Tabanid flies are blood-suckers (the females) whose bites are extremely painful. They range from the small deer flies to the inch-long dive-bombing deer flies that strike fear in the hearts of both horse and human alike. These flies actually slice a chunk of flesh from the horse when they bite, and may bite multiple times.
A Hungarian study recently released showed that tabanids are primarily attracted by reflected polarized light from black and brown coats, a phenomenon called positive polarotaxis. They found the flies to be much less attracted to white horses. White sheets may therefore help hide your dark horses from tabanids, although they could still zero in on the head and neck.
Fly Sheet Choices
When choosing a fly sheet, remember that a PVC-coated material, like Textilene, will likely hold up better for turnout and rough play. Fortunately, the days of ultra-stiff PVC sheets are mostly gone. They still don’t sit quite as close to the horse as a soft mesh sheet, but they are more durable and less likely to snag.
Fit is paramount, of course, so be sure you find out how the manufacturer measures. Most go from the center of the tail to the center of the chest. Shoulder gussets and surcingles are necessities, and we find that leg straps definitely help to keep the sheet in place. Look for elastic detachable leg straps.
For the horse’s chest, choose a sheet that won’t gap or sag. A hook-and-loop or Velcro-type closure under the buckles here can help.
Some companies go the extra mile in horse-comfortable designs like the Adjusta-Fit closure design (www.sstack.com, 800-365-1311) that allows you to custom fit the shoulders. The Turtle Neck Designs (http://www.turtleneckinfo.com/, 888-371-1519) blankets and sheets have elastic in the neckline that can make a difference in your horse’s comfort, especially when grazing.
Fly masks, fly boots, belly bands and neck covers help, too, of course, but don’t go overboard. You need to be careful not to make your horse too hot out in the sun. On very hot days, just fly spray may be the better option.