Flies have years of evolution and instinct on their side and know to aim for areas where the horse can’t easily reach. The face and ears are favorite spots, as are the moist areas around the eyes and nostrils.
These are all areas that can be difficult, or even unsafe, to spray a repellent. Whether chemical or botanical, the ingredients could hurt a horse’s eyes and lungs, not to mention the damage spraying anything in the horse’s face can do to your relationship.
We sampled a selection of roll-on and wipe-on repellents and found these small-size containers were handy for touch-up treatments and good to take along on a trail ride.
All of them provided some relief for a short time, some a little longer than others. None is an end-all answer to the endless fly problem, and they aren’t a substitute for sprays by any means. Their main benefit is that you can apply protection precisely where your horse needs it. Of course, you can spray regular repellent onto a rag and then carefully wipe the product in these areas, but you lose the convenience of a take-along container and you have a messy rag hanging around.
Most of the applicators had roller-ball tops. As the top ball rolls, it picks up repellent, which you then roll onto the horse’s coat. We found that some containers dripped a little when applied on vertical areas, like the lower leg or the horse’s face, and they sometimes gave us uneven applications. The worst offenders seemed to be products that were water-based.
Overall, the felt-like dauber on the Absorbine Bug Block gave us more control of the product than roller balls and still kept our hands away from the product.
The Absorbine UltraShield Towelettes were also simple to use, but we preferred to wear a plastic glove when using them.
We used these products mainly on the horse’s face, but we also found that they were handy to add a little protection on the fetlocks and under belly, which seem to be areas that are especially attractive to flies.
Running a ”stripe” of liquid repellent along the croup and under the belly, down the back of a leg, on the ears and nostrils is a good way to re-enforce your spray protection. However, don’t mix products in one application. For example, if you’re using Endure Roll-On, combine it with the Endure spray.
Since these types of repellents come in direct contact with the horse’s skin, apply a little to a test area on each horse first to be sure there is no adverse reaction. Some of our horses had some minor skin reactions, some didn’t. Every horse is different.
If you want the convenience of an applicator, you’re going to pay for it. Endure sells for about 62?? per ounce as a spray, but it’s $3 an ounce in the applicator bottle. Bug Block is 40?? as a spray, but $2/ounce in the applicator bottle. Aloe Herbal cost $2.84 for the convenience, while the ready-to-use spray is 46??.
So, our first advice is to make sure this is something you really need. For the most part, we’d limit their uses to right around the eye area and for toting on trail rides. Otherwise, we’re going to spray on a rag and wipe it on.
We found that overall these brands were more effective as sprays than they were as roll-ons. For example, Espree Aloe Herbal, Endure and Aloe Herbal are Horse Journal Editor’s Picks in fly sprays, but we didn’t see the same effectiveness level when we rolled them on. This could be due to the fact that we were using a smaller amount of product (vs. spraying the whole horse) or because we were paying attention to areas that seems to be a most-attractive body area for flies (face and eyes).
That said, we were pleased with the Absorbine UltraShield Towelettes and found them virtually as effective as their spray-on sister product, making them our No. 1 pick. The drawback is that you will get product on your hands, unless you wear plastic gloves.
The Best Buy product is Zonk It!, which is $1.20 oz. in the roll-on (its spray is 28??/oz.).
Horse Journal staff article.