Fly sheets are great for horses, as they do make it more difficult for flies to bite. It won’t stop them from buzzing around or landing on the horse, however. That’s nothing new when it comes to fighting flies. Download a PDF of this article here.
While chemical fly sprays often have a killing ingredient, the effect isn’t immediate - you rarely see a fly land on a horse wearing fly spray and then drop dead. Herbal fly sprays deter flies, too, but they still land and annoy the horse (and horse owner!).
To actually reduce fly activity on your farm, consider using fly parasites. Ask anyone who has ever used these insects correctly - that’s extremely important and every time we’ve heard of a failure we’ve learned of something done incorrectly - and they will tell you the difference was dramatic. The Horse Pal fly traps also will help stop the biting flies.
But fly sheets help, too, and many of the sheets boast UV protection as well, which is increasingly important. For mosquito patrol, you’re going to need the finest mesh you can find and, even then, it’s virtually impossible to cover every speck of the horse’s body to stop mosquitoes. They’ll bite anywhere.
When using a fly sheet on your horses, you need to take into account the temperature and humidity prior to dressing them. Profuse sweating and possible overheating are real concerns. Think about it – if it’s 100 degrees in the shade, you probably want as lightweight clothing as you can find.
The second drawback to fly sheets is their propensity to cause shoulder rubs, even when the sheets fit well. This may well be caused by the sweat and trapped heat coupled with the sheet sliding around as the horses move about. Despite flies being at their worst in hot temperatures, we usually left sheets off and fly masks on until it became cooler. Often we used sheets overnight as protection from mosquitoes and gnats and removed them when it became too hot.
In our trial, the PVC-coated nylon sheets helped the horses stay cooler, it seemed, but they had a much longer break-in period before they conformed to the horse. We consider that as a comfort factor. The polyester mesh that just flows over the horse as soon as you put it on appears more comfortable to wear. But they aren’t as durable as PVC-coated choices.
In this trial, we noticed the fly sheets really trended toward extreme protection. Many we tested included neck covers, belly coverage and very fine mesh to protect from smaller insects and UV rays. And the Bucas Zebra print sheet has some validity to the “stripes confuse flies” research from a few years ago.
We find two main types of fly sheet on the market:
PVC-coated woven nylon: These are usually lightweight but stiff till broken in. We find they’re more likely to cause rubs, so we prefer that these sheets have lining at the shoulder. However, they are less likely to snag or rip during turnout than the polyester sheets. Overall, these sheets were cooler for the horses.
Polyester mesh: These fabrics are softer but heavier than the PVC sheets, but we’ve found they tend to snag and tear more easily. Overall, these sheets appeared to be more comfortable for the horses, but we could be anthropomorphizing things, thinking these sheets would be more comfortable for us.
Of the 19 fly sheets in our trial, you can’t make a bad choice. If budget is your primary concern, you can run down our chart, choose one solely by price and get through the summer. We weren’t unhappy with any sheet in the trial. But, after a brutally hot and humid 2013 summer, we do have our favorites and top picks:
Over the years, we’ve found consistent high quality at a good price from Schneiders Saddlery, and these sheets are no different, from the draft-size specialty Big Fella Mosquito Net Fly Sheet to their terrific D-Tech Ripstop Mesh Euro Fly sheet. We appreciate the variety of options Schneiders offers in fit, plus we’ve found they offer exceptional customer service with an up-front, detailed warranty statement.
D-Tech Ripstop Mesh Euro Fly Sheet – A top performer for us, as temps soared into the 90s. The white reflective nylon weave fabric kept the horses cool and held up under tough turnout conditions. It is a very economical choice at $59.99. (Please note the neck opening is large in these. You may need to order a size down.) This sheet did not let us down and handily outperformed many more expensive products.
Centaur’s Got Flies Body Shield - This is a lovely sheet from English Riding Supply that feels silky soft to the touch. It provided extreme protection with an attached neck and belly protector. The company inserted a stretch panel at the base of neck to allow the horse to graze comfortably. There is nylon lining in the shoulders and over the mane. This is a beautifully crafted fly sheet that looks and feels well-made. It tested perfectly both in turnout and in the barn. At $89.95, we think it is a steal.
