We all fight an endless battle to keep our horses bite-free during the buggiest days of summer. We have lots of ammunition: traps, sheets, masks, sprays.
Each item plays a role in aiding us to win the War of the Flies, but fly sprays are what most of us have on the front line. Bottles of fly sprays are usually readily at hand, and a spritz of spray is what we tend to use most often. It’s our number-one defense against biting insects when we’re riding or showing.
Fly sprays come ready-mixed in spray bottles or in concentrated form we dilute ourselves and pour into our own spray bottles. In the past we looked at fly sprays in the ready-mixed form. This time we took on the concentrates.
Some of the concentrates we tested were chemical, but many considered themselves “natural.” All required measuring and mixing before applying. Over the heat and humidity of the summer, we measured, mixed and sprayed pastured horses, trail horses, lesson horses and stalled horses. Concentrates have both advantages and disadvantages when compared to ready-mixed bottles, but we think the advantages truly outweigh the disadvantages.
The obvious reason to choose a concentrate is cost. Most concentrates end up being cheaper per quart than ready-mixed fly sprays. But we found another distinct advantage to concentrates: They give you the option of mixing a stronger solution if the intensity of the fly invasion calls for stronger measures. Even when the flies aren’t at their worst, we still find that most concentrates work better when mixed at higher concentrations than instructed on the label.
Of course, doing so increases the cost per quart, although we decided it’s worth the price. We found dark-coated horses, in particular, seem to need a higher concentration or more frequent spraying. Bays, browns and blacks seem to attract more biting insects than grays or horses with white or light-color coats.
You also need to realize you mix these products at a higher level at your own risk. Before you increase the concentration on any product, read the label. Some manufacturers do state that if bugs are particularly bad, the solution can be made stronger. But not all fly-spray makers suggest using a stronger concentration, and the chemical-based insecticides have strict labeling requirements and guidelines for use that are governed by law.
Like the herbal dietary supplements people use, the “natural” fly sprays, which rely on herbs and essential oils to repel insects, are not regulated. You might want to try increasing the concentration of those products if flies are still biting through the normal mix. But remember that “natural” doesn’t mean harmless, so if you feel you need to increase the concentration, proceed with caution and keep an eye out for hives or any other adverse reaction. Some horses can be sensitive to certain herbs and essential oils.
While concentrates have advantages, they have downsides, too. Measuring and mixing your own fly spray can be messy and it’s less convenient that just picking up a ready-filled bottle and spraying away. And having to go out and purchase your own spray bottles is an extra chore and expense (we found some inexpensive, marked spray bottles in a dollar store).
Some concentrates have to be mixed fresh each time you use them ?'' something we feel is not practical, especially if you only have one horse. We found that most people with only one or two horses don’t do it, anyway. They mix up a bottle of concentrate and use it up before mixing up another batch. Not all of the concentrates we had required a new mix each time, so if that is an issue for you, read the labels before you buy.
All of the concentrates we tried did a fairly good job, and overall they seemed to do better than most of their ready-mixed counterparts. To our surprise, we seemed to have better results from the natural-ingredient concentrates than with the chemical concentrates. This could be because we could tweak the mixture a little as needed, or maybe the flies had just built up a resistance to some of the more common chemical ingredients.
All of the natural fly repellent concentrates we tried contained some mixture of essential oils and/or herbs. The ones we found to be most effective contained cedar in some form. Our top pick, Espree Aloe Herbal Horse Spray contains a simple mix of cedarwood, eucalyptus and citronella.
We also found NaturVet Natural Fly Repellent and Flicks to be strong choices. NaturVet’s simple formula of cedar oil, citronella and rosemary did a good job and the mineral oil and lanolin base gave it staying power. It has a fairly pleasant odor, too.
Flicks contains cedarwood and eucalyptus, along with other oils, but no citronella. So if you dislike the odor of citronella, or if any of your horses are sensitive to it, Flicks would be a good choice for your barn.
The Triple J Concentrated Citronella Oil isn’t exactly a concentrate (in that you can just add water and go), but this small bottle of pure, pungent citronella oil created some strong fly repellents. There are two recipes on the label, and both require mixing it with Avon’s Skin-So-Soft and cider vinegar or with Skin-So-Soft, vinegar and water. Both produced a powerful repellent that might drive you out of the barn right along with the flies.
We also tried adding a little of this concentrate to some of the other natural fly sprays in our trial, and it seemed to give them an added punch.