5 Things to Consider in the Fight Against Flies

These 5 tips and reminders can help you do your best to protect your horse, as warm weather and flies return with a vengeance.

This article is part of our Fight the Flies Awareness Campaign brought to you by UltraShield.

You’ve read up on fly control, studied the types of flies you’re doing battle with, and implemented the best procedures you can to keep them at bay. Now what? Here are 5 miscellaneous tips about fly control that you might have overlooked.

When your horse is still bugged by flies, try to remember these 5 tips. Petra Eckerl/adobe.stock.com

Fly Sheet Fitting

A breathable fly sheet can be a great tool in the arsenal against flies, but if it is poorly fitted it can cause more problems than it solves. A well-fitted fly sheet will keep your horse comfortable and protected. A poorly fitted sheet can rub and cause irritation and even leave your horse in pain.

To get a starting measurement for your horse’s fly sheet, all you need is a cloth tape measure. Begin by placing the tape measure at the middle of his chest, where the neck crests down into the body. Then, walk around the side of your horse (you might want to enlist help to hold the tape in place at his chest), to his tail. Keep the tape level across the body, and stay centered across his barrel, parallel to the ground. Bring the tape to the top of his tail, and that’s your starting measurement!

You will need to consider a few other things when choosing the right size sheet. If your horse has prominent withers, this might also affect fit. Do some research about the best fly sheets for your horse’s breed and build.

Keep an eye on your horse, taking off the fly sheet often to check for rubs or irritation. Do him a favor and keep it clean as well. Follow the manufacturers recommendations for fitting when it comes to sheets, fly boots, and fly masks.


Bot Fly Removal

It’s not just black flies that can carry and spread disease, and irritate your horse. Bot flies also pose a risk to your equine friend.

Bot-fly larvae can wreak havoc in your horse’s stomach lining, causing significant swelling and ulceration. Large infestations can even lead to colic. The larvae originate as sticky little yellow eggs deposited on your horse’s legs and sides by the female bot fly (which resembles a bumblebee in action). The first hard frost of the season will kill off the flies, making it a great time to administer a dewormer effective against bot larvae (left). If you then take action to remove any remaining eggs from your horse’s haircoat (below), you’ll complete your protection plan.

To remove bot fly eggs, start with a bot-egg knife and remove the nits. You can also use a grooming stone to remove bot-fly eggs. Once you have them off your horse, find a dewormer that is effective against bot flies and administer it in accordance with your deworming program.

Fly Spray Rotation

Rarely with horses is there a one-size-fits-all approach to anything. Often you find yourself in a trial-and-error situation. When it comes to fly sprays, you might need to rotate what you’re using, based on your current needs.

UltraShield offers a lineup of fly sprays that can meet your every need. Whether you need something that is sweat resistant for long days on the trail, sun protection for turnout, or you want to go green, they have you covered.

You might also need to do some research about what fly spray ingredients work for your location and climate. Rotating fly sprays is also like rotating dewormers, you want to avoid building resistance.

Choose a spray that fits your current needs. Photo courtesy of UltraShield.


From the Ground Up

Fly sprays and sheets are effective but think about attacking flies from the top down. Barn spray systems might be a good choice for those who have the conditions in their barn that allow these systems to be installed.

These mechanized systems automatically mist a fast-acting natural insecticide (pyrethrum) throughout your barn several times a day, killing and/or repelling flies. The main unit and connected tubing and nozzles are installed by the barn-spray company.

Once installed, spray systems are highly effective and hassle-free. Pyrethrum is environment-friendly, as it biodegrades within 30 minutes of spraying. The cost varies by manufacturer and model, but spray systems do come with a relatively high initial price.

Take the war to the ground by introducing fly predators in your horse’s stall or area. With this ingenious, natural approach to fly control, tiny, low-flying wasps (fly parasites) use fly pupa (cocoons) as a host, thereby killing the flies before they hatch.

The method is completely environment-friendly and uses no chemicals. Fly parasites don’t bite people, horses, or pets. Allow 30 days for noticeable effect. Best if started in early spring, release new parasites every three to four weeks. If you opt for fly parasites, be careful how you use topical fly sprays to avoid killing the good bugs, too.

Think Outside the Bottle

If your horse is still wary of fly spray, even after introducing it slowly, try a few alternatives. One option is to replace topical fly spray with a feed-through fly control product. Administered daily with your horse’s feed, it passes through his digestive tract without being absorbed, and is distributed in his feces where it kills fly larvae. If most horses on a property receive this supplement, it can dramatically reduce fly populations and reduce or eliminate the need for fly spray.

You can also opt for wipe-on fly sprays, that replace traditional spray bottles. If you are wanting to apply fly spray to his face, avoid spraying directly onto his face and possibly getting it in his eyes. One neat hack is to buy a new dish brush that has the receptacle for dish soap. Pour the fly spray into the receptacle, and gently use the brush to wipe the fly spray onto his face or sensitive areas. Do this with a new brush, that hasn’t had dish soap used in it, of course!

When reviewing the wide array of topical fly products on the market (including sprays, roll-ons, shampoos, ointments and spot-ons), keep in mind the difference between repellents (which simply repel the pests) and insecticides (which kill them). Some products do both. Also look for longevity. Oil-based products tend to last longer than water-based products, since they are less likely to be washed away by rain and sweat.

Related Articles
EZ Trap
HR_24BON Grooming Feature_01
Groom to Win
Grooming Secrets to Show Like the Pros
HR_24BON_Conformation Clinic_Performance-Mares_01
Conformation Clinic: Performance Mares
HR_24BON_Crabbe Dont Call it Maintenance_crabbe_01
To Inject or Not to Inject
Don’t Call It Maintenance! 
Receive news and promotions for Horse & Rider and other Equine Network offers.

"*" indicates required fields


Additional Offers

Additional Offers
This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.