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Prevention and cure of flies

Prevention and Control of Flies

Our Petplan Equine veterinary expert, Gil Riley, provides some advice on how to deal with the problem of flies around horses this summer.

While summer brings longer days and the promise of warm, sunny weather, it also brings flies and other biting insects that can make life a misery for horse and rider alike. The first rule of battle is 'know your enemy' and only by understanding what you are dealing with can you really tackle the problem with any success.

There are five main types of fly that should concern horse owners:


Prevention and control

Here are some simple tips that you can apply to your summer routine to help prevent flies.

1) The stable yard

There are two main areas in a stable yard that are particularly suitable for fly breeding - the muck heap and any stagnant water - and so careful attention to these areas can decrease the population of flies in any yard.

Muck heap: Ideally the muck heap should be covered with black plastic, and the cover pulled back only to make a wheelbarrow deposit. As the muckheap ferments away under the cover the temperature will increase and fly eggs or any developing fly larvae will be destroyed.

Stagnant water: Any ditches should be drained and water should not be allowed to gather in old buckets or containers lying around the yard.


sweet itch caused by culicoides midges

Sweet itch caused by culicoides midges

2) Management

Culicoides midges are most prevalent at dawn and at dusk so if possible keep the horse in the stables at these times.

The horse fly is most present in wooded, shady areas so avoid hacking through any woods, especially on warm days.

Use a specially designed comb to remove bot eggs each day (or more often if possible) from your horse. Worm your horse after the first frost of autumn with an Ivermectin based wormer to remove any bots that have managed to set up home in the stomach.


aural plaques spread by the blackfly

Aural plaques spread by the blackfly

3) Protective wear

Using a fly protection rug is vital to prevent access of Culicoides to your horse and especially important in those horses that have allergic reactions to the fly saliva - in other words horses that suffer from sweet itch.

A fly mask that covers the ears and eyes is an excellent deterrent and good at preventing both the house fly (eyes) and the black fly (ears) from gaining access to their preferred feeding sites on your horse.


bot eggs adhering to legs

Bot eggs adhering to legs

4) Fly repellents

There are a wide range of sprays, creams, gels and wipes on the market containing a variety of active ingredients, from traditional natural solutions to powerful synthetic substances. It is generally acknowledged that some of the most popular natural remedies, including extracts of lavender, rosemary, tea tree and eucalyptus do have repellent qualities. Adding garlic to a horse's diet has also long been recommended as a way of deterring flies.

While many owners prefer natural remedies to the synthetic products on the market they are not necessarily more effective. It is probably best to ask other owners at your livery yard which one they find most useful as that is the one most likely to work for you as well as your horse in the same environment.

Remember fly repellents will only be effective for a limited time and so reapplication during the day is advised to keep levels high, especially if it rains as repellents are not waterproof so in wet weather they will be washed off and your horse will not be protected.