Posts Tagged ‘flies’

Which Itch Is Which?

Biting gnats, lice, ticks, fungus, and allergies can all cause itching. If your horse rubs bald spots in his mane or tail, check him thoroughly for external parasites such as lice or ticks, parasites (such as pinworms), or fungus, and treat according to your veterinarian’s instructions.

Itching can also be caused by ringworm, which is contagious to you and other horses. If a horse has ringworm, you will need not only to treat the horse but also to disinfect grooming tools, halters, blankets, stalls, feeders, and anything else he may have rubbed on.

Some horses (and dogs) seem to be hypersensitive or allergic to insect bites and once they are bitten, they go into a rubbing frenzy, which then invites other complications. In some cases, this is referred to as sweet itch or Queensland itch. A veterinarian should be consulted, but prevention of bites to susceptible animals is paramount. Remedies include soothing witch hazel or vinegar rinses, and possibly a corticosteroid prescription from your veterinarian.


Take advantage of our Book Sale. Buy One and Get TWO FREE on this page. New books are being added weekly in both categories.

We’ve just added some great equine veterinary texts and references books.


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Hi Cherry,

I was reading recently about Cat Nip Oil to repel flies and other insects.  Just wondering if you have used/or heard of this concept.  If so where cans a person purchase the oil.  Thanks.

Karen in Boise

 Hi Karen,

No I have not. We do use a natural oil product for bare skin areas. It is called Bare Skin Barrier.

It contains

Grapeseed Oil, Jojoba, Citronella, Lemongrass, Lavender, Tea Tree Oil

You can read about it here Bare Skin Barrier.




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Fly Gear For Horses

A well-fitting fly mask can protect the sensitive areas of a horse’s head from flies or gnats without the use of chemical sprays or creams. Sometimes applying a mask often makes a nervous horse noticeably calmer, perhaps partly because it stops flies and partly because of reduced visual stimuli.

A fly mask can also be used to protect a horse’s eyes from wind-blown objects when trailering a horse in an open trailer or during turnout and from dust and contact when treating an eye for an injury. A mask that blocks more light can give relief to a horse with light-sensitive eyes.

A mask fastener such as Velcro® that will release under strain is preferable over an unyielding snap or buckle for use during turnout or for use on unsupervised horses. If a horse should catch the mask on something and the fastener doesn’t release, it’s likely that either the mask will be damaged or the horse will be injured, or both.

For best results make sure the mask fits properly—horses’ heads vary greatly in size and shape and so do fly masks. A free-form mask made of soft, supple mesh will fit a wide range of head shapes, but the draping material usually lays against the eyes or lashes, which could cause the eyes to weep and lead to irritation and head rubbing. Masks made of stiffer material usually have eye darts formed to hold the material away from the eyes. Darts should center over the horse’s eyes and be peaked to prevent contact with any part of the eye.

© 2010  Cherry Hill   © Copyright Information

A fly mask should seal around the horse’s face so flies aren’t able to crawl under the mask. Long, fluffy fleece on the edges allows a good seal without having to adjust the mask uncomfortably tight, but it is a debris magnet and it can cause a horse to sweat—both of which can cause a horse to rub his face on the nearest object. Smooth edging like elastic, vinyl, or polar fleece (synthetic fleece with a very short nap) may not seal as well as long fleece, but it will be less likely to attract debris or cause rubbing.

A mask should protect as much of the furrow under the jaw as possible—this is one place gnats will dig in. But a mask can only encircle the nose so far down without interfering with jaw movement. For additional muzzle protection, choose a mask that has a muzzle guard.

Muzzle Guard

A muzzle guard is either integral to a fly mask or it attaches to a mask, halter or bridle. It protects a horse from those nasty no-see-ums or nose bots that can drive him insane and make him dangerous to handle. A muzzle guard is especially good for a horse that is hypersensitive to flies around his nose.

A muzzle guard should protect the nostrils without interfering with breathing or with the action of the bit. The more opaque the fabric of a muzzle guard, the better it will protect sensitive skin from sunburn.

