Are the flies “bugging” you and your horse this summer? Some horses are absolutely tortured by flies, mosquitoes, ticks, noseeums and other biting insects. It can make riding difficult when your horse is distracted with annoying, itchy, painful bugs and their bites. My daughter’s pony is constantly shaking her head and swatting her tail and when she’s standing still she’s kicking at her stomach - poor thing. We’ve tried a number of products over our 35 years in the horse world. Here are some of our suggestions for effective bug relief.
The favorite fly spray in our barn, hands down, is the Marigold Rehydrant Spray by Eqyss. For some reason, it’s labeling has changed but as far as I can tell it is still the same product. It no longer says anything about deterring insects. It just says that it “keeps problems associated with hot weather under control”. The ingredients are all natural and botanical, it doesn’t sting eyes or open wounds and it doesn’t attract dust. We find that it works great for the kind of bugs we get in the Vancouver, British Columbia area. The best thing about it is that it smells great and I don’t have to worry about my kids getting it on their own skin and being exposed to potentially dangerous pesticides. The worst thing about it is that it smells great and my kids love to spray it! Seriously, they think the entire barn should smell like Marigold Spray. We do go through it rather quickly and it isn’t cheap but it is worth every penny as far as I’m concerned.
Another natural spray that we really like is Equine America Natural Horse Spray. The active ingredient for repelling bugs is citronella which gives it a strong lemony smell. It also includes aloe and lanolin which help condition your horse’s coat. This is another product which I feel comfortable letting my children use.
Green Horse Organics makes a natural fly spray as well. I haven’t tried it yet but it sounds great and reviews say it is not only effective but it has a great smell. It is made with a combination of essential oils that have natural insect repelling properties. I’ll be ordering a bottle soon.
I once had a horse that was driven to distraction by noseeums (I’m not sure what their technical name is but they are so tiny that you “no see ‘em”). My vet told me to use Avon Skin So Soft Bath Oil Spray on him and it worked like a charm. We also used this when we lived in Florida where the bugs are horrible! It has a fairly strong but pleasant odor. It also provides effective bug relief for people. I think Avon even makes an actual bug repellant based on this product now. I’m not sure how the connection was originally made between this Avon product and bugs staying away but many people swear by it.
Some people choose to make a homemade fly spray. I’ve heard of lots of different recipes but the one I like the best uses 1 cup of white vinegar, 1 cup of water, 1 tbsp of pure citronella oil, 1 tbsp of dish soap. Combine all ingredients in a spray bottle and use liberally. If you find that it evaporates too quickly or isn’t as effective as you’d like, try adding 1 cup of mineral or baby oil to your spray bottle. This helps it adhere to your horse’s coat but the oil will also attract dust so you might not want to use it at a show.
For internal fly control, I’ve heard of people who swear by putting a little white or apple cider vinegar in their horse’s water or food each day. Apparently this slightly acidifies the horse’s blood so that they aren’t as attractive to the bugs. They say it doesn’t hurt them but if you are thinking about trying it check with your vet just to be sure. I personally haven’t tried this so I can’t speak from experience.
When the bugs are really bad you might find that you need a stronger fly spray. From our experience, any of the commercially available fly sprays seem to be equally effective but also contain ingredients that I don’t want my children coming in contact with on a regular basis. If the bugs are really bad or they haven’t responded to any of the natural products try one of the following sprays – Farnams offers several different insect repellants such as Mosquito Halt Fly Spray and Endure Fly Repellents; Absorbine offers DuraGuard Spray; or you could try Zonk It! Insect Control.
When you use these products, use your common sense. Spray it in a down wind direction so you don’t end up being the one wearing the spray. Don’t spray it near your horse’s eyes or mouth or on open wounds. If you want to cover their face, spray it on a cloth and wipe their face gently. And lastly, if you get it on your own skin, wash thoroughly with soap and water.
If you’ve used any of these products and have an opinion or know of other great products, please let us know!