I’m reaching out to you well educated, knowledgeable horse folks today to get help with an issue for dear Simon.

Home boy hates flies.

Now look, I know that all horses hate flies. This is not unique, but he is taking it to extreme measures. If you’ve been reading for a long time, you may remember that Simon started living year-round in a fly sheet around January 2016. Without his binky fly sheet, he runs around in the pasture to the point of a wild panic where he might colic.

Photo by Heather N Photography

The issue started with bot flies. He hates them. If he thinks a bot fly is near him, he’ll lose his shit. Even in hand grazing, he’ll start to buck and kick and run around with 0 regard for me at all. This is a horse that takes care of his mom above everything else, but when he thinks he’s getting attacked by a fly he’ll kick me in the face if it would help.

Now his fly sheet does the trick most of the time, but now that summer is gearing up in Texas the flies are back. When I drive out to the barn in the evenings, I see him standing by the gate stomping around 7pm. He’s not eating or relaxing, but pacing the fenceline being aggravated by flies.

Photo by Heather N Photography

On nights when I ride I give him a thorough, deep curry (which he loves) and cover his legs/belly in fly spray. I put SWAT all over his face, and turn him back out in his fly sheet. Only after all of that will he relax to the point where he’ll graze in his pasture, but less than 24 hours later you can come to the barn and find him under the same kind of fly-induced turmoil.

So I’m asking y’all for help. How do I make nerd horse more comfortable? Is this all a weird neuro symptom of some strange illness I should worry about? It seems to be getting worse over time.

Photo by Heather N Photography

Things that I’m doing/have tried:

  • Top spot fly stuff (frontline for horses) seems to irritate his skin, make him itchy at the time of application and shows 0 difference
  • I’ve tried a ton of different fly sprays, and they all provide temporary relief but not long term
  • He’s currently in a new Weatherbeeta fly sheet with a belly band, no hood and he seems to like this set up
  • He tears off fly masks
  • If his fly sheet has a neck attachment, he is scared of it and will run away from getting it put on
  • He pretty much wears his fly sheet 24/7 (even inside)
  • Barn help will not put fly boots off and on during the day, so if I put boots on him he will wear them 24/7 and I worry about heat on his tendons, rubbing and them falling to his ankles which won’t help anyway
  • Majority of horses in the barn are not on fly control, so I don’t know if giving him a fly supplement will help at all

Curious your thoughts on this issue. Simon is not skin sensitive for grooming, but the flies are just making him miserable right now. Halp!

37 COMMENTS

  1. The best fly spray that I’ve found is EcoVet. It smells horrendous and you have to hold your breath to spray it unless you want to go into a coughing fit, but it lasts FOREVER. As for fly clothing, I love the Weatherbeeta Kool Coat and a simple Cashel fly mask, but it sounds like he needs more coverage than that.

  2. Maybe take a look into feed through Garlic. There are a lot of anecdotal success stories but also concern about anemia in the long term/ high doses so I would ask the vet too.

    My own anecdotal experience: We have a young gelding who has a strong reaction to fly bites and living in humid Florida. The flies always seem to congregate around him. He is now on feedthrough garlic and it seems a bit better but we will see how he fares through the summer with this addition (previously just flyspray and fans, unfortunately too humid for a fly sheet). He smells pretty garlicly at feeding time but we haven’t noticed any adverse affects and the vet didn’t have objections to trying it.

  3. Could you buy predator flies? It would probably be expensive since you’d have to buy enough to cover the whole barn (you buy based on the number of horses at the barn) but might be worth it for Simon-pants. It greatly reduced the number of flies we had at a previous barn. Maybe see if you can find a cattle fly repellent ear tag to put on his blanket? I’ve heard of people braiding it into their tails too. Might be worth a try?

    • I was also going to suggest fly predators if you could get your barn to buy in to it. Also, Repel-x lotion! It’s by far my favorite fly product. I use it on my horses belly/sheath/udder etc. You don’t have to apply it every day and it really works. I’m with you…fly spray doesn’t work!

    • Our barn has over 100 horses (I think… it’s large), so I don’t think fly predators are a feasible option unfortunately. Plus someone commented below saying that fly spray will kill them, and everyone on the property uses fly spray.

  4. Awww…poor Simon. It sounds like you have the fly sheet covered. Could he stay in the barn during the worst bug times? Not sure when that is in your parts – here early evening and early am are the worst…

    I’m convinced most fly sprays are a placebo for the owners. I’ve sprayed several different popular brands directly on regular flies and mosquitos and watched them keep flying around, tormenting horse and human. I’ve heard the really strong ones work better (need some level of Pyrethrin or other insecticide) but that depends on your level of comfort with nasty chemicals… Pyranha Wipe N’ Spray and Konk are a couple of brands I’ve heard of.

