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5 Reasons why you should use a horse fly rug | Pros and Cons

As the warmer days lengthen and the real heat of summer starts to make its presence felt, unfortunately, so do the flies. 

All hose owners know that the price to pay for lovely summer weather is biting insects; it’s only those early sunny spring days and the cool temperatures of autumn when it is possible to enjoy pleasant weather without the flies.  Protecting your horse from the misery of flies is essential to protect their health and wellbeing.  Horses plagued by flies will be bitten and can develop lumps and in some cases, suffer allergic reactions, they may even cause themselves injury so it’s not an issue to be taken lightly.

Fly rugs are part of the horse owner’s armoury against biting insects.  Most horse owners have a summer regime of which fly rugs form just a part. 

Here are five reasons to use a fly rug:

  • Nothing can protect your horse as comprehensively whilst he is out in the field or for so long – most horse owners will agree that fly repellants vary in their effectiveness from a bit helpful to essentially useless. A fly rug depending on its design will provide complete coverage for the horse and will protect for as long as the horse is outside
  • Fly rugs guard against all biting insects and there are plenty of those not just flies. Fly rugs can help protect against bee stings if the horse disrupts a nest or swarm and against biting midges which cause sweet itch
  • Fly rugs shield against direct sunlight protecting the horse’s coat and skin from over exposure
  • Fly sheets are versatile and can be left on in the stable to deter against biting insects like stable flies, and midges for horses which suffer from sweet itch. They are also very useful to travel in as they protect horses and ponies from irritating insects whilst they are in transit with windows open and the rugs can stay on them after they arrive at an event  where they are often tied up to a vehicle in the direct heat of the sun
  • Fly rugs protect against dust and dirt

What are the disadvantages of a fly rug?

There are not many drawbacks to a fly rug and they certainly don’t outweigh the many reasons to use a fly rug.  Fly rugs can make horses incredibly hot and so if you have no option but to turn out in the daytime, it may come down to a choice between overheating your horse or protecting him against the flies.

Some horses won’t tolerate fly rugs and spend most of their time trying to remove them – this can become expensive if not dangerous.  If you are constantly having to repair or replace fly rugs then it may be time to think again.

Ride on fly rugs

These are ideal for horses that become distressed by fly attack whilst they are working; it can become very dangerous for the rider as horses will literally throw themselves around if they feel they can’t get rid of the flies.  Most ride on rugs cover the horse’s body with an inset area for the saddle to sit in.  There is an integral neckpiece which can be attached to the headpiece of the bridle to stop it slipping down the horse’s neck when the horse lifts his head up.

There is also a range of ride on fly masks which can protect the horse’s head from flies whilst leaving the front of the face and the horse’s eyes unobstructed.  Flies around the face can be very frustrating whilst you are schooling as the horse will be constantly moving his head in reaction to them.  Always use a designated ride on fly mask as the full face masks designed for pasture use can interfere to some degree with the horse’s vision and would not be a safe option under saddle.

Add Citronella tags to your saddle and bridle as an extra deterrent.

Fly rugs are only part of the solution

For horses who suffer distress or real allergic reactions to flies or other insects, the warm months of the summer can seem a bit like a war zone for some horse owners.  Fly rugs are an essential weapon in your armoury but there are lots of other things you could and should do to help protect your horse and make his life more comfortable.  Here are some suggestions:-

  • Try and turn horses out overnight and then bring them in at dawn, there are fewer flies at night and this works particularly well if your horse is overheating in a fly rug during daylight hours
  • If you have a choice of grazing then opt for fields which are open and exposed preferably in a windy location with few trees as this will minimise the fly population. Enclosed hedged fields with lots of trees are a fly fest in the hot months.  Don’t forget, the horse will still require shelter from the sun though
  • Try and avoid grazing with standing water like ponds or ditches
  • Make sure your horse has a field companion he can buddy up with – horses know how to help each other get rid of flies and do this very successfully if they partner up
  • Spray the exterior of the rug with a fly repellent – if you don’t want to use Deet based products then there are loads of natural products and homemade recipes available online which contain a base of essential oils – many people use a dual approach of a fly rug with fly spray to cover any exposed areas
  • Fly repellents are different from insecticides. Repellents are designed to deter flies from landing on your horse – if you watch, you can see them bounce off.  Insecticides actually kill the flies so check out the product you want to use and what it does.  Some sprays combine both actions.  Always patch test a fly spray first before you use it to ensure your horse does not develop a reaction to it even if you are just going to  spray it onto the fly rug
  • Don’t forget to also add a fly mask to your wardrobe. Flies love to congregate around horses eyes and drink the fluid, this itself can lead to infection which is spread to both eyes.  Constant fly irritation encourages horses to rub their faces to remove them which could cause a foreign body to scratch or damage the eye perhaps even becoming lodged
  • Keeping your horse as clean as possible will make him less of a target to flies – just hack out a horse with some stable stains and see what a magnet they are for just about any insect. Sweat, urine and manure stains are a green light to flies so after you have ridden your horse bath him – there are some lovely essential oil washes which are great for skincare and contain oils which repel flies like lavender or peppermint – and make sure he is thoroughly clean before you put on his fly rug and turn him out
  • Install stable fans during the day to keep air movement within the boxes – still or stagnant area will encourage stable flies and other biting insects like mosquitoes
  • There are a range of essential oil based insect repellent products which you can safely install in your horse’s stable or you can easily make your own homemade versions
  • Hang flypapers in the stables, these really work or spray the walls with insecticide when you do your spring clean as this will help minimise what comes later on in the season
  • Keep the muck heap at a reasonable distance from the stables – for convenience, the closer the better but they do encourage flies, likewise if the muck heap is located in the corner of one of your paddocks
  • Remove muck from paddocks daily – this is a good habit to get into anyway

Top Tips for fly control

  • Never tie up a horse in the yard unattended and/or for long periods when the flies are particularly bad. Some horses will stress and then really panic if the flies are landing on them and they can’t move around to avoid them.  There have been many reports of serious injuries occurring to horses who have had an explosive reaction in this situation.  If you need to tie up then do it in the stable and leave the fly rug on
  • Take the fly rug off and shake it out at least once in every 24 hours. It is quite easy for insects to become trapped in the rug or the rug to chafe or rub and create a sore area so inspect the horse thoroughly and regularly
  • There has been a recent trend in zebra stripe rugs which many horse owners report are very effective at repelling flies due to the striped pattern; it seems to confuse the flies and they find it difficult to land. There is some scientific evidence to support this premise.  Zebra stripe fly rugs are available as field rugs and ride on rugs

Keep your horse safe and comfortable this season with a well-fitting fly rug.  The reasons to use a fly rug certainly make a compelling case – there are very few disadvantages.

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