We had a three-way battle here. These sheets featured tons of pluses, and one had the addition of insect repellent into the fabric. We were concerned about possible irritation from the repellent, though none of the test horses had a reaction. It would be something to watch for when initially trying the product on your horse. (We would avoid use on horses known to have allergic reactions to fly spray.) All of these sheets are well-designed and solidly built, holding up extremely well to our band of equine testers.
SHEETS WITH REPELLENT
Exselle Fly Bye Fly Sheet - All the bells and whistles you’d expect in a luxury fly sheet. The various keepers and design additions made this sheet easy to use. It stayed in place and offered complete protection with a generous removable neck cover. It is constructed of soft reflective poly mesh infused with repellant said to last two years or 25 cold-water washes. If you’re looking for complete protection, this is a solid choice. Retailing for $115 to $130.
WeatherBeeta Supa-Fly - Another mega-protection sheet including the repellent Permetherin. This sheet is made of lightweight mosquito netting type mesh with tight weave. Durable sheet with only a few minor snags during out trial. When combined with a fly mask, it offered almost total protection. It has a shoulder gusset and a fairly deep fall for bigger-bodied horses.
SHEETS WITHOUT REPELLENT
Professional’s Choice Fly Sheet – We love this fabric! It’s our favorite fabric of all the ones in this trial. It is extremely durable and still breathable/airy. Offers polyester rip-stop nylon. Very tailored. We found it fit best on a QH-type build. Ideal choice for warm climates.
Shires Maxi Flow Fly Sheet – This is a beautiful product. Everything from the tailoring to the hardware came out on top. It’s nice enough to use as a scrim at shows with a pretty, natural color and navy trim with a tan stripe.
The polyester mesh fabric feels silky yet breathable while offering UV protection. The generous neck cover is removable and has a nylon lining to protect the mane.
We liked being able to remove the neck cover, especially in hot weather. The large belly protector closes with two adjustable surcingles. Satin lining at the chest helps prevent rubs. It is remarkably well priced at $119.
Buzz Off Zebra Fly Sheet - One of the more interesting products we’ve ever seen. The reason Bucas designed a sheet like this is because the pattern of a zebra’s coat actually repels flies, and we verified such a research study does exist. And, we were amazed to see the research’s conclusion transferred to real life.
We noticed that there were fewer flies bothering our test “horse in stripes,” although it is possible that it was the horse’s own chemistry. That said, the test horse was a thin-skinned Thoroughbred, a type usually considered a fly “delicacy.”
This sheet stands above the rest in design and construction. Bucas continues to use heavy duty Velcro and stays ahead of the pack in their commitment to high-end horse wear. Same sheet without stripes is called the Buzz Off Fly Sheet.
This field trial was a wonderful opportunity to see how the manufacturers are continuing to create innovative products that keep the comfort and protection of horses in mind, while considering caretakers, too, with easy-to-use choices.
We were especially impressed with the budget products in this trial, as manufacturers are picking up on the need for a trend toward more affordable horse products. We saw our must-have features – detachable elastic leg straps, fleece withers, surcingle elastic, and lined shoulders – on all but a few sheets.
Among the standouts were the Professional’s Choice fly sheet with its unique, durable, lightweight fabric. It is the sheet for the hottest climates. And we have to mention the Bucas Zebra sheet. That black-white stripe design makes a difference.
Overall, though, our favorites came down to that elusive combination of fit, features and quality, with Shires sheet providing all that and more in their exceptional fly sheet.
Best Buy goes to the D-Tech Ripstop Mesh Euro Fly Sheet. At $59.99, it isn’t our least expensive sheet in the trial, but it offers an awful lot for the money.
We look forward to the spring thaw and pulling these fly sheets back out for a second year of testing. Download a PDF of the fly sheets chart (below) here; chart includes live links to websites.
Article by Contributing Writer Beth Hyman.