Neck cover

A neck cover wraps around a horse’s neck and fastens with snaps or Velcro®. Some neck covers are an integral part of the fly sheet while others detach or can be rolled back and fastened out of the way, much like the hood of a jacket. A neck cover protects that sensitive area where the neck and chest join, a spot where crusty scabs often form from feeding flies.


A hood combines a fly mask with a neck cover. It overlaps and attaches to a flysheet with Velcro® or snaps. It provides more complete coverage than a separate mask and neck cover because it eliminates the space between them.

Applying Fly Gear

Before applying any type of fly gear, make sure the horse is clean and free of loose, shedding hair. Otherwise the horse will be more likely to rub. Also clean all traces of bedding, seeds, or burrs from the fly gear itself, especially from long fleece lining and from Velcro®. This will reduce irritation that causes rubbing and will allow the Velcro® to hold better.

Wearing a fly mask for the first time is no big deal for most horses. But a horse that’s not used to the sound of Velcro® being pulled apart can be frightened by it—sack your horse out to the sound before applying fly gear that uses it.

To prevent injury to the horse and damage to his fly clothing, make sure the horse gets used to wearing an item before leaving him unattended. Any horse that’s wearing fly gear should be checked at least once a day for fit and for signs of irritation and rubbing, and to remove irritating debris.

Breakaway halter

Some fly gear such as a muzzle guard or browband attaches to a halter. It’s not uncommon for a horse turned out wearing a standard halter to suffer injury or even death when he gets the halter caught on a post, a branch, or even his own horseshoe. If your horse needs to wear a halter during turnout, use only a break-away (safety) halter. A safety halter usually has either has a “weak link” or “fuse” of light leather or other material that’s designed to break under stress, or it has a Velcro® fastener that will come undone if the halter gets caught and the horse pulls.

Ear Bonnet

Insects entering your horse’s ears can not only cause annoying and dangerous head shaking but can also cause serious skin infections. An ear bonnet covers the horse’s ears and can be a part of a fly mask or a separate piece held in place by the bridle or halter.

The ear holes in a bonnet should be spaced the same as the horse’s ears and should be large enough so as not to rub or put pressure on the base of the ears. There should be ample room inside a bonnet so that the ears don’t deform and the material should be flexible enough to allow a full range of free ear movement.

Leg wraps and bands

Leg wraps are usually made of the same poly/vinyl fabric as flysheets, and wrap around a horse’s canons to keep flies off. Some models extend down over coronary band and cover the back of the pastern where flies like to bite. Leg bands containing fly repellents are only a few inches wide and are applied around the canons. You can apply fly spray to any leg wraps to increase fly protection.

Don’t apply leg wraps or bands too tightly—you should be able to easily slip a finger behind them. Most models have fleece or vinyl trim to keep flies from getting underneath. As with other fly gear, short fleece or vinyl trim is a better choice if a horse is likely to be exposed to weed seeds or burrs.

Tail bag

A horse’s own best weapon against flies is a long, full, healthy tail. But some horses, for whatever reason, don’t have a full tail and show horses often have their tails braided or wrapped to protect them from damage. A tail bag with a tassel on the end can protect a tail and give it added reach.


Fly repellent collars containing natural (such as citronella or cedar oil) or artificial insect repellents (such as permethrin) can be used to keep flies and mosquitoes away from a horse’s neck. Some collars are applied snug while others should be loose—follow manufacturer’s instructions.


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Those pesky heavy-duty, blood-sucking bombers that line up on a horse’s neck like shingles on a roof…….awfully irritating. We have problems with them here in the Colorado foothills near our creeks and springs for about two weeks this time of year and on trail rides in the timbered areas most of the summer. I’ve seen first hand how they can drive a horse crazy and cause large welts from their painful bites. Read more about horse flies and deer flies at the University of Kentucky site.  

I’ve found that a long-sided fly sheet that has a neck extension used in conjunction with a fly mask with ears and nose shield are a great deterrent to any flies. If you armor your horse like this, the only place you’ll have to spray or apply fly cream is under the jaw, and on the belly and legs.

