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Fly Control in Summer

Horseware Amigo Flyrider Exercise Sheet at Mole Valley Farmers
Protect Your Horse From Flies

With summer upon us, horse riders are engaged in the ongoing battle with midges and flies, which can make riding at this time of year so difficult. Sensitive animals can be tormented until nearly un-ridable, others can be plagued with lumps, rashes or Sweet-Itch, while wounds can become infected, as can eyes.

There are several species of fly which are particularly problematic. Biting flies can pierce the horse’s skin and feed on its blood, while nuisance flies feed off secretions in and around the horse’s eye, mouth, nose and other sensitive areas, depositing bacteria as they go. Aside from the threat of an allergic reaction and annoyance, the spread of bacteria between horses can then lead to disease.


The horsefly (Tabanus), is a large biting fly (0.5-2.5cm), which typically appears in the warmer months and is particularly prevalent near wooded areas. They tend to target the horse’s underside, legs and neck, causing large, painful lumps, and can also bite humans! Some horses will have severe reactions to these bites which can be hugely uncomfortable and may even require the attention of the vet. In less extreme cases, gentle bathing with dilute hibiscrub and application of antiseptic creams may be of benefit.


Black flies/house flies (Musca domestica) are a nuisance fly and another common pest, being most noticeable at dawn and dusk. They commonly feed around the face, particularly around the eyes and nose, but also on the horse’s neck and underside. If your horse is being irritated by these flies, do check their eyes closely, as conjunctivitis is often a consequence of these flies due to bacteria being deposited on the delicate mucous membranes of the eyes.


While flies are undoubtedly a nuisance to horses during the summer months, Recurrent Dermatitis (SSRD) or Sweet-Itch, as it is more commonly known, can cause absolute misery if not effectively controlled. The condition is caused by an allergic reaction to the saliva of biting midges. It causes horses to rub their manes, tails and sometimes their undersides too. The severity of the condition varies from horse to horse; some will only rub occasionally, while others will rub manes and tails until the hair falls out in clumps revealing raw, eczema like areas. Although some fly sprays may help ease the burden of the midges, only a few bites are required to trigger a reaction. Therefore, the best treatment for Sweet Itch is prevention, for which good quality fly rugs play an important role.


Top tips to protect your horse from flies:


Stable your horse from dawn to dusk

Use a fly rug with face mask for a physical barrier from the flies.

Fly rugs for riding in are now also available

Use an effective fly control product and apply it at least once per day – there are many different products on the market, but we would advise trying a product  that contains a syntheticpyrethroid such as permethrin or cypermethrin.

Feed garlic to repel insects through residue on skin

Use a human insect repellent when riding 

Use fields with lower midge burdens; those away from water and higher up are preferable.


Source Details

 Susi Atkinson

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