Hot New Fly Hacks

Equine Care

  5 min read:  Hot New Hacks for Winning the War on Flies,    
 Gnats & Mosquitoes in 2019!

 By, Steffany Dragon, MS, CEMT

We realize we are in the THICK of Fly Season so if you are reading this blog, you are looking for new, more effective ‘weapons’ or greener alternatives to win this war against your horses’ nemesis…insects. You’ve most likely read the importance of controlling these pests, including their potential for disease transmission to both animals and humans. In addition, bites causing inflammation and itch often lead to stress, injury and infection in skin, ears, eyes, and general discomfort. Nothing quite ruins the great outdoors for horses and people like these buzzing and biting pests!  If the importance of controlling flies hasn’t gotten your attention by now, even Strangles can be transmitted by flies! It is very difficult for facilities who have experienced a Strangles outbreak to contain it no matter how quarantined the affected horses are. Fly transmission certainly explains its incredibly contagious nature. (Source: Crabbe, Barb DVM, Horse and Rider magazine, May2008.)

Here are our best battle strategies against gnats, no-see-ums, flies, mosquitoes, and ticks covering all bases from the horse to the farm! 

Practices & Hot Products:
On-Horse. Sprays! The most common on-horse practices involve picking up your favorite bottle of fly spray at the local feed store. Most Chemical fly spray formulas contain pyrethrin or pyrethroids as the primary active ingredient. Rule of thumb is you get what you pay for. Advantages of water-based formulas include less susceptibility to sunburn, skin irritation and dirt sticking to the coat. Oil-based formulas last longer due to being more sweat and water resistant but may attract dirt and sun. Interestingly, a water-based formula that contains sunscreen or coat conditioners (such as aloe or lanolin), may provide just enough oil to help the product stay effective longer. While Chemical formulas repel and kill pests, Natural fly sprays are formulated to repel. Natural repellant products usually contain essential oils with added benefits of increased safety, and both naturally healing and antibacterial properties. Geraniol,
peppermint, lemongrass, citronella, rosemary and lavender essential oils are often the effective ingredients in these products. Most natural sprays smell great and are safe and effective for adults and children. We use them on ourselves routinely to prevent mosquito bites! There are also natural fly collars and fly bands available to repel mosquitos, flies and gnats.  Our suggested fly spray hacks?

  1. Avoid chemicals to eyes and sensitive areas. Have you ever gotten your horse’s fly spray in your eyes? It is just as harmful and burning to theirs. Consider applying Natural Fly Spray products like Equiderma Neem & Aloe fly spray (water-based product developed in the Florida everglades that includes lemongrass, citronella and tea tree oils) to a brush or cloth to use daily around eyes, ears, face. Natural Fly Wipe products (ex. Espree wipes) are also very convenient to use in this way. The wipes also come in handy as a disposable alternative to a stable rag to apply fly ointment with more sticking power to areas like just inside the ear. Then instead of a very messy barn rag to add to the laundry pile you simply dispose of it. Also, look out for a new product by Spalding called Bye Bye Insects. This new botanical spray demonstrates comparable efficacy to synthetic pyrethroid chemical sprays but instead uses only natural ingredients. 
  2. Different areas have ‘bugs’ more resistant to formulas than others. Be smart. Perhaps a fly spray with all the bells and whistles for long lasting efficacy should be used prior to turnout, at shows and during trail rides, while apply a less expensive product that will be  washed off in an hour anyway for at-home schooling! Another favorite of ours is a botanical after workout rinse by Absorbine called CoolDown. This product is used to mix in a bucket of water or in a spray bottle provides cooling ingredients to bring the horse’s temperature down and soothe muscles while the essential oils in the formula provide natural insect repellency and coat conditioners! Not to mention the aromatherapy for both the horse and human! 

Fly Gear! There is nothing quite like a physical barrier to protect your horse! Those gnats can irritate your horse’s eyes and ears so severely that they cause further damage including cuts, scrapes and even eye injuries or hematomas when they scratch their faces on posts, trees or whatever they can find to satisfy their itch. Mesh fly masks with ears, like the Shires Fly Mask are key in preventing injury while offering prevention from irritation, protection and healing. Is your horse stomping in the pasture, seeking relief from flies? You may want to consider fly guards, often called fly socks or fly boots. One brand that provides cool protection and great coverage is the Shires ARMA Airflow Fly Socks.  Shires does not sacrifice style for function providing matching fly masks and fly socks to keep your horse properly outfitted in handsome gear. 