Unfortunately, as you’ve probably discovered, application of fly products don’t seem to deter horse flies and deer flies for very long. And the fly traps that I talk about in Fly Control are effective for trapping house flies and stable flies but don’t attract horse flies and deer flies.

I’m not aware of any fly predators that target horse fly or deer fly larvae.

There is a trap specifically designed to capture horse flies which you can read about here.

Cherry Hill  horse training and horse care books and videos

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How to Control Flies

on Your Horse, around the Stable and

Horse Barn – Part 3

©  2010 Cherry Hill © Copyright Information

Refer to previous posts for Parts 1 and 2 of this article.


Fly Traps  Jar traps that utilize attractants can capture thousands of flies.  Some systems utilize muscalure, a sex attractant (pheromone) to draw the flies.  Others require the addition of fish or meat.  These traps, commonly used with a 1 or 2 1/2 gallon jar, can be smelly and must be emptied, then restocked.  Disposable traps are available for 1/5 the price of the jar traps.  They are designed to be used with the supplied sex attractant and water and claim to hold 10,000 flies.
Fly Papers  Fly paper is available in strips of several widths.  Some are designed to hang from the ceiling while others are to be tacked across doorways or aisles.  Some contain sex attractants, others are merely sticky.  A few brands contain insecticides, so it is important to read the label if you plan to use them around food or animals.  Fly paper is generally an inexpensive, disposable way of mechanically catching flies.


FLY ZAPPERS.  A mechanical way of killing flies is to use an electric fly zapper.  The flies are attracted to the light and are immediately killed upon contact.

Stablekeeping INSECTICIDES.  An insecticide is a chemical that kills flies quickly.  A repellent (covered later) is a substance that discourages flies from landing.  While insecticides are an important part of many fly control programs, much less has to be done with insecticides if manure and moisture are managed properly.  The indiscriminate use of any form of insecticide can result in the development of resistant strains of flies and can cause harm to horses, humans, and the environment.
What type and brand of insecticide will work best for you will depend on your weather, fly problem, style of management, and each horse’s sensitivity.  Finding the best insecticide involves a certain amount of testing for effectiveness and allergic reactions (both human and horse).
Equine insecticides generally fall into one of four categories: pyrethrins (“natural” insecticides), permethrins (synthetic pyrethrins), carbamates, and organophosphates….listed in order from least toxic to most toxic and from least long-lasting to most long-lasting.  Insecticides are available in many forms for various applications.
Topical sprays can be purchased in ready-to-apply forms or concentrates that are usually diluted in a 1:7 ratio of insecticide to water for house flies or a stronger mix for other flies.  Certain general livestock sprays are not safe for use on horses.
Premises sprays are for use in and around buildings.  Some are not safe to use on livestock, manure, or bedding.  Long-term (up to six weeks) residual insecticides are designed to be applied on fly resting sites such as on rafters or in bushes.  Stable sprays are usually sold as concentrates which are diluted and applied with sprayers that range in cost from $20-100.
Horsekeeping On A Small Acreage Foggers are disposable cans of insecticide designed for the interior of buildings.  To use a fogger, close all doors, set the can to spray automatically until empty, keep the doors closed for 15 minutes, then ventilate the building.
Automatic misters are available in several types.  The disposable type uses an aerosol can set in a battery-operated automatic spray unit that delivers a spray every 15 minutes and lasts for about a month.  A unit is required for every 6000 square feet.  Electric fogger/misters are available for about five times the price.  Instead of using aerosol cans of insecticide, the electric misters have a reservoir that can be filled with a chosen solution.  Barn-wide automatic mister systems are incorporated in some large barns.  Since flies tend to congregate in certain places during certain times of the day, an effective use of misters is to aim them at the resting places and be sure they are functioning during fly siesta time.

IMPREGNATED STRIPS.  Strips impregnated with insecticide are designed to keep approximately 1000 square feet free of flies for about 4 months so could be useful for enclosed areas such as tack rooms, feed rooms, and offices.  However, since there are a variety on the market, it is essential to read the package carefully as some are not safe to be used in enclosed areas where humans frequent or in areas where food is present.

