How to keep flies off horses

How to Keep Flies Off Horses

Warm spring days bring some relief after the cold winter months. But it doesn’t take long for spring to turn to summer, and with summer comes flies. Therefore, flies are a pest and can make you and your horse uncomfortable. Then they set up shop in our barns and pastures and are a real nuisance. But there are ways to help lessen their presence. How do you keep flies off horses? 

Why Are Flies Attracted To Horses?

It’s no secret that flies are attracted to horses. Surely, flies are scavengers and they often use horses and other livestock as their hosts to suit their reproductive and survival needs. Frequently, flies are attracted to warmth, moisture, and movement. This makes horses perfect targets for many species of flies. 

Flies are attracted to horses’ faces. Specifically the moisture and tears around their eyes and nostrils. Flies will drink this fluid, as well as bite, suck blood, and lay eggs on horses. Also, horse manure can be a breeding ground. This makes our barns and pastures virtual playgrounds for flies.  

Why Is it Important to Keep Flies Off Horses? 

Although it may feel like a constant battle, it is important to keep flies off our horses as much as possible. This is because flies have bacteria on their feet and can spread diseases or deposit larva or other parasites where they walk.  

Many horses can also be very physically and mentally irritated by flies. Therefore, this irritation can result in constant stomping, stress, and sometimes even running in the pasture to try to escape the irritation. Certainly, excessive running could lead to injury or to your horse overheating in hot summer months. This is why controlling flies is an important part of stable and horse management. 

What Happens If You Don’t Keep Flies Off Horses? 

If flies are not kept at bay, they can certainly transmit bacteria and leave larvae behind. In fact, Larvae deposited on cuts or open wounds can travel through sensitive tissues causing an increased risk of infection. 

Flies that bite can also transmit bloodborne diseases. Disease prevention and preventing the transfer of bacteria are important reasons for doing our best to keep flies off of horses.

Methods of Keeping Flies Off Horses

Fly Sheet
Fly Mask

Now that we know the importance of keeping flies off of horses, let’s take a look at some of the best methods to help with fly control. 

Fly masks and fly sheets– One way to protect horses from annoying flies is to have them wear fly masks and fly sheets when turned out. Fly masks protect their sensitive eyes and ears. These Fly sheets are made of breathable mesh. They help keep flies off horses’ bodies. 

Fly Boots

Fly boots Mesh fly boots help keep horses’ legs fly-free and can minimize the amount of stomping they are doing while grazing or standing in a stall. Some fly boots are better than others, so be sure to select a set that will stay up and won’t collapse around the pasterns like this great set. 

Commercial fly sprays– There are a wide variety of commercial fly sprays on the market that can help repel and kill flies. Some contain chemical insecticides and include coat sunscreens such as this popular brand. Other commercial fly sprays are all-natural green formulas that are effective alternatives to the chemical versions. 

Fly Spray
Natural Green Formula

Homemade fly sprays– An even more natural method of repelling flies is through the use of homemade fly sprays. Many of these recipes involve common household items and essential oils. 

Apple cider vinegar is also a good natural way to repel flies. Spray it on straight or diluted 50/50 with water if your horse has sensitive skin or if the smell is too offensive to you straight out of the bottle. 

The following essential oils can to repel flies and other insects:

Tea Tree Oil

Want to make your own fly spray? Here is a recipe for a homemade fly repellent using any of the above essential oils.

You will need: 

Vanilla Extract
Witch Hazel

16 oz spray bottle (preferable amber to preserve the essential oils)

1/2 cup Witch Hazel

1 tsp. Vanilla Extract

100-150 drops of any bug-repelling essential oil listed above

  1. Add all the ingredients to the spray bottle and fill the rest with water. 
  2. Shake well and spray on horses (or people) as needed 
  3. Store in a cool, dry place

Natural fly spray recipe courtesy of Savvyhorsewoman

Homemade fly sprays can safely and carefully be applied to a horse’s face and around the eyes. Spray it on a cloth and then wiping them on. Another nice thing about homemade fly sprays is that they are ok to use on people too! 

How To Get Rid of Flies in the Barn

Flies can be a problem in the barn as well. To minimize the number of flies in and around the barn, there are several things barn owners can do to help. 

Here are the top five ways to reduce flies in the barn.

Fly Trap
  1. Keep stalls and manure tubs clean– Horses produce a lot of manure, and flies like to hang arouund it. The less manure you have in your barn, the better. Keep manure tubs emptied and keep stalls clean to reduce places flies have to land and lay eggs. Make sure to keep the manure away from the barn and removed it when possible.
  2. Keep feed sealed tight–Flies like anything sweet. Keep feed in sealed, airtight containers, and be sure to dispose of any empty feed bags. 
  3. Use fans– An easy way to deter flies and other flying pests from getting cozy in your barn is to keep fans running. Moving air makes flying just difficult enough that flies may not want to settle and land on your horse. 
  4. Use fly traps– There are some very effective fly traps on the market that lure flies in, traps them, and kills them. Many do not use pesticides or chemicals and can be emptied and reused, such as this fly trap
  5. Eliminate moisture–Flies and other insects love moisture. It’s where they drink as well as breed. Keep your barn and surrounding areas dry by having good drainage, emptying buckets of standing water, and keeping stalls as dry as possible. 

What Are the Different Types of Flies That Bother Horses

There are several types of flies and pests you will find around the barn. The top species of flies that bother horses include:

Stable flies– Stable flies are blood-sucking flies that bite horses and humans alike. They tend to go for horse’s legs (and often bite people’s legs as well). 

Face flies– Face flies don’t typically bite, but they do drink the secretions given off by horses’ eyes and nostrils. Face flies also like open wounds, so it’s important to keep sores covered when possible, especially during fly season. 

House flies– House flies lay eggs in horse manure. While they pose the least amount of harm, they are very persistent and are a nuisance to horses and humans alike. 

Blackflies– Blackflies are blood-sucking flies that like to feast on horses’ ears. A fly mask with ear coverings is an easy way to combat blackflies. 

Grooming Block

Bot Flies– Bot Flies lay eggs on horses’ legs. They wait for the eggs to be accidentally ingested by the horse when they scratch their legs so that their larvae hatch and bury into the horses’ cheeks and gums. Botflies’ whole life cycle takes place within the horse’s digestive system. Bot eggs appear as small, yellowish dots on horses’ legs. They can easily be scraped off with a grooming tool such as this grooming block. 

No matter what type of flies you are dealing with, there are plenty of methods that will help keep them at bay and off our horses. While it is common for horses and barns to be plagued by flies in the warm spring and summer months, the good news is there are things we can do to help.

Being responsible horse owners means learning what we can about pest control so that we can take the steps necessary to prevent infestation. Your horses will thank you for it!