the worst!

Click down for the run down on products to help your horsey friend!

Fly Masks - masks have evolved over the years and now come in approximately a billion different options. You can find everything from your basic Super Mask style:
This mask is a little big on Foxie, but fits well without a halter pulling it askew. We'll get to fly boots in a bit.

Newer mask styles include ear covers, long nose covers, cool and funky designs, extra tough fabric, extra tough velcro (for those pasture mates who like to undress your horse) and there are even ones that can double as a catch halter. The most important thing to do when choosing a fly mask is to buy one that fits your horse - no gaping  not too tight so he can open his mouth, etc. I also would consider durability and comfort. Foxie is picky about her ears, and so I was careful to choose a mask with soft ears so they would have more give. Horse get a sunburned nose? Consider a mask with a long nose and UV coverage. There are a lot of possibilities out there! Just make sure to mark your mask, since many people at your barn may be using the same brand/color.

Try to keep your mask clean, or rotate several to keep a clean one at the barn at all times (Foxie likes to rub her face, mask and all in the mud - and then wonders why she can't see...) and watch that they don't break down around the eye pleats. Masks can help keep flies and blowing debris out of the eyes, but it does no good if the material of the mask is pressing against the eye. Not comfortable, not safe and not making your horse's life any easier!

There are also masks designed to be used when riding - ear nets or bonnets, of course, and things like the Cashel Quiet Ride mask. If your horse is fussy in the bridle, consider one of these options rather than punishing them for trying to deal with the bugs. Make sure to use a mask that doesn't obscure their vision (with material on a mask, or tassels on bonnets), and one that is securely attached so you won't be messing with it.

Fly Spray - Fly spray is a no brainer for a lot of horseowners, but it doesn't always occur to those of us who just bought a horse of our own. There are also a million brands, and I tend to find one that works and stick with it. I'm a big fan of Bronco Gold, but there are also chemical free options and those that are targeted towards mosquitoes and ticks.

PSA #1
Do not, no matter how tempting it is, use non-equine spray on your horse. Horse skin reacts to chemicals differently than ours, just as you shouldn't use fly spray on yourself. 

PSA #2
Check your horse for chemical burn before every ride, especially if you are mixing products on the coat, such as a shine spray or shampoo with fly spray. Fly spray itself or mixed with other products on the hair can burn the skin, causing your horse to loose hair and be sensitive to the touch. 

Ok, doom and gloom I know! But chemical burn sucks. It can happen pretty easily - especially on thin TB skin. Liniment under bandages, or fly spray that is too strong can easily burn the skin and hair. Some fly sprays are oil based, and are meant to float on top of the hair coat and never touch the skin - and usually contain more potent chemicals. While super effective, that means you shouldn't be applying that spray to a wet horse, brushing said horse after applying the spray or using anywhere near exposed skin or injuries. I tend to spend a low-to-medium amount on fly spray (there are usually several price tiers) and have found that sprays, while effective, don't last very long.

Spot On Repellent - this stuff is very reminiscent of the flea and tick spot on we use on our dogs, and supposedly does the same thing. While many people have success with these treatments, which can last up to a month, my vet has warned me off of them as they have been known to cause neurological side effects. I'll stick with gentle sprays and "clothes"!

Fly Sheets - Fly sheets are fantastic for sensitive horses. I should say that Foxie hates fly sheets, and I have "enjoyed" watching her destroy the one she owns, and refuse to buy her another. Fly sheets come in two different types of material, in my experience (see below) and come with many different features and add-ons, like belly covers, long tail flaps, neck covers and in-fabric repellents. Fly sheets and blankets should be fit similarly, and watch for stretchy fabrics or almost-too-large neck openings that may slide back and cause rubs. When looking at add-ons or features, remember horse horse and his or her anatomy. Belly straps may not be a good option for a gelding or stallion if they aren't far enough forward (the mess just attracts the flies!) and mares may do better without a long tail flap hindering tail movement.


Textilene: This stuff is hardcore. This grade of fly fabric is similar to the webbing on lawn chairs - tough, airy and a little bit rigid and stands away from the body. Sheets like this are made to last, and can protect your horse from bites and scratches, as well as bugs. Most offer UV protection and are easily cleaned with a hose or pressure washer. Make sure the fit is good, or these materials can cause blanket rubs.

Soft Mesh: Soft mesh is just that - mesh, soft and usually sits on the hair as a barrier. Some brands make them reflective, to help keep your horse cool, and can offer UV protection to keep your dark colored horse dark (and not orange.). These sheets often have silky shoulder linings and work well for horses who tend to rub. Watch for shrinkage, and beware that your white sheet probably won't stay white. 

Fly Boots - Boots are a less common feature, but one that I'm a big fan of. As the owner of a horse who has had several leg injuries, I really don't want her stomping and stamping - and now that she's barefoot, I really don't want her destroying her feet doing it, either. 
Foxie in a well fitting fly mask and very muddy fly boots. 

There are several brands floating around, and I've used both the Kensington and the Original Fly Wraps brand. I would not suggest riding in them, as they don't give and move like a leg boot, and the material may rub with the vigorous movement. Both have their pros and cons but here are some basics for use:

Make sure that they are snugly fastened especially at the top to prevent them sliding down. Be careful with the elastic-strapped versions, especially, but either way, sliding down and putting pressure on a leg apparatus isn't good. Or comfortable. 
The fleece goes at the top. ( And yes, I had it at the bottom for like... years. Don't ask me why.)
Keep them clean just like you would bandages or boots. I have several pairs that I rotate, since Foxie is a pig about mud. Because she gets them gross whenever she can, my pairs tend to ware relatively quickly. Especially with the textilene Kensingtons, make sure to check them for stretching and holes - holey fly boots don't do a ton, but can be useful in a pinch if you need a back up pair. 

There are many other products out there - feed through fly repellent supplements, fly predators, repellent bands for most of the horsey body, as well as spray systems for your barn. Flies can put a lot of undue stress on your horse, and I like to do what I can to relieve that stress.

Also, remember that at shows, which are often in a different area or state, the bugs can be different. We have a horse trial in an area where the mosquitoes pack a very different, evil punch so go to shows, trail rides and other events prepared!

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