On-Farm. If you board your horse, you may not have much control over farm management practices, but they are an effective part of any arsenal against barn insects. They can also reduce the amount of other on-horse products needed. A combination of strategies ranges from setting up sticky tapes and traps to control the flies in the barn to managing sources that may be breeding grounds for both flies and mosquitos. Managing your manure pile, keeping feed securely sealed and swept, and eliminating or daily changing of any standing water sources are first steps. Here are a couple On-Farm pest control hacks:

  1. Biological Warfare!  Also known as fly parasites, these tiny, stingless wasps are not harmful to humans or animals but are native and natural specific enemies of manure-breeding flies. Want to know how it works? The tiny adult female wasps lay eggs right on top of the fly pupa. As the wasp larva develops, it consumes the fly egg! But back to our hack…You may purchase these native fly predators from several different companies who ship them out to you in batches through the mail. For example, one pouch from Spalding Labs is enough for five horses for one month and costs around $21. You simply scatter them around manure areas. *KEY Point: Order and sprinkle the fly predators before peak fly season, usually in Spring or early Summer depending on where you live. Pest flies reproduce at a faster rate than the fly parasite wasps; therefore, they must be reintroduced about once a month. Also check out SmartPak’s version, Fly Stoppers™ to “create a no-fly-zone-without the chemical pesticides”.
  2. Remember to read instructions on any type of fly or mosquito trap that you use. If you place the wrong type of trap in the wrong area, you will either attract all the flies in the area to your barn or catch no flies at all! Rule of thumb: Put sticky tapes and sticky traps up high, where you see flies (inside barn) and where there is light because they are a visual attractant. Odor traps should be placed at least 50-75 ft away from the barn. We recommend visiting Spalding Labs for a nice range of traps and education for horse properties. One of our favorite new products for Natural Mosquito control is the Spartan Mosquito Eradicator. A natural product that truly works by emitting the same attractant as humans and animals do, drawing mosquitos on the hunt to a bait and trap you place away from the desired mosquito-free area. So easy to use, you simply add water and shake, then hang on the perimeters of your property. It simply contains salt, a form of sugar and yeast! 

Horse Supplements. There are two categories of “Feed through” horse feed additives/supplements. One type that is primarily an insect growth regulator (IGR) does its job once the product passes through and is in the manure, ending up in the pasture, stall or manure pile. Fly larvae that would then develop in the manure actually die since the active ingredient prevents the formation of ‘fly exoskeleton’ made of chitin. They must be given individually to every horse, every day. Simplifly™ is one such product. While the IGR products work to kill fly larvae, hence preventing flies from developing in the environment, natural feed through products containing garlic, apple cider vinegar, etc. work as a repellant for the horse, deterring many insects when the ingredients are excreted through sweat. Important Feed through Hacks:

  1. Do not use IGR products at the same time as fly-predator wasps because they will kill the developing wasps as well! 
  2. Look for Natural feed through products for gnat, fly, mosquito and tick repellency. Buggzo! is an all-natural, palatable pellet that contains two types of garlic, a pH buffered apple cider vinegar, thiamine, diatomaceous earth, brewer’s yeast, and B vitamins. In addition to naturally repelling pests through a horse’s sweat, when ingested garlic also acts as a natural antibiotic and digestive aid.  Higher levels of thiamine (vitamin B1) excreted in sweat discourage all types of insects including flies and mosquitoes. This feed through product can be used in conjunction with fly parasites. 

One of our most favorite weapons against flying pests, needing no explanation is…the Fan! Especially in the warmer months, our dear fans provide much needed relief from the heat AND flying pests of all kinds. We hope you have found at least one new ‘weapon’ to put into your arsenal against flies and other insects! Implementing some of these hacks and trying some preventative practices will keep the bugs at bay so you and your horse can win the war on Flies, gnats, and mosquitoes!