FLY BAIT (POISON)  The idea behind fly baits is to attract and entice flies to eat a specially prepared “food” that is laced with insecticides.  To that end, some baits contain sex attractants plus a sugar-based feeding enticer.  Fly bait can be used in hanging bait stations or as scatter bait on lawns and around buildings.  It is important to note the potential danger of other animals (birds, puppies, children) eating the bait.


REPELLENTS.  Repellents are available as spray, lotion, wipe-on, gel, dusting powder, ointment, roll-on, shampoos, and towelettes.  Repellents contain a substance irritating to flies, such as oil of citronella, and most contain some amount of insecticide (mostly pyrethrins and permethrins) as well. Some repellents, like Bare Skin Barrier, contain non-toxic natural botanicals that are non-irritating to horses and to humans.

Repellents can be water, oil, or alcohol based.  Oil-based repellents remain on the hair shaft longer but the oil attracts dirt.  Water-based repellents don’t last as long but attract less dirt.  To increase the lasting effect, some water-based repellents are made with silicone which coats the hair shaft and holds the repellent in place longer.  Alcohol-based repellents dry quickly so are good for a fast touch-up but the alcohol can have a drying effect on the hair and skin.  Repellents can also contain sunscreen, coat conditioners Horse  Health Care by Cherry Hill(lanolin, aloe vera), and other products which increase lasting power.  Claims of duration of protection range from 1 to 14 days.  How long a repellent will last depends on the weather, the management, the exercise level of the horse (how much he sweats) and grooming (brushing, blanketing, and whether the horse rolls).

FLY MASKS.  Fly masks are available in several styles.  Some protect the eyes while others protect the eyes, ears, and jowls.  Most are made of a mesh that allows the horse to see.

FLY STRIPS AND TAGS.  Strips impregnated with repellent can be attached to halters.  Also available is a collar/brow band affair that has a breakaway feature.  These fly strips are particularly useful for controlling face flies and can last several months.  Face flies have sponging mouth parts and feed on mucus around the eyes and nostrils often causing inflammation and infection.  Some degree of relief can also be afforded a horse by using fly shakers (with or without repellent) attached to the crown piece of a halter or brow-band of a bridle.  These strips mechanically jiggle the flies off a horse’s face when he shakes his head.
Fly Sheets  Cool, open-weave, mesh fly sheets keep flies from pestering the horse’s body.  Consider using a repellent on the legs, belly and face in conjunction with a fly sheet.

Cherry Hill's Horsekeeping Almanac AN ASSISTANT.  In pre-chemical days, a human assistant was sometimes the fly-control method of choice.  While the farrier worked, his young assistant stood nearby with a fly chaser, a horse hair swish made from long tail hairs.  The assistant gently brushed away the flies that the horse couldn’t reach with his “regular tail”.

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How to Control Flies

on Your Horse, around the Stable and

Horse Barn – Part 2


Stablekeeping Proper manure management and moisture control are the two biggest factors in preventing flies from breeding.  Remove manure and wasted feed daily from stalls and pens and either spread it thinly to dry or compost it.  Manure production on even the smallest horse farm requires constant attention.  A thousand pound horse produces approximately fifty pounds of manure per day or about ten tons per year.  Added to this is from six to ten gallons of urine which when soaked up by bedding can constitute another fifty pounds daily.  In order to control odor, remove insect breeding areas, and kill parasite eggs and larvae, manure must be handled effectively.

There are basically three methods.  All begin with daily collection.  Once the manure is collected, it can be hauled away, spread immediately on a pasture or field, or stored for later distribution.  Some refuse collection services are specially designed to handle manure or are willing to haul it away with other trash.

If manure is to be spread daily, it must be distributed thinly and harrowed to encourage rapid drying via the air and sun, thus eliminating favorable conditions for parasite eggs and fly larvae.  It is best that such manure be spread on land outside of areas which will be frequented by horses during the current year.

