We do what we can to make our horses comfortable during fly season. We bathe them, keep the stalls picked out and spray horses and stalls. While not a cheap as one bottle of fly spray, a well-made fly sheet can save you money spent on sprays over the summer and bring your horse more hours of relief.
We used these fly sheets throughout one season. We checked out the features, tried them on horses, and took into consideration the effectiveness, the comfort level for the horse and the ease with which we could put them on and off. We also considered how well they washed and how well they held up.
Fly sheets can be divided into two main groups: the stiff, PVC-coated fabric ones (often generically referred to as “Texilene,” which is the trademarked name of the most common fabric used) that are stiff as lawn-chair webbing and tend to stand off the horse’s body and keep flies at bay, and the softer, form-fitting ones that rely on tight-knit or open mesh fabrics to keep flies from biting through it.
What We Found
When it comes to fly sheets, horse owners either like the stiffer fabric or don’t. Our testers who did prefer stiff fabrics had two basic choices: stiff loose sheets that sit up off the horse’s skin and close-fitting sheets that are more like body armor.
Those who shunned the stiff fabrics had lots of choices, from airy open-mesh nets to dense silky jersey-type fabrics. Both camps had additional features to consider, in styles of chest closures, surcingles, snaps, buckles and straps.
One thing everyone agreed on was leg straps, the ones that are elastic and detachable at both ends. While most of the fly sheets did have leg straps, some only had a snap at one end and were sewn into the binding at the other — something we decided wasn’t a good idea. If a leg strap breaks, the sheet is out of commission until you can find someone with the equipment to sew it back on. If a strap detaches at both ends you can easily “borrow” a leg strap from another blanket or sheet.
We like the newer-style snaps with a tongue that pushes inward. They do tend to get clogged with dirt and mud at times and you need a tool to pop them open, but they generally last longer than the spring-loaded, thumb-latch style of snap. They also make attaching the leg straps in a hurry a snap.
We found that some thinner elastic leg straps tended to stretch over time. While they can be knotted to pick up the slack, we liked the sheets with heavy elastic that kept its shape.
We didn’t really like to crisscross the leg straps. While that’s OK on a winter blanket, during fly season a horse often swishes his tail between his legs to get at flies on the belly and the inside of the gaskins. Crossing the straps creates an obstacle, plus the tail can get tangled in them and pull out some of those long tail hairs.
How the chest closed was another consideration, but we had no strong preference. Some testers liked to buckle and unbuckle the front while others preferred the security of a closed front. The bucklers all wanted keepers for the tongues of the straps so they wouldn’t hang down and get out of shape. Most also liked a little hook-and-loop fastener to keep the two sides overlapped.
Those who had horses that would stand still for a sheet to be pulled over their heads said a closed front is a further deterrent to flies getting in under the sheet. And closed fronts never “gape” open.
Bellybands are a great innovation. However, they must fit snugly and cover a decent amount of belly. Bellybands can be useful for a horse that battles sweet-itch on its under belly. Constantly kicking at the underside to get rid of the pests can add to the aggravation and contribute to keeping the sores open.
Some testers worried that a horse could get a hind leg hung up in a bellyband. That is true of surcingle closures, as well, so the answer lies in keeping either the surcingles or bellyband snugged up to a close, but comfortable, fit. We feel bias surcingles, the ones sewn in on a diagonal, are safer than having two, straight surcingles.
Fits and Rubs
Rubbing is always a potential problem with any sheet or blanket. Buying the correct size and adjusting it to fit properly is the best defense. For horses on turnout, release at the shoulders is important. Many sheets have shoulder gussets, which work fine.
Two nifty innovative designs were the Saratoga lighter mesh sheets that had material gathered at the neckline and the Hug sheets that used a crisscross design at the front for almost total front leg freedom.
Rubbing can also be caused by a neck opening that is too big or doesn’t fit right. If the neck opening is too large, the sheet can slip back and pull on the withers and chest. The Adjusta-Fit sheets from Schneiders had a clever design where the size of the neck opening could be adjusted by tightening or releasing a piece of hook-and-look fastener at the shoulder.
Aside from the practical points of adjustment, one of the major concerns was keeping the fly sheets looking clean. Many are made in white, as it reflects the sun and helps keep the horse cooler. But white sheets are almost impossible to get white again. The tans, grays and blues showed less dirt and were easier to keep clean.
Most fly sheets can be washed in a washing machine, but for a quick cleanup between washings you can do a fair job by putting it in a clean muck bucket filled with soapy water and plunging up and down on it with a toilet plunger (a new one bought specifically for the job, of course).
Either way, thoroughly rinsing out the detergent is important. Most rinsed out quickly and easily with a hose. The heavy PVC-coated sheets rinse and dry surprisingly fast as the material doesn’t absorb or hold water.
All the stiff sheets gave good protection from flies and were tough enough to stand up to horses at play. The Glover Fly Sheet with Bellyband from Glover Equine Products was one of our favorites for fit. The wide belly band with elastic straps enabled us to draw it up tight against the underline for maximum protection. We like the sheet’s nicely contoured rump, detachable leg straps and tan color.
We also applaud the Wrangler TwentyX Belly Wrap from Professional’s Choice for its excellent fit and nifty band attachment, and the Adjusta-Fit Dura-Mesh sheets from Schneiders for sheet coverage and toughness.
Of the lighter mesh sheets, the Weaver Fly Sheet (#35-1525) was a trim fit at a good price. For fit, function, effectiveness and ease of use, the Saratoga Summer Turnout was one of the best. We love the light, airy feeling of this fly sheet. We particularly like its gathered material at the neckline that gave the horse a lot of shoulder freedom. We love the leg straps that buckled high on the sides, but we wish they weren’t sewn in.
The stretchy fabric of the Ovation Extreme Athletic Fly Sheet from English Riding Supply was comfortable, and the tight knit really kept the flies out.
In the “stiff” sheets, the Schneiders Dura-Mesh Open Front Turnout #13883/#15554 is our favorite. We love the shaped fit over the withers and the adjustable neck opening that enabled us to comfortably fit horses with both light and heavy front ends. We also liked the shaped rump, the detachable leg straps and the plaid color hid dirt. It’s also nicely priced.
The Best Buy in stiff sheets is easily the Brookside (#25854) from Valley Vet Supply. It offers a neat, close fit with a slightly less stiff fabric at a bargain $49.95.
In soft sheets, the Club Ultra-Fly from Classic Cover-Ups is incredible, combining sleekness with function. We liked the body-hugging fit that didn’t encumber the horse and the tight weave. The sturdy fabric, dressy appearance and the blue color that hid dirt so well contributed to making this fly sheet our winner in soft sheets.
Schneiders Saddlery’s $49.95 Dura-Tech Interlock Mesh Euro Fit (#15964) earns Best Buy in soft-material fly sheets.