    I’ve never tried a feed through fly supplement – but garlic, apple cider vinegar, etc are supposed to help. Smartpak has a few: SmartBug-Off® Ultra Pellets – Equinox 365® (https://www.smartpakequine.com/ps/smartbugoff-ultra-pellets–equinox-365–12067)

    Hopefully one of your wonderful readers will have tried something and will be able to comment

  5. I had an Arab who suffered from sweet itch for 8 years. It got progressively worse every year. My boy would pace like crazy in turn out too. In my search to remedy him I became aware of sweet itch sheets that are popular in the UK. Some even come with the Queen’s seal of approval. I never ordered him one, but they offer complete coverage from pesky critters. I ended up having to stall my Arab 24/7 with a fan running on high. And a big mister in the upper corner that sprayed a deterrent mist every 15 minutes. Putting a fan up in the paddock somewhere was out of the question for me because our problem was midges & they could still bother him out there. Since Simon takes issue with the larger flies maybe a good strong fan for him to stand under in turnout might help? If he has pasturemates I can see them arguing over who gets the fan tho.

  6. Ugh, poor Simon! Only things I can think of to try have already been mentioned — feed-thru supplement like SmartPak Bug-Off, Fly Predators or stalling overnight. Best of luck!

  7. My mares wear fly boots by Kensington 24/7 in the summer (aka I am the only one who takes them off and puts them on) and they stay up pretty darn well to running, playing and rolling. My girls wear them mostly to protect their bare feet from too much stomping, but they work great in most applications.

    I’ve used other brands of fly boot, but from what I’ve experienced/heard, the Kensingtons are some of the more reliable ones; I haven’t used Shoo Fly boots but have heard good things, and simply haven’t tried them because I can usually find the Kensington ones cheaper. It’s taken a bit of practice to learn how to put on the boots so they don’t slide down, especially on the horse with dropped fetlocks, but even through some entertainingly gross mud, mine have never been left behind in the dirt in 10 years of using them. Kensington makes two styles; I prefer the ones with the fleece as I have had some issues with the non-fleece “Natural” line rubbing thin skinned legs, but the Natural line stays up better in wet and muddy conditions, since the fleece will get saturated and full of mud and drag the boot down. I’d suggest investing in two full sets and rotating them, but you can make do with one set without too much trouble, especially if it’s dry.

    I have tried the “Original Fly Wrap” ones with elastic and the Amigo/Smartpak brand ones with the plastic stays, and neither have held up.

    • No advice really but Id use the boots with extreme caution…my horse had an allergic reaction to something (a bite? a weed?) and swelled with them on and no one noticed for about 24 hours. I’m really lucky it didn’t cause major damage to his legs. It was scary.

  8. I can’t offer much help — I think both Pyranha and Endure seem to last a long time, but it sounds like you may have tried them already? Flies suck, sorry they are so bad for Simon.

  9. My old trainer used to use leg bands similar to this- I don’t think she had any trouble with them rubbing but not sure how great they worked. Seem to have pretty good reviews. http://www.sstack.com/Horse-Care_Fly-Spray-Fly-Repellent/Fly-Free-Zone-Leg-Bands-Set-Of-4/?utm_source=google&utm_medium=paid_search&utm_campaign=paid_search_google_pla&scid=scplp02854&sc_intid=02854&gclid=COHgq9y7mtMCFVVWDQodWwQHww

    Someone mentioned braiding a cattle tag into his tail – seems like a good idea. One of my trainers braids a yarn fly-swatter thing into her horse’s tail and soaks it in fly spray. He is crazy about the bugs and it seems to work for him. Similar to the fringe on the ends of tail bags but without the actual tail bag.

    I’d stay away from fly predators if everyone in the barn is using spray-on repellent. That will kill the fly predators so you’re quite literally burning money.

    Feed through fly control is hit or miss, especially if no one else in the barn is on it.

    How close is his field to the manure pile? Maybe he could move to a different field if that could be playing a role.

    I’d say short of getting your BO to install a sprayer system in the barn (which I think works wonders), you’ll have to stick with fly sheet, copious amounts of fly spray, etc.

    • He’s not really close to the manure pile. In his stall, which has a powerful fan, he doesn’t seem too bothered even though there are a lot of flies on him. It’s in turnout where he goes apeshit.

  10. What Allie said. We use Shoo Flies to stop the stomping. They are made of mesh and don’t fit tight against the leg, so the leg doesn’t get hot like with other fly boots. An ingenious design.

  11. We use feed through Bug-Lyte. It does seem to help. Shasta used to rip her mane out itching from bugs and she stopped doing that once we started her on the bug-lyte. Definitely feed more than the tsp the recommend if you want it to do anything. It won’t do enough to stop you needing the fly sheet/leg wraps if he’s that bad, but it might help in addition. And it’s cheap.

