The Crusader Reigns Over Fly Masks

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When we use a fly mask, we want to see it cover as much of the horse’s face as possible. While flies are most attracted to a horse’s eyes, it’s also annoying to see them crawling all over the horse’s nose. That’s why we’re frustrated with the number of fly masks that stop at the cheek bones — some even just below the eye area. We’d like to see all fly masks reach at least midway between the cheek bones and nostrils, and if your horse will accept it, cover the nose, too.

We believe fly masks should have ear covers, but we realize some horses simply hate having their ears covered. Plus, as our Saddlebred-owning tester discovered, sometimes the ear covers simply aren’t tall enough. If your horse will accept ear covers, we recommend them. If he won’t, choose a model without ears, but don’t skip using a mask.

Fly masks need to be thoroughly cleaned weekly — and at least brushed/hosed off daily — so we like durable ones that can be dumped into a washing machine on the delicate cycle. (Despite directions on some to the contrary, one tester put every one of them in a washing machine without problems — not that we’re recommending this.)

Pastured horses must read textbooks written by Houdini in their spare time, being able to get out of almost anything if they’re determined enough. No mask in this test stayed on every horse every minute. Horses rub on anything they can find, roll in the dirtiest spots, and often tear off each others’ “hats” just for the fun of it. We don’t think any fly mask can be 100% snag-and-tear proof, and if we get a solid season out of our fly mask, we’re happy. We’re ecstatic to get two years or even to be able to keep it another year as a spare. Most of the masks in this test finished in good enough shape to keep for another year.

PRODUCTS

Farnam SuperMask by Farnam
MSRP and sizes: Horse, Arab, yearling, foal $16.23; XL $18.62; XXL $20.50
Material: PVC-coated mesh with soft, fluffly fleece edging
Washing Instructions: Machine wash

Comments: This is a durable, well-made mask with a simple design. It has one opening on the top for the ears and no ear covers. The eye darts are good, and the hook-and-loop closure hold well.

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Farnam SuperSheet Mask With Ears by Farnam
MSRP and Sizes: Horse, Arab, small $24.95; XL $26.95
Material: PVC-coated mesh with cloth webbing-bound edges
Washing Instructions: Machine wash

Comments: This mask runs large, especially in the ears, but is well-made and durable with a solid hook-and-loop closure. Ear covers are standard. With no fleece or nappy edging, it attracts virtually no debris.

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Fly-Blocker by Equine Designs
MSRP: Fly-Blocker 3000 with ears $29.95; 1000 with open top or 2000 with ear holes $19.95.
Sizes: foal, yearling, small, regular, large, XL, draft, mini adult, mini yearling, mini foal
Material: Vinyl-coated mesh with Neoprene edging
Washing Instructions: Hand or machine wash.

Comments: The hook-and-loop closure at the throatlatch with an elastic insert to allow some give. It has an additional closure behind the ears, which allows the mask to be put on in like a halter for difficult horses and allows adjustment in fit. However, some horses objected to the tearing noise behind their ears. Once it was fit to the horse, we left it closed and just used the throatlatch fastener. The neoprene edging attracted little debris.

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Horse Sense by Horse Sense
MSRP and Sizes: Arab small/yearling, Arab large/horse with ears $22.50; XL with ears $27; Arab small/yearling, Arab large/horse without ears $15.95; XL without ears $19.95; foal without ears $15.50; pony without ears $15.95; miniature horse (s, m, l) $14.95.
Materal: PVC-coated netting with cloth web edging
Washing Instructions: Hose off

Comments: This is an extremely well-designed mask with a good fit that covers farther down the horse’s face than most masks. We particularly like the very fine-mesh soft ear covers, which are well sewn into the mask itself. The design without ear covers has two ear holes. The hook-and-loop jaw closure includes elastic, which allows for some give. The eye dart placement and size are excellent.

