When it comes to fly masks, consider first what your priority is and what environment your horse will be in:
- Will he be turned out in a herd?
- Will he wear it in his stall or standing in a stall?
- Will he wear it when being ridden?
- Does he need protection for an eye condition or injury?
- Is he thin skinned and/or prone to skin irritation?
- Does he need protection of the lower nose due to sunburn or insect irritation?
Answers to these important questions can eliminate some masks from your consideration. Download a copy of this article here.
The continued refinement of fly masks offers consumers more for their money. We’re seeing:
- Shaped construction;
- Increased durability;
- Double eye darts;
- The use of more than one material in a mask.
We remember when Cashel Company first released their Crusader fly mask, almost two decades ago, and revolutionized what we saw on the market with their shaped, multi-fabric and multi-length choices. Since that time, the Crusader has been a perennial favorite in our test barns.
But Shires and Centaur are challenging their reign with additional interior padding on all the seams and zip off nose extension pieces.
We found these masks are luxuriant, and we appreciated their fine-weave mesh to make things more difficult for mosquitoes. Both companies have sizing charts and sizes ranging from mini to extra large.
However if you prefer a less-tailored mask – and some of us do – you’ll be interested in the choices from Bucas, Weatherbeeta and Absorbine. These are good choices for horses that may resent the more fitted masks.
Of course, the Absorbine UltraShield was one of the first “shapeless” masks. In the initial years, they tended to snag more easily than other masks, but that problem has long been fixed with a superior, stronger weave. It is a strong choice.
Both the Bucas and WeatherBeeta masks are also well made. Our horses seemed to keep them on, even in turnout groups. We found that less fleece and padding meant the masks were less messy, mucky and wet.
Another trend is toward extremely plush heavily padded masks. If your horse has sensitive skin and needs the protection consider Intrepid’s Charlie Bug-Off fly mask, Farnam’s Super Mask or Schneider Saddlery’s Mosquito Mesh fly mask. They all use heavy padding on the edging.
Intrepid’s mask uses a short nap fleece that does not hold dirt. Kensington also has the option of masks with padding. However, the more padding the more opportunity to hold moisture and dirt, which may ultimately irritate the sensitive skin you’re trying to protect.
TOUGH AS NAILS MASKS
If your horse will wear his fly mask in a playful herd you will need solid heavy-duty construction and good fit. This is a double-edged sword as heavier materials can cause rubs if not applied and fitted properly. Turnout horses get dirty and stay dirty longer. Fleece will hold dirt and moisture against the skin which could lead to issues.
Safety is important as a fly mask can get hung up on a fence or shed. Multiple hook-and-loop fasteners – single and double - increase the likelihood the mask may not release. No, it’s not fun to search for lost masks but it’s worse to think about what can happen if a horse gets hung up and cannot free himself. A little elastic on the straps might give the horse a little give if he gets stuck. It doesn’t guarantee safety, but it might help.
We felt the most durable masks were from Kensington and Durvet. These masks proved extremely sturdy and held up under the toughest turnout conditions.
MEDIUM AND LIGHTWEIGHT MASKS
Most of the masks in our trial wouldn’t hold up for the determined fly mask destroyer in your herd but are fine for “normal” horses.
Our favorites here were from Cashel, Shires and Centaur. We know some folks shy away from Cashel Crusader masks because of the higher price, but we’ve found they usually last for many seasons (Farnam masks are also traditionally long-lasters).
Absorbine’s UltraShield fly mask improves each year. We like the catch loop and soft fleecy material on the mask underside. Because they use two single fasteners, we would consider the Absorbine mask one of the safer choices for horses who tend to get hung up on things. However, the downside is that their turnout buddies can pull open the straps easily and remove the mask.
One other note on these: They ship in plastic tubes. We found it can affect fit initially. We just hose them down and let them hang dry before using them. All the creases just disappear.
FLY MASKS AND VISIBILITY
All masks obscure a horse’s vision to some degree and, depending on the weave and material, that may be significant. Add in dirt from turnout and/or rain and it may become even worse.
One of our biggest frustrations is that few manufacturers give UV protection or visibility percentages. When you hold up different masks and look directly through them the variability is startling. It would be much easier if they were labeled by the makers. (Note: If you’re choosing a mask for a uveitis case you want the highest degree of UV protection and decreased light getting to the eyes. The Guardian Horse Mask is your choice for uveitis. Go to www.horsemask.com.)
Many people worry about vision impairment when you ride with a fly mask on. This is why we would avoid riding in anything except a mask specifically designed for riding. Even then, jumping and other activities that depend on the horse’s ability to determine depth may be seriously impaired by the use of any mask. Caution should be exercised.
LOTS OF TLC
Don’t leave fly masks on your horse 24/7. We know it’s easier, but the risk is too great. For one thing, impaired night vision can lead to accidents if a horse is startled and runs into a solid object or building. Some cases sadly ended in death.
And, when the horses live in fly masks, you may miss seeing an eye or head injury. One of the worst things that can happen with an eye injury is a delay in treatment.
In addition – and this is no small matter – flies and bees have been found inside fly masks, unable to find their way out.
If you see your horse acting unusual, get out there and pull off that fly mask! Sometimes insects make their ways to the ear tips, annoying the horse like crazy. Other times, they just crawl around, sometimes stinging. Some horse owners have actually given up fly masks for this reason.
We strongly recommend a horse be checked minimum once a day by removing the mask and looking at both eyes, ears and the head. It will save a lot of trouble and time if you do catch an injury early.
It was a tough choice for top pick, as this is a strong group of products. It was neck to neck between Centaur’s Got Flies mask and Cashel’s Crusader masks. But, ultimately, the durability of the Cashel product along with their commitment to helping charities like horse rescues and Breast Cancer Awareness gave them our top spot. (Well, we also like that they make a donkey fly mask as well.) Download a chart of all masks in this trial here.
Cashel has continued to improve the product each year and added great patterns and colors into the line.
That said, Centaur, which is from powerhouse manufacturer English Riding Supply, set the bar high for innovative use of materials and the tailoring of their product. The luxurious feel and soft weave made the product one we look forward to using again.
For a Best Buy, it’s Durvet, narrowly knocking Farnam out of that slot. Durvet produces a heavy-duty turnout fly mask at an almost unbeatable price.
For 24/7 turnout, we choose Absorbine UltraShield mask, which is a loose, durable mask that we think is best for horses who are constantly wearing a fly mask.
Article by Contributing Writer Beth Hyman.