In our Ask the Vet column, Dr. Lydia Gray answers your horse-health questions at HorseChannel.com/AskTheVet. Got a question for Dr. Gray? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org and use subject line “Ask the Vet.”
Q: Is there a safe way to keep flies away from my horse’s eyes? He always manages to take off his fly mask, but it doesn’t seem safe to use fly spray near his eyes. Are there any other options?
A: I agree with you, spraying fly repellent near a horse’s eyes doesn’t seem safe. Fortunately you have a few options to keep your horse comfortable depending on whether he’s turned out or being worked.
We’re lucky nowadays to have a wide variety of fly repellent forms available for use around the horse’s face or other sensitive areas. These include roll-ons, insecticide-impregnated towelettes, lotions or gels, and other forms. And “regular” fly spray can be applied to a special mitt then wiped on the horse’s face more safely than spraying directly or even spraying onto your hand then applying.
When riding, I’m a big fan of the Crusader Fly Mask – Quiet Ride – Long with Ears to help keep my horse focused on me and not the bugs. However, I feel like your question is more directed to turnout time. The answer you’re looking for may be as simple as experimenting with different sizes and styles of fly masks. Every horse’s head is different, and the brand that fits your friend’s quarter horse great may be too easy for your warmblood to remove (or for the quarter horse to remove for him!) If you’re unable to find a brand of fly mask that fits well and stays on, don’t panic, there are other choices! Fly strips that cover the eyes and even bands for the nose, poll, and check that are filled with insecticide “inserts” might work well (bonus: these choices can be used for riding too!)
I would be remiss if I didn’t encourage you to target the fly population from the ground up, with environmental management measures such as prompt manure removal, elimination of standing water, application of predatory wasps, the use of fly traps and bait, and feed-through fly control. Additionally, there are supplements made with garlic, vinegar, brewer’s yeast, diatomaceous earth, and other ingredients designed to make the horse unpalatable to insects. By going with a combination approach, you and your horse may have an enjoyable summer and fall yet!