Fly control begins with good stable management. This means you need to clean up and spread manure, keep debris from feeds swept up and consider fly traps, parasitic wasps or even barn misters. And be sure your horse has on his fly armor, meaning at least a fly mask.
If you want full-coverage, you’ll need a fly sheet. We found Saratoga Summer Turnout (www.horseworks.com 800-848-1914) the top pick. It’s a nicely priced, lightweight sheet that has a single well-placed belly surcingle. If money’s no object, Classic Cover-ups (www.classiccover-ups.com 610-932-9400) offers two strong, durable choices in their Big Kahuna and Horses In Black models. Both sheets give good coverage in a rip-resistant Textilene fabric with secure surcingles.
Top off that fly sheet with a Cashel Crusader fly mask (www.cashelcompany.com 800-333-2202) and Royal Riders fly boots (www.royalriders.com 800-437-6676) and you’re set — or at least your horse is. You’ve still got to pay for it all.
Natural-ingredient fly sprays don’t impress us as much as chemical-based choices for maximum control, but we know they have their place, especially for those horses and people extra-sensitive to chemicals. If you’re inclined to “go natural,” Xtreme Design Shield Fly Spray (www.xtremedesignproducts.com 866-811-5575) is one of the strongest choices on the market. However, at $24.50 a quart, it’s also expensive. You might want to save it for those “must have it” situations. For everyday use, we think it’s tough to beat Animal Legends Flicks (www.animallegends.com 800-399-7387) and Chamisa Ridge’s EquiMist Concentrate (www.chamisaridge.com 800-743-3188). Both are reasonably priced concentrated formulas that you add water to before using.
If you’re more interested in chemical power, we like Farnam’s Bite Free (www.farnamhorse.com 800-234-2269), Absorbine UltraShield (www.absorbine.com 800-628-9653) and Bio-Groom’s Repel-35 spray (www.biogroom.com 800-762-0232). Neogen’s Gnatural (www.neogen.com 800-477-8201) is great on those pesky no-see-ums.
When considering a fly spray’s effectiveness, we’ve yet to see a product that we feel truly lasts over 24 hours. In fact, if you do get a full day’s coverage, you’re doing really well.
Overall, oil-based sprays tend to have more staying power, but they’re messy and attract more dust. Most sprays today are water-based. Remember, too, that you’ll still see flies land, even with a good product. The difference is that the bug should leave immediately without biting the horse.
Always reapply sprays after the horse sweats, gets caught in the rain or is bathed. Keep in mind that you may need different ingredients to target different fly species. We’ve also found that flies can become seemingly “immune” to products that are used year after year in every barn in the neighborhood. It may be wise to rotate your choices just a bit.
With all new fly sprays, do a test spot on your horse and wait 24 hours to see if there’s a reaction. Horses can have reactions to different sprays, whether they’re just unusually sensitive to one of the ingredients or the mix of ingredients in that specific brand. And don’t switch back and forth between sprays without being sure the previous spray is gone. A residual effect could also result in a skin reaction.
You should conduct daily tick searches on your horse, as ticks can spread some nasty diseases, especially Lyme. Remove a tick with tweezers, grasping its head as close to the skin as possible and pulling it straight out. Favorite tick locations include the mane, tail, elbow area and fetlocks. Ear ticks are especially troublesome as they can cause head shyness, touchy ears and headshaking.
We like permethrin sprays to discourage ticks, saturating the hair of the lower legs, mane and tails. Permethrin is also your main defense against mosquitoes (think West Nile). Although nothing’s 100%, we like the concentrate called Permethrin 10. You can find it through your farm/livestock supply dealer or by searching online for “permethrin 10.” Just 1.5 ounces of the concentrate and water make a gallon of about 0.1% permethrin spray. We think permethrin is more effective on mosquitoes and ticks than the pyrethrins usually found contained in commercial sprays.
You can also discourage some crawling insects and reduce that hoof-destroying stomping by using a gel-based fly product on your horse’s legs. Gels are easy to apply to small areas like legs. Use plastic gloves to apply the gel. Topfit Fly-Off Gel (www.topfit.com 888-373-3853) and Absorbine’s SuperShield Green (www.absorbine.com 800-628-9653) are both good gel choices (SuperShield is also available as a spray) and are made from natural ingredients.
For effective fly control around small wounds or scratches, we love Farnam’s Swat, which is available in the traditional pink or a clear ointment (www.farnamhorse.com 800-234-2269).
Trapping flies in your barn remains a solid option for fly control, and we’ve come a long way since those long orange fly strips — although they’re still available and effective, if not unsightly. For indoor control, the Paraclipse Terminator (www.paraclipse.com 800-854-6379) is an effective zapper or you can go to sticky traps. The Coburn Mr. Sticky Roll (www.mrsticky.com 800-776-7042) and Eaton Stick-A-Fly Glue (www.jteaton.com 800-321-3421) are both strong choices. The Victor Fly Magnet (www.victorpest.com 800-800-1819) is more aesthetic — at least until it’s full — if you’d rather avoid the stick-kill routine. For control of pasture horse and deer flies, we suggest Horse Pal (www.bitingflies.com 888-685-2244). Our horses literally hung out in its vicinity.
Helpful articles on fly-control products:
• May 2003 “It’s Give And Take With Natural Sprays” (natural fly sprays)
• June 2003 “It’s Insect vs. Insect” (parasitic wasps)
• June 2003 “Get Ticked Off At Ticks” (tick control)
• July 2003 “Mist Away Those Flies” (barn fly misters)
• March 2002 “Saratoga, EEG Tops in Fly Sheets” (fly sheets)
• April 2002 “Make Your Barn The Last Stop For Flies” (fly traps)
• May 2002 “Put Long-Term Fly Control Out To Pasture” (choices for pastured horses)