Since our start in 1994, fly sprays have been a virtual ongoing field trial in our test barns. Like you, we’re constantly looking for a repellent that works and lasts.
We prefer sprays over wipes or roll-ons, except for the head area, where we want to avoid spraying the eyes, nose and mouth. Roll-ons are great for the head, much easier to use than a messy rag or mitt.
While we’ve found that oil-based products may do a better job than water-based repellents in the fight against flies, we’re not keen on the oily, dirty residue they leave on our horses’ coats. Water-based sprays are cleaner, less slick and many include coat conditioners, too.
Start your spraying routine with a groomed horse. Never spray areas where you’re going to place tack, unless the bottle specifically says you can. You could cause skin irritation and the area may become slippery.
Always do a 24-hour spot test when using a product new to your horse. Spray the stuff you’re using for the first time in a small area you’ll remember, such as the point of the shoulder or the front of the fetlock. Wait 24 hours and check to be sure there’s no reaction to the product, such as heat, swelling or flaking skin. If there is a reaction, get a different product.
For most schooling sessions, we skip spraying the head, opting for a riding fly mask, like the one from Cashel Co. (www.cashelcompany.com, 800-333-2202). It may help with headshaking issues, too. Riding masks are made of a lighter, more see-through material. They won’t hold up well in a pasture situation, where the horse might rub his head and roll, but they’re great over a bridle.
It’s a no-brainer that concentrates — the products you mix with water yourself — are the most economical choice. We caution you to mix according to the manufacturer’s specifications, using the weakest recommended concentration first and moving to a higher dilution if necessary. If the manufacturer doesn’t say you can increase the dilution, don’t. You may do harm to your horse.
With concentrates — and many ready-mixes for that matter — be sure you shake the bottle to evenly distribute the active ingredients before applying the spray. Note: Many concentrates will tell you to only mix enough spray for so many days use. Pay attention to these guidelines to achieve maximum effectiveness.
We like to purchase our own sprayer and mark the bottle with a permanent marker to show us how much concentrate to pour in and then how much water to add. It’s easer than constantly measuring concentrate and water.
If you prefer to avoid chemicals, we understand. But take care with herbal products, too. It’s an overused phrase but ”natural doesn’t necessarily mean safe.” Read labels. Don’t mix ingredients if you’re not sure you can. Herbals can burn, sting and smell as bad as some chemicals.
Although herbal-product choices have increased and improved dramatically since they first appeared on the market, remember that there’s a reason manufacturers began using chemicals to fight insects: Overall, we find chemicals work better.
That said, we use naturals as much as possible and keep a chemical product on hand for times when the natural spray can’t cut it. Be sure you rinse thoroughly or, better yet, bathe the horse before switching products to avoid reactions.
Citronella oil is a common ingredient in most natural products (and some products with chemicals, too). It’s effective. That’s why so many people seem to think Avon’s Skin-So-Soft, which contains citronella, works well against bugs on horses (we haven’t seen it happen in our trials, though).
Throughout our trials, we’ve found that herbal products tend to have a good effect on our horse’s coat, leaving it soft and silky, even soothing dry skin. If you’re dealing with a horse with sensitive skin, try EQyss Marigold first. It’s effective, and we’ve had horses where nothing else would do.
Animal Legend’s Flicks spray concentrate has beaten some chemical sprays in our testing. It’s effective even on hot, muggy days and works well against mosquitoes, too, something many other products can’t deter.
The Espree Aloe Herbal Horse Spray does a wonderful job conditioning our horses’ coats as well as providing them with a good defense against a variety of flies. It’s a blend of citronella, eucalyptus and cedarwood. Frankly, we’re not taking anything away from citronella, but we think one of the best natural ingredients is cedar.
Repel-Xp from Farnam has been around for five decades for a good reason: It works. We like to buy this concentrate and mix it at one of the two different recommended strength levels, depending upon our needs.
A newer product from Farnam, Mosquito Halt, provides good protection against mosquitoes and nearly everything else we’ve seen. Bugs seem to drop out of the air with this spray. With its residual effect, you’re getting more for your money. We reach for this product frequently.
DuraGuard, from Absorbine, appeared on the market in 2006, and we’re impressed with its effects against some tough flies.
We’ve tried ”one-spot” or ”spot-on” fly repellents with limited success over the years. Equine manufacturers are trying to duplicate the success of similar products for pets, but we haven’t seen the same results. Perhaps it’s due to the size of the animal or maybe the fact that horses get groomed, bathed and they sweat more frequently. For whatever reason, our positive result with these products is limited to their use on pasture horses. Note: some horses who have reactions to ultra concentrated spot products.
If you have a candidate for a spot fly product, we suggest that you confine its use to the heaviest fly season and not use it any longer or more often than the manufacturer recommends. We think the best choice is War Paint.
We reach first for Aloe Espree Herbal for most uses around our barn and at competitions. During the heaviest bug season, and especially on horses that are out during peak feeding hours, we don’t think you’ll find anything to stop flies and mosquitoes like Mosquito Halt.