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Worth Knowing: About insect rugs for riding

Worth Knowing: About insect rugs for riding

The warm days are finally upon us, and we are excited! But this also means that it is peak season for insects. Horses have very different tolerances to insects, and some horses can be greatly affected by them. They cannot perform optimally during rides and can be extremely bothered in the pasture. This is where insect rugs can make a big difference, both for your horse and for you. But what should you choose? There are a plethora of different types, styles, and prices. Fortunately, Malgré Tout has gathered the most important information about different types of insect rugs for riding.

Read also: Worth Knowing: About insect rugs for the paddock


Can you ride with an insect rug?

You might already have an insect rug for your horse, but when it comes to riding, you unfortunately need to invest in one specifically made for that purpose. This way, you avoid complications with the saddle, straps, chafing, and mobility. There are several different types of insect rugs that can be used while riding, and it can be a matter of personal preference for you and your horse to find what works best.

A general rule for insect protection is that the finer the mesh, the better the protection. A very tightly woven mesh will also protect against mosquitoes and other tiny insects. Another good rule of thumb is that the lighter the insect rug, the cooler it will be for the horse.

The Zebra Striped - Is it just for fun?

No, it actually isn't. Several scientific studies have shown that insects are confused by the stripes of a zebra. On the African savanna, there is a significant difference in the number of flies, for example, on a zebra compared to a wildebeest standing next to each other. Therefore, it's a clever trick to produce insect rugs with stripes, which are naturally assumed to reduce the number of flies on the horse. Research is also being conducted on other color combinations that naturally can deter insects from landing on the horse.

The zebra-striped insect rug is a widespread phenomenon, and most of us have probably seen what looks like a herd of zebras walking in a paddock. These rugs are produced in several different types and with different protection areas, and are also available for riding. They can come with a neck cover that is fastened to the headgear, but be aware that it fits in size so as not to put extra pressure on the headgear. The strap should only stabilize the neck, not exert a pull. There are also insect rugs with fringes at the bottom, which are supposedly meant to keep insects away from the belly. However, be aware that some horses may be bothered by the fringes hitting their legs. Long side pieces that almost cover down to the knees are also an alternative for increased protection along the legs, and again, an individual assessment must be made as to whether it works for your horse.

Read also: 3 common skin conditions in your horse – how to treat them

If you're not into the zebra-striped look, fortunately, there are many other colors to choose from, but consider whether you want a light or dark color, as light colors, as is well known, attract less heat than dark ones.

An insect rug can also be shaped like a regular riding rug and still have a significant effect.

Adapt the insect protection to your needs

Many of the smaller insects target the thin skin, especially under the belly. For some horses, a 'belly protector' might actually be sufficient. It can be used for riding alone or under an insect rug, as well as in the paddock. However, be aware that the horse may urinate, especially if it's a gelding, as the stops go between the hind legs and up around the base of the tail. This is an easy and inexpensive solution if your horse is primarily troubled by insects landing on its sensitive area under the belly. Ensure it's properly fitted and doesn't chafe or bother the horse, even when riding.

You can also complement this with a 'neck protector,' but it's only suitable for use during riding, not in the paddock. It attaches to the saddle and shields the horse from insects landing on the neck. This is beneficial if your horse is bothered by insects on the neck, which often leads to constant shaking of the head, neck, and body, and if the horse doesn't tolerate a full riding insect rug.

If the horse noticeably shakes its head and neck, you can also add a fly mask, which can be worn under or over headgear depending on the type. Note that not all fly masks can be used in combination with headgear, and often the mesh is more transparent for riding. Test it by looking through the fly mask yourself and walking around a bit.

Lastly, you can incorporate an insect loin rug if you desire full protection without using the entire rug. This allows you to tailor it to the horse's needs, which may vary throughout the season.

Also, note that if the horse shakes its head, it may also be due to reasons other than insects.

Read also: Make your own fly spray - the cheap and smart alternative

Does your horse need an insect rug?

The following points may indicate that your horse is bothered by insects. But remember, there's always a reason why the horse reacts as it does. Therefore, you should, of course, ensure that your horse's reaction doesn't stem from pain or discomfort.

  • Does it appear irritated and frustrated?
  • Does it toss its head when you ride during the summer?
  • Does it prefer to trot when you're in the woods during the summer?
  • Does it kick under itself or backward?
  • Does it bite itself on the body or swish its tail forcefully?
  • Does it run aimlessly around the paddock?
  • Does it have small bumps around its body or perhaps small blood spots?

The difference between insect and eczema rugs

What is summer eczema actually? It is caused by the 2-3 mm-sized mite that feeds on the horse's blood, often where the skin is thin or easily accessible. The horse reacts allergically to the mite's saliva and starts to scratch intensely. The diagnosis can be made by the veterinarian, who can conduct allergy tests and examine the blood for antibodies against mites.

Some horses may also suffer from sun eczema, also known as photosensitivity. This means they have an increased sensitivity to light, causing parts of their skin to redden, swell, and itch extremely. In short, there's a chemical reaction that impairs the skin cells' ability to resist light exposure. In these cases, horses either need to wear tightly fitting and fully protective sun eczema rugs or be kept in the shade, depending on the severity of the condition.

The difference lies in the fact that eczema rugs are tightly woven, fitting closely to the body, covering almost all areas, and often have elasticity for mobility. Insect rugs are often less tightly woven, have a looser fit, and also serve the purpose of repelling flies. However, you can certainly use an eczema rugs as an insect rugs, but not vice versa.

It is recommended to only use an insect rug if necessary. If your horse is not affected by insects when riding, it may be advantageous to reduce the gear, especially on hot summer days. The use of insect spray can also significantly reduce discomfort.


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