Flies are a nuisance to us all, but they also present a very real danger to your horse. Unfortunately, flies are a natural part of keeping horses for many people; they commonly appear during the spring and summer months, so now is prime time to start thinking about prevention, as flies can make horses nervous, irritated and difficult to manage.
An allergic reaction can result from any fly bite, and all flies cause annoyance and irritation – however, some flies are more of a problem than others! It’s important that horse owners are aware of the following:
- Horse flies, from the Tabanid family, are often considered the worst offenders. They are extremely noisy during flight, can grow to over an inch long, and are nasty biters – they cause pain and discomfort to the horse and are also particularly guilty of transmitting infectious diseases. Because of their bite, they can lead to horses becoming restless and unmanageable. Their peak season is during the summer months.
- Black Flies (Simuliidae) are biting flies, which may have high populations in the spring and early summer, particularly in pasture areas along streams. Black flies can pose a serious problem to your horse’s health; they can cause anaemia and may even result in severe reactions such as toxaemia. However, black flies only feed during daylight hours and usually do not enter stable areas.
- Like Tabanid flies, the female Biting Midge (Culicoide) is a tiny gnat (1-3 mm long) and, like black flies, inflicts painful bites and sucks the horse’s blood. Again, the midge’s bites causes extreme itching, and the insects are often unnoticed because of their small size, and because they are active at night, late evening or early morning. The biting midge is usually the culprit of the skin condition Sweet Itch – an allergic reaction to the midges’ saliva. Sweet itch ‘season’ normally runs from around April to October, and equine symptoms include itching and hair loss. The mane and tail areas are commonly affected, although all areas of the horse’s body are susceptible.
There are several other pests to contend with; Stable Flies (Stomoxys Calcitrans) can pose a problem in moist stables, and they are associated with poor hygiene; their bites typically appear as painful wheals. Meanwhile, Mosquitoes, Bees and Wasps can also provide irritation.
Our top tips to prevent fly irritation-
- Apply a fly repellent product regularly. Consider making your own, as you may find a recipe that really works for your horse – most home made recipes contain white vinegar, a soap based product and some citrussy essential oils – search online for inspiration.
- One fly can lay hundreds of eggs in a day. Common breeding grounds are near dropped food or empty cans – keep the stable kitchen area clean, and bins sealed.
- Keep your horse stabled during the day time on humid days, if he is adversely affected by fly bites.
- Choose open areas as opposed to woodland, or field surrounding ponds, to turn your horse out in.
- Eliminate any excess water around the stables; for example, arrange for flooded areas to be drained.
- Use protective items on your horse that offer coverage, such as rugs and masks – see your selection of favourites, below.
- If your horse succumbs to sweet itch, contact your vet for advice.
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