  12. ugh i feel like this will all apply to my horse too, he’s equally delicate in the face of vicious flies 🙁

    fwiw we did a barn wide experiment with feed-through garlic and while it smelled amazing, it didn’t do jack for the flies.

    my horse is on night turn out and will be in his stall under his fan during the worst / hottest / buggiest part of the day (at least that’s my thought process) so hopefully that’ll provide relief too. really tho, if you figure out something that works please let us know!

    meanwhile i’m probably gonna be getting a fly sheet too….

  13. Ugh. Girl. That’s frustrating. I feel for you. Pig is also annoyed by flies, but not half that bad!

    I agree with julesatthebarn, fans make a huge difference. My horse is on 24/7 turnout, but his pasture has a run in shed with fans on automatic temp controlled switch. When it’s really hot, sticky, and gross. All the horses stand in front of the fan to get some relief from the flies. If you can find a way to make that happen, it just might help him.

    I’ll also give a recommendation for bath rinses of apple cider vinegar. The vinegar helps cut the sweat better than just water, without drying out the skin (which makes things even more itchy!). Plus apparently it’s kinda fly repellent on it’s own. Pig gets one of these every day in the summer, and seems to be much relieved after. Is it possible for you to have Simon hosed down more than once a day? That might help him out, too.

  14. One thing my trainer tried was buying a stretchy bracelet made for humans – the kind that is designed to be worn around your wrist to repel bugs. She bought a few and put them on pony legs to see if they worked – if I remember right, I think they did work. Might be worth a try if fly boots aren’t an option?

  15. Oof, poor guy. Cosmo has a special relationship with flies, because of all his drool. So he lives in his fly sheet, boots, and mask all summer. If it’s not bad at night, I take the mask off, but he keeps his boots on all the time. He doesn’t get turned out though, just lives in his 24×24 stall with them. I have found the Kensington ones hold up well (a whole year so far!) and don’t slouch much if I get them on snug. I have not worried about heat on his tendons. I switched to the spandex Roma fly masks last year because I think they let his eyes breath better http://marystack.com/roma-stretch-bug-eye-saver-fly-mask/ I don’t know if that might stay on Simon longer or not – they do stretch out though, so I like to rotate between 2 of them at a time.

  16. Were you meaning to ask about Shoo Flies?

    They are a unique product which keeps flies off of the legs. They do not rub or trap heat and can be worn for extended periods of time. I bought four for Harley last year and they were amazing. He finally got relief from stomping. The Shoo Flies are still in good shape so I will use them again this year. I blogged about it last year.

    Good luck!

  17. Ugh, I feel your pain. We use Shoo Tags, which are like little credit cards. They make them for flies, mosquitos and midges. Each tag lasts four months. We braid them into their manes so that the magnetic strip is against the neck. For shows we put them in their pouch and put back in after. They definitely help. We use them on our dogs too.

  18. In my experience, feed through fly control doesn’t do jack. Topical stuff, like Topline or the bands you put on their legs often result in a skin reaction (as you have discovered). Fly predators only work if all manure is collected daily and there are no other farms nearby (we have donkeys next door and horses across the street, neither use fly predators, so the flies would just come over to our place). Sprays only work for a short time. Your best bet by far is physical defense. Mine are currently decked out in a fly sheet with hood, mask, and Cashel boots. Cashel and Kensington (with the fleece) boots work the best, and I’ve tried all of them. I’d stay far far away from any boot with a plastic support “stay” up the back – they just get bent within hours or days and there’s no way to get them back to their correct shape. You might also try feeding a flax supplement – although it doesn’t help with the bugs, it can help with generally itchy skin. Good luck! And poor Simon. My boys feel his pain. 🙁

  19. I’ve been using Freedom 45 for 17 years now, a topical, and had great results. And since I’m a farrier, I have a real interest in it. I’ve used it on a really old horse where we board and he had 3 of the best summers of his life. No secondary infections, and did not wear himself to a frazzle. He used to have to be confined and have supplemental feeding just to survive. Another Warmblood who has sweet itch and tears his shoes off responds well to it.
    I do NOT care for the other versions of topical fly repellent I have tried. They all seem to act like it bugs them when it’s first applied but ok after.
    Just saying.

  20. My horses live inside mostly, so I don’t have much advice. But try Flysect Super 7 for fly spray. I spray it everyday, but it claims you don’t have to unless they sweat it off or get washed. It actually kills bugs if you spray them with it. It’s probably terrible for the horses… but I’ve been using it for years and never had an ill effect from it.

  21. We have been using solitude in the barn for years now. The key is the barn must commit entirely therefore our staff feeds it in the am. Seriously No Flies!! EXCEPT right now the small bot fly is not sensitive to this product thus fly spray for the few weeks spring and fall on the legs. I remember when..a sea of flies everywhere…no more! Love this product.

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