Because flies are such unwelcome intruders in our lives with our horses, we devote a lot of editorial space to how to kill them, repel them or ban them from the barn. Most of our trials of fly control products have been aimed at protecting horses turned out or standing in stalls or shooing the suckersduring a short schooling session. But how do you shield your horse from stinging bites (and a bucking fit) while riding long after most fly sprays lose their effect' Cover ?em up.
Masking the problem.
Riding in a fly mask can certainly help horses irritated by flies around its face, but any fly mask you grab off the shelf, or from a hook in the barn, might not be suitable. Some don't allow the horse to see through them clearly enough or won?t fit comfortably with a bridle. So we collected fly masks marketed as being suitable for riding.
We looked at them ? and through them (yes, we walked around with them on own heads) ? and came up with four things we consider most important: how well it stood off the eyes; how well the horse could see through it; that it caused no interference with the bit or reins; and how easy it was to put on.
For the horse simply bothered by flies on its face, a fly mask without ears will probably work fine. But if you ride where gnats, deer flies, and/or sheep flies are a problem, having the ears covered really helps. If you prefer the ears covered, we found that not all ear ?sleeves? in fly masks are made the same. Some we tried were sewn from the same stiff material as the mask, while others had ear covers made from softer, more pliable fabric. The stiff ear covers were a little better at keeping mosquitoes off, but we found we preferred the soft ear nets for the horse's comfort. Not that the stiff ones caused any irritation, we just felt that with the soft covers the horse could turn its ?listening ear? back toward us a little easier.
For masks without ears, we wanted some sort of soft edging to prevent rubbing. Three of the masks ? the Super Mask II by Farnam, the DuraMask from Durvet and the TuffRider Citronella-Scented Fly Mask ? had a wide open slot that slipped over both ears. That's easy to put on but ? bzzz, here comes the sheep flies again ? because the ears and the area between them are exposed it provides a large space for these poll-sitters to land.
For a horse with a white face or sensitive muzzle, we like a mask with a long nose, like the Quiet Ride Long Nose from Cashel and the UltraShield EX from Absorbine. The UltraShield EX Mask came down to just above the nostrils, but was nicely cut back on the sides to avoid the bit. The long nose on the Quiet Ride mask came down far enough to keep flies off the muzzle and provided sun protection.
A simple solution for horses not keen on fly masks is the Cavallo Simple Ride Mask. This little patch of stiff, black net attached to the bridle and stayed on it, always there, ready to go, when we put the bridle on. It also comes with ears, if needed.In the height of fly season, however, we preferred a full mask.
While we used most of the fly masks over the bridle, two ? the Centaur Lycra Fly Mask from English Riding Supply and the Comfort Plus Fly Mask from Schneiders ? both fit easily under the bridle. These two masks were similar in style, stretching to cover the face, poll, jaw, jowls and ears. Both fit closely around the face, keeping even persistent flies out. Both zipped up under the jaw, which was a hard to do without catching any chin hairs in the zipper. We later reverted to zipping them up first and pulling them on over the horse's head.
If you want to keep every last fly out from under a fly mask, this clingy style could be worth the effort it takes to put it on. We found the Comfort Plus fly mask a little sturdier with tougher net and a metal zipper.
We don't recommend wearing a fly mask while jumping, but you can at least protect the ears with an ?ear bonnet.? We tried a simple, inexpensive cotton, crocheted ear cover from Chick?s Saddlery that worked fine alone or over a fly mask that did not have ear covers.
Other Body Parts.
Flies don't only land on the head, they also pick on the rump and neck. One favorite spot, especially for those big horse flies, is the top of the rump, where evolution has taught them the horse can't reach with its tail. We sometimes don't know a horse fly or greenhead has landed there until we get a huckabuck from the horse. Since we can't easily reach that spot either while mounted, we tried some horse ?clothing? designed to block the bite and stop the buck before it starts.
The simple solution was a rumpcover. The Horse Fly Net was a square of stiff mesh that pinned to the saddle pad and just laid across the top of the rump. It worked pretty well until a gust of wind flipped it up and over.
The Tough1 Rump Fly Scrim from JT International was a soft black net that attached to the saddle with hook-and-loop straps and had a crupper-type tie that went under the tail to keep it down.
We had as much trouble with flies landing on our horses? necks as we did the rumps. Cashel?s Quiet Ride Hood covered the horse's neck from poll to pommel. It was a little trouble to put on, but it stayed once it was there and helped keep flies off the neck for as long as we rode.
The Overall Solutions.
You can cover the rump or neck or face, but if you live in Serious Fly Land, you may need a suit. Cashel?s Quiet Ride Bug Armor covered our horses from poll to pommel and cantle to croup. Some testers didn't like riding with that much net flowing, but others found it great ? closest to riding in a fly sheet.
Covering the horse with nets is a good way to block flies, but if you don't want to be bothered putting them on or can't use them for the particular type of riding you're planning to do, you may like a fly whisk. We took the County Whips Fly Whisk from English Riding Supply on many trail rides and found swishing flies off the horse's neck, rump and ears was simple. Some of our horses that weren?t wearing fly masks quickly learned to crane their necks around so we could swish a fly from the face. it's a good option when riding in the woods or brush where nets might catch on things. Most of us found ourselves gently swishing the horsehair ?tail? all over the horse as we rode, a sort of friendly game like horses play with each other.
For riding, our favorite fly mask was the Cashel Quiet Ride Long Nose with Ears. The $12.90 Riders International mask earns Best Buy.
For covering other body parts, we liked the Tough1 Rump Fly Skrim for the rump. For the neck, the Quiet Ride Hood from Cashel did a good job without a lot of extra net.
But our unanimous favorite tool was the County Whips Fly Whisk. Both riders and horses found this tool effective and just plain fun.