With all the variations in fly masks, we can’t think of any reason not to have your horse wear one. You can get masks with or without ears, in a long or very short version and in a soft material or a firmer PVC-mesh, which will do a pretty good job to withstand any rubbing or chewing that might occur when your horse is turned out. However, you may have some trouble deciding which mask is best for your situation. We can help.
PVC is a durable choice for a fly mask, as it withstands rubs and abrasions better than nearly any other material. However, the mask needs eye darts or another method of holding the material away from the horse’s eyes.
We don’t like stiff masks that squish the horse’s eyelashes, let alone rub his eyes. And we don’t want the horse’s vision obstructed by poorly placed or designed darts. The Kensington Bug Eye mask’s new design places a puffed-out bubble of PVC over the eye area, which we thought was a brilliant idea. If Kensington Products can figure out a way to stop it from pressing inward when the horse rubs the eye area, they’ll be right on the money.
The Elite Fly Mask also has a fun design to keep the eye area clear. It reminds us of a lady’s bonnet, with the large bottom rim of the bonnet sitting at about eye level with netting coming down from there and fit snugly at the horse’s nose for a secure fit. Again, though, we had trouble when the horse rubbed or rolled — usually the mask came off.
A simple way to solve the eye-fit problem is to choose a softer-material mask, like the Schneider’s Mosquito Mesh or the Absorbine UltraShield Fly Bonnet. The material choice is a trade-off, though, as you may be sacrificing a bit of durability. That said, we didn’t have any major problems with durability or wear with these masks, and we prefer the softer material, as we think it’s more comfortable for the horse than PVC-type materials.
Some folks want their horse’s ears covered, while others don’t. We think ears are the wisest way to go, especially to help deter gnats, but we’re not going to argue about it. Most manufacturers use a soft mesh material over the horse’s ear, which we like. Mask ears made out of PVC material can cause rubs and make it difficult for an approaching person to know if the horse’s ears are perked forward in greeting or laid back in warning. If you’re looking at a mask with PVC ears, be sure the ear area is lined with something soft to help with rubs.
All the fly masks in our trial had hook-and-loop closures (aka Velcro). Several incorporated elastic in the closure, while others did not. Adding elastic to a closure gives the horse some play, but it also may make it easier for the horse to slip the mask off. Although we didn’t have trouble with our test horses purposely trying to get the masks off, we know that other horses do, especially if they’re young. In these cases, non-elastic closures may make it tougher.
Some masks had two closures, with one usually located at the throatlatch and the other a little lower on the mask. We don’t think this is a necessity, although a few masks, like the Absorbine UltraShield and the Schneider’s Mosquito Mesh, used the design to their advantage by doing a great job covering up the jowl area.
We think Velcro double-closures — which place the center hook piece between two loop pieces — should be reserved for situations where a horse likes to grab the closure on another horse’s mask and open it up. Otherwise, it’s a lot of effort to put on and off, and it fits so securely we are concerned that the horse could even get it to break apart easily in an emergency. One test horse managed to tear the PVC trying to get a mask off, but the double closure held strong.
If you have a reason for using these closures, fit the mask a little more loosely so that it will slip off of his head in an emergency but not so loose that you’re inviting flies in.
We want as much of our horse’s head protected from the flies as possible. Of course, keeping the pests out of the horse’s eyes and ears are our primary concerns, but we think it’s got to be annoying to have flies walking all over your nose, too. For this reason, we believe the longer the mask the better.
The Cashel Crusader’s long design outshines all others here. Its one-piece fit looks sharp and comfortable and gets the job done. A few masks, like the Valley Vet Superb, the My Horse Specialties mask and the Kensington Bug Eye, have detachable nose pieces. We think it’s wiser to either buy a one-piece long mask or a standard mask. The nose piece is simply something else to chase after.
For horses that won’t accept the lengthy Crusader (one test horse constantly tried to chew at the part around her mouth), we recommend the Horse Sense long design. It’s longer than a standard mask but shorter than the Crusader and is one piece.
If you purposely want a mask that just covers the eyes, you’ll find them in our chart (see the ones with a ”we wish” comment).
The Crusader also offers an advantage for horses with long forelocks — it has a hole so you can pull the forelock through and it’s not under the mask.
We tried the masks in two barns over the course of the fly season. Testers watched for signs of rubs, comfort levels, rubbing, lost masks, tears and snags. We also noted our preferences and our horse’s preferences.
We don’t like short masks. Masks that come in a standard length reaching at least midway between the horse’s eyes and nostrils are acceptable. Longer masks are even better. We like ears, and we want soft materials in as many areas as possible. We know PVC-material masks wear better, so we want a combination of materials.
The Cashel Crusader mask does all that and more. Its fit is unsurpassed, and you can get virtually any design you need. Plus, we found this mask will outlast most other masks. Crusader remains our No. 1 recommendation for a fly mask.
If your horse doesn’t like the long extension on the Crusader and you want more coverage than a standard mask will give you, try the Horse Sense Long Fly Mask. It’s basically an oversize fly mask.
It’s a toss up between the Schneider’s Mosquito Mesh and the Absorbine UltraShield as our favorite soft-material mask. The UltraShield offers more in durability, though, and earns Best Buy.
Honorable mention clearly goes to the Kensington Bug Eye. It narrowly missed an Editor’s Choice note, only because we’d like the eyes to be designed so they aren’t as likely to press in if the horse rolls or rubs.