Horsekeeping On A Small Acreage The most common method of dealing with manure is daily collection and storage for later spreading.  Composting reduces bulk, concentrates nutrients, and the fermentation process encourages the manure to release its nitrogen which diminishes odor and makes the manure more pleasant to handle.  The end-product of composting is humus, a dark, uniform, finely-textured, odorless product that is valuable as a soil conditioner and additive.

Decomposition of manure begins with the formation of ammonia as urinary nitrogen decomposes.  The level of fermentation depends on the degree of compaction and moisture content of the manure pile.  A well-tamped but frequently turned pile makes the best environment for the aerobic bacteria necessary for fermentation.  The pile should be uniformly moist.  A dry pile simply dehydrates these desirable bacteria and a soggy heap smothers them.

While a manure pile is fermenting, certain portions of it could make inviting fly-breeding grounds.  One way to discourage flies from congregating is to sprinkle the wettest portions of the pile with hydrated lime.  The lime speeds up the bacterial action of fermentation and the “hotter” alkalizing action discourages flies from landing.  The same lime is used to “sweeten” stall floors by lowering the acidity of the urine in the stall.  It also causes the dirt particles to clump which allows air to more easily get at and penetrate the wet soil, thereby drying the floor.

The process of decomposition of a manure pile can take anywhere from two weeks to three months or more and the quality of the resulting product will vary.  Managing a pile properly will kill the parasite eggs and larvae, prevent flies from breeding, and result in a good quality fertilizer.  To this end, it is best to have three manure piles: one ready to spread, one in the process of decomposing, and one to which fresh manure is being added daily.

Before locating a pile, it is best to check local zoning ordinances.  Be sure the pile is out of sight and smell of residences and down-wind from your stable and house.  The pile must also have convenient access for daily dumping and periodic hauling.  If possible, the piles should be located on a sloped concrete floor with four foot walls.  Depending on the precipitation in your area and whether you are composting the manure to produce high quality fertilizer or just storing it to discard, the pile could be covered or open.  In an arid climate, an open pile is subject to drying by the sun which decreases fertilizer value but also decreases flies.  In a moist climate, an open pile is constantly saturated, so nutrients in the fertilizer are leached away and flies proliferate in the moist medium.  Covering a pile with a roof, plastic sheeting, or earth may allow you to keep the moisture at an optimum level for decomposition and fly control.  If an open pile must be used, it should be about six feet high and six feet wide and can be added to in length as needed until hauling is convenient.

Moisture should be controlled in all areas in and around the barn.  Rake around feeders and waterers every day removing the moist feed that has been dropped.  Pick up grass clippings, keep grass and weeds mowed, and pick up trash regularly.  Be sure there is proper drainage in all stalls, pens, paddocks, and pastures.  Repair leaking faucets, hydrants, hoses, and waterers.  Eliminate wet spots in stalls and pens by clearing the bedding away, liming the stall floor, and letting the ground dry out.  Barn designs that allow sunshine to dry the floors are best.  Proper air circulation (via natural wind flow or fans) is essential.  If possible have an extra stall or pen so you can rotate a horse out of his regular stalls for a day or two each month to let his stall dry.


Feed-Through Oral Larvicide  Feeding your horse an oral larvicide daily can prevent the development of flies in the manure.  However, the chemical that kills the larvae also kills beneficial microorganisms such as the ones necessary for decomposing manure.  Several brands of oral larvicide are available.  The approximate 1 ounce daily dose costs from 4 to 30 cents per day, depending on brand and amount purchased.

Cherry Hill's Horsekeeping Almanac FLY PREDATORS.  Fly predators are tiny, nocturnal, stingless wasps that lay eggs in fly pupa.  The wasp eggs utilize the contents of the pupa as food thereby killing the pupa before it can develop into a fly.  The newly hatched wasps stay within two hundred feet of their emergence.  Fly predators are naturally present wherever there are flies but not in large enough numbers to control an aggressive stable fly population.  Commercially-raised predators are available for purchase.  They are most effective if released early in the fly season and every 1-2 weeks thereafter.  The success of the program depends on the severity of the fly problem, the number of predators released, and the management program.  Methods of fly control involving insecticides must be carefully monitored or they will wipe out the predator population along with the flies.  Fly predators are harmless to animals and people so they are a safe, non-toxic means of biological control.