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Kensington Fly Mask by Kensington Protective Products
MSRP and Sizes: KFM 200 without ears $16.95; KFM 300 with ears $26.95. Sizes: S, M, L, XL
Material: PVC-coated mesh with soft, fluffy triple fleece
Washing Instructions: Machine wash

Comments: The mask we field tested is no longer available. The new mask, which we did not test, has redesigned ears, double darts over the eye area and an elastic insert in the hook-and-loop closure. It is available in a number of different plaids.

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Royal Riders Fly Mask by Royal Riders
MSRP and Sizes: Weanling, yearling, Arab, horse, XL horse; approximately $25-$28
Material: PVC-coated mesh with soft fleece edging
Washing Instructions: Machine wash

Comments: This was an attractive mask with its soft, comfortable mesh and fluffy fleece. However, the hook-and-loop throatlatch closure snapped from left to right, which required us to go to the off side of the horse to finish applying the mask. It is available with ears and without ears (two ear openings), and with or without Expel (a fabric that has Permethrin in it to repel and kill insects) and in a variety of trims and plaids. It is well-made and durable.

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The Crusader by Robin G/Cashel Company
MSRP and Sizes: Standard no ears $19.95; standard with ears $23.95; long no ears $25.95; long with ears $29.95. Sizes: Yearling/POA, Arab, horse, warmblood, working draft
Material: PVC-coated mesh with low-nap polar-fleece edging
Washing Instructions: Machine wash

Comments: The styling, fit and eye darts on this fly mask are excellent. It is secured with a good hook-and-loop closure. The ears (it’s also available without ears) are made of a sewn-in soft, lightweight material that we found preferable to the stiffer mesh found on some other masks. The fleece edging attracted less debris than the fluffier fleece found on the previous Robin G mask. The mask has an additional opening that allows you to pull the forelock out of the mask, instead of being trapped inside the mask, which we believe is more comfortable and definitely more attractive. Our favorite style in this design is the long mask, which covers the horse’s entire nose — an area we’ve often felt was neglected by other masks. It has fringe under the long nose piece, which helps deter flies from crawling up it. The longer design is bound to be a help to those white-nosed horses who sunburn easily.

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UltraShield Fly Bonnet by Absorbine/W.F. Young Inc.
MSRP and Sizes: Yearling/Arab, Horse $13.95; draft $15.75
Material: Lighweight screen mesh with low-nap fleece-covered elastic on nose and mesh-covered elastic
Washing Instructions: Machine wash

Comments: This mask is more free-form than contoured and lacks eye darts. It “puffs” out away from the eyes, is roomy and fits a wide range of horses. While this black mask may not be as visibily attractive as lighter-color, contoured masks, its soft material and lack of defined shape make it a good choice for odd-sized horses and sensitive-skinned horses. It protects a good amount of the horse’s face and was one of the softest masks in the test. The elastic edges provide a comfortable snug barrier against crawling insects. It is decidely more durable than the original UltraShield masks, and we noted no unusual pulling or snagging. However, it has two hook-and-loop closures, one at the throatlatch and one just below that. While we would prefer not dealing with two closures, it’s worth the extra effort.

Bottom Line
While every one of these masks performed efficiently, keeping flies out with minimal rub marks, The Crusader in the long style with ears is our absolute favorite. Frankly, we wonder why no one came up with this innovative design sooner. If your horse doesn’t like his ears or his nose covered, we suggest The Crusader in a different style. It is a comfortable, durable mask.

If your budget is a concern, the Best Buy at $13.95 is the Absorbine UltraShield free-form mask. The UltraShield mask’s new material proved acceptable in durability and will fit a wide variety of horses, simplifying fit problems.

Contact Your Local Tack Store Or: FarnamCompanies 800/234-2269; Equine Designs 623/546-3373; Horse Sense 480/483-2217; Kensington Protective Products 909/469-1240; Royal Riders 800/437-6676; Robin G/Cashel Company 800/333-2202; Absorbine/W.F. Young Inc. 800/628-9653.