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How effective are fly protectants for horses?

Quick facts

  • Flies can transmit diseases, cause welts and prompt discomfort in horses.

  • Horses swish their tails, stomp their feet and move their heads to remove bothersome flies.

  • Leggings, leg bands and citronella spray can help reduce fly aversion behaviors.

  • Manure management, fly masks and sheets and clean facilities can further help manage flies on your farm.

Horse rubbing it's face on it's forelimb to remove bothersome flies.
Horses express a few behaviors to remove flies, which includes rubbing their face on their legs.

How do flies affect horses? 

Stable flies are the most common flies in the upper Midwest. These flies attack horses from May through October.

Flies can harm horses by

  • Transmitting viruses and diseases.
  • Causing welts or skin irritation at bite sites.
  • Causing hoof damage from excessive stomping.
  • Prompting overall discomfort as horses try to avoid them.

Horses usually swish their tails or stomp their feet to get flies to leave. They may also try to move their heads toward their bodies or limbs or twitch their skin to get rid of them.

horse with face mask and leggings
Mesh products like fly masks or leggings can help keep your horse more comfortable.

How to best manage flies 

  • Keep your facilities clean and dry.
    • Remove manure and soiled bedding from horse areas often.
  • Use fly protectant products on your horses such as citronella spray, leg bands or leggings.
  • Provide a physical barrier between your horse and flies.
    • Use nets and screens on your barn doors and windows.
    • Use fly sheets and masks on your horses.
  • Use residual premise sprays where flies like to perch (barn walls and ceilings).

Testing fly protectants for horses

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Rachel Mottet, graduate student, College of Food, Agriculture and Natural Resource Sciences; Krishona Martinson, Equine Extension specialist; Roger Moon, professor emeritus of entomology, College of Food, Agriculture and Natural Resource Sciences

Reviewed in 2018

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