Look for the final part of this fly control article in a future post.

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How to Control Flies

on Your Horse, around the Stable and

Horse Barn – Part 1

©  2010 Cherry Hill © Copyright Information

If you look in your favorite equine supply catalog, you could find up to 15 pages of fly control products!  During fly season, the shelves of your local feed or tack store will display a myriad of insecticides, repellents, fly traps, baits, and masks.  The choices for fly control products can be overwhelming.  However, if you arm yourself with some basic fly facts and gain an appreciation for the importance of management, you’ll have a better chance of winning your war against flies.
Cherry Hill's Horsekeeping AlmanacStable flies, horseflies, deerflies, horn flies, and face flies are a menace to your horse’s health and well-being.  Stable flies, by far the most common, are the same size as a house fly but while house flies just feed on garbage and spread filth, stable flies (both males and females) suck your horse’s blood.  Common feeding sites include the lower legs, flanks, belly, under the jaw, and at the junction of the neck and the chest.  When stable flies have finished feeding, they seek shelter to rest and digest.

The bite of a blood-sucking fly is painful and some horses have such a low fly tolerance that they can be driven into a snorting and striking frenzy or an injurious stampede. How  to Think Like A Horse by Cherry Hill Even fairly tough horses, subjected to a large number of aggressive stable flies, might spend the entire day stomping alternate legs which can cause damaging concussion to legs, joints, and hooves, and result in loose shoes, and loss of weight and condition.

Stable flies breed in decaying organic matter.  Moist manure is a perfect medium.  The life cycle is 21 to 25 days from egg to adult.  A female often lays twenty batches of eggs during her thirty day life span.  Each batch contains between 40-80 eggs.  When the eggs hatch, the adult flies emerge ready to breed.  Stablekeeping(The clouds of small flies on manure are often mistaken for immature stable flies but in fact are a different type of fly which may play an important part in the decomposition of the manure.)  The number of flies produced by one pair of adults and their offspring in thirty days is a staggering figure in the millions.  That’s why fly prevention is the most important line of defense in your war against flies.


Your first line of defense is

For those flies that manage to breed, your second line of defense is

If some of the larvae succeed in hatching, your third line of defense is

To deal with flies that avoided the traps, your fourth line of defense is

For flies that escape your previous four efforts, your fifth line of defense is

Natural fly protection with Bare Skin Barrier

Watch for parts 2 and 3 of this post coming later this week.

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©  2010 Cherry Hill © Copyright Information

Keeping your horse and his living quarters clean will minimize parasite reinfestation, cut down on grooming time, and help him look great.  This includes cleaning up manure, keeping the area around the barn and pens dry and keeping flies and other pests to a minimum.

A horse produces up to 50 pounds of manure every day!  When manure and urine-soaked bedding decomposes it releases ammonia that can sting eyes and burn lungs.  Horses that stand in wet manure and urine have a higher incidence of thrush and other hoof problems.  Remove wet bedding from stalls daily and allow stall floors to dry before rebedding.

Stable flies bite a horse’s skin until it bleeds and then feed on the blood.  Favorite sites are lower legs, flanks, belly, under the jaw, and at the junction of the neck and the chest.  Stable flies lay their eggs in manure, wet hay, unclipped grassy areas, and other places where there is moist plant material.  Repair leaking faucets, hoses, and waterers.  Keep stalls and pens dry. Clear away wet bedding, sprinkle lime or a stall deodorizer on the wet spot, and let the ground dry before adding new bedding.

Mice and rats carry disease and can destroy expensive tack and feed.  All feed should be stored in mouse-proof containers like big garbage cans or bins.  Keep grass around the barn trimmed to minimize mouse-nesting sites.  Poison and bait are dangerous if you have cats, dogs, or children.  Cats, natural predators of mice, are wonderful to have around the barn.

Horsekeeping on a Small Acreage by Cherry Hill

Horsekeeping on a Small Acreage by Cherry Hill

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