Fly sheets tend to come in two varieties — ”soft” and ”hard.” The soft sheets are usually made of cotton or a polyester fabric weaved to form a soft mesh. They are lightweight and airy, tending to fit closer to the body. We find the softer fabrics are kinder to a horse’s coat and skin, but they also can get snagged and tear more easily.
The hard sheets are made of stiff PVC-coated fabric, such as Textilene. It’s reminiscent of lawn furniture covers, but a bit more flexible.
This fabric is tougher and more long-wearing than the soft weaves. Some of the Textilene-type sheets fit closer to the body, like a softer material, while others seem to sit farther away from the horse, creating a stiff-shaped barrier.
There is almost every configuration imaginable of fly sheet — detachable leg straps, non-detachable leg straps, single surcingles, double surcingles, belly bands, and every type of front closure you can imagine. Many sheets have attached or detachable neck covers, with Velcro closures, plastic snap-in buckles, or other buckle closures.
Fit is a huge issue with fly sheets, as with any blanket. Proper fit is your best defense against rubs. In our trial, we found every blanket eventually rubbed, despite our efforts to match test horses to blanket size and design. That’s why we especially liked the Adjusta-Fit closure on the Schneiders sheets, as they made for easy fitting on a wide variety of horse body types.
Belly bands and neck covers are generally preferred. The more surface area covered, the more protection your horse receives — although for both items, it’s important to achieve a close-to-the-body fit, with few significant gaps between the horse, the rest of the sheet, and the neck cover or belly guards. Any open space is an invitation to a fly.
However, it should be noted that the more accoutrements — and accompanying straps — the more time and trouble it could be to dress up your horse. This may not be an issue for a single horse owner at home, but for the multiple horse owner, or the boarding-stable worker, that’s a lot of buckles, snaps and fitting.
If we were to design the perfect fly sheet we would choose one with an attached neck cover and built-in belly band, like the Dover Combo. It would have easy-fitting metal buckles or snaps and a minimum of straps needed to keep it in place. Tough Velcro strapping on the neck cover and belly band would be great, rather than one more set of buckles to play with.
While we like leg straps — especially the detachable kind — we also don’t mind an effective tail cord such as is found on the Amigo Bug Buster sheet. If the rest of the sheet is designed correctly to compensate for it, a no-leg-strap design can be a real time saver.
When it came time to do this trial of fly sheets, we decided to put the products to a test of extremes. The fly sheets in this trial were used on a variety of horses ranging in size from 15 to 18 hands. The included pony crosses to off-the-track Thoroughbreds to warmbloods and draft crosses. The horses lived outside, although some came in to eat during the day. The terrain was varied, and the climate dry and hot. The horses were turned out in pairs or small groups in large fields.
These horses lived like horses — they rolled, played, galloped, itched on the fence (and each other) and generally put the sheets through the wringer. Sheets were hosed and hung to dry, or scrubbed with a soapy brush, rinsed and air dried. (Follow manufacturer’s instructions on washing your sheet. Some are machine washable.)
In general, we learned that horses are great destroyers. Few sheets had the durability necessary to withstand the parameters of this test. Obviously, though, these horses were outside, in groups, and constantly moving. A horse kept in a more controlled environment, like a stall, moving less and causing fewer rubs and tears.
Overall, there’s not a bad sheet in the lot, as we have tested many of these in previous trials. Clearly, a soft mesh will not stand up to the abuse that a tough PVC-type fabric can take. However, this trial done under extreme turnout conditions.
The Amigo Bug Buster showed us the most obvious decrease in bug annoyance for the horses. For a horse with serious problems during the bug season (the horses that break out in hives from every bite), this is the sheet we’d strongly consider first. We think the Amigo Bug Buster from Horsewear Ireland may well be the future of fly prevention. However, combining its price with its durability level, we couldn’t make it our top pick.
That spot goes to the Rider’s International Stretch Micro Mesh Fly Sheet Combo from Dover Saddlery. We loved this sheet’s soft mesh material, which also held up amazingly well, despite being put on a horse who is a notorious blanket-eater.
The neck cover was attached with a stretchy piece of tough fabric that allowed the horse a full range of motion. The belly guard and buckle system was surprisingly efficient.
It fit well, and seemed to provided relief from flies — especially on the belly. It wasn’t overly cumbersome to put on and attach, yet the number of buckles and attachments meant it was relatively easy to fit snugly and give it a near custom fit.
In PVC fabrics, the Schneiders Flyshield sheet is our choice, partly in thanks to its Adjusta-Fit neck. The shoulder gussets kept the rubbing to a minimum, and it was simple to put on. The metal hardware was sturdy but simple, and the sheet held up spectacularly. The neck cover and belly guard were easy to use, and day after day it came in from the field looking unscathed.
The Horse Sense sheet earns Best Buy, as a well-made soft mesh sheet for a great price.
Editor’s Note: Next month, we’ll tell you about our trial of fly sprays that manufacturers told us would hold their power, even when a horse sweats. In our June issue, you’ll read the results of a field trial on fly masks, so your horse will be set for the coming bug season.