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3 minutes

Get rid of flies, horseflies, mites, and mosquitoes.

fly mask
A tightly fitting fly mask is often the best means to avoid insect bites around the horse's eyes. However, it is important that it fits snugly, so that flies cannot get in, thus having difficulty getting out again and potentially causing significant discomfort for the horse. Photo: Stock

Insects: The creatures we all despise at this time of year, yet can hardly avoid. Some of them bite, causing great irritation for both horse and rider, they can also lay eggs in the fur or wounds and eyes. Additionally, they might carry various diseases, and allergic reactions can occur due to their bites.

Various types of flies that irritate horses

Here we review the insects belonging to the fly family that can bother horses. Of course, we also explain what you can and cannot use to get rid of them.

Horsefly (Tabanidae)

The large, biting horseflies emerge around June/July and are most active on hot summer days. They prefer to feed on the horse's legs, neck, belly, and mane. The bite appears as painful, pimple-like bumps with a characteristic sore in the center. These insects rarely venture into dark areas, so if your horse is in the stable, it is somewhat protected.

Generally, homemade insect repellents will not work on horseflies as they are quite resilient. Instead, you should invest in something stronger – but be mindful of the instructions for use. These are potent products, and they may not be suitable for daily use.

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Black fly (Simuliidae) or cattle flies

Cattle flies and black flies are not particularly large – only about 2-5 mm. They are found especially near their breeding sites, which are streams and rivers. They are most active at sunrise and sunset in spring and early summer. It would be helpful if your horse is in the stable during these times. The flies will especially target the horse's head, particularly inside the ears, where their saliva can cause an allergic reaction, which can distract the horse. Bites will appear as small bumps with small areas of blood and scabs.

Midgets (Culicoides)

The insects we know as midges are about 1-3 mm long, they move in swarms at sunrise and sunset. They lay eggs in water, so avoid wet areas. It's hard to say where on the horse they attack, as it depends on the species. However, it's most often the mane and tail that are affected, resulting in the horse rubbing itself in those vulnerable areas.

Insecticides can be effective against midges. Permethrin-based products are best and should be used late in the afternoon. Oil-based products can be applied to the horse several times a day to prevent midges from landing. If horses are brought in before sunset, they are also less exposed.

Read also: DIY: 4 remedies against insects

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What we know as ordinary stable flies are simply called stable flies - and can be some of the most irritating for the horse's eyes. Photo: Stock

Stable flies - as we know them

The common house flies or stable flies, lay eggs in moist, decaying plant areas – typically straw with urine or in manure. They feed on the horse's legs and belly, and the bites manifest as itchy or painful bumps with a small crust. The best protection against flies is good stable hygiene. You can also use insecticides. Permethrin-based products work well for the legs.

Mosquitoes, bees, and wasps should also be mentioned when discussing irritating insects in everyday life. These also cause unpleasant bites. Bees and wasps are most active during the day, while mosquitoes are worst around sunset hours.

How to Treat a Bite

If it's just a single sting, you can use some ice to cool it down or bathe your horse in cold saltwater (one teaspoon of salt to two cups of water). However, if you're facing multiple stings, you can use a mild horse shampoo, which can help to cool and remove dirt and bacteria. Avoid your horse scratching the area as much as possible, for example with an anti-itch lotion.

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You should always contact your vet if you're unsure what to do.

Wasp stings are alkaline and should be washed with a diluted acid, such as vinegar or lemon juice. Bee stings, on the other hand, are acidic and can be bathed with baking soda. The bee leaves its stinger behind, so if possible, try to remove it with tweezers, as the venom will otherwise continue to penetrate. If the stinger is unreachable, it will be naturally expelled.

Read also: Help your Icelandic horse to a summer without eczema

AVOID BITES WITH THESE PRECAUTIONS

  • Use fly masks or insect covers.
  • Use a durable fly spray - test on a small area.
  • Use insect spray in the stable or hang fly tape.
  • Avoid water holes where midges thrive.
  • Maintain good stable hygiene.
  • Keep the horses indoors when it gets too bad.
  • Have a fan in the stable to blow away the flies.
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