A look at the different methods of fly control around your horses and barn. By L.A. Pomeroy for EquiSearch.
Here are the routines of choice from some top professionals.
Spray it on. Even if you control flies in the barn, you’ll probably need a spray when you ride. The legs are the first place to spray to minimize stomping, which can irritate tendons and tendon sheaths, and loosen shoes since horses cant use the same twitch reflex as on their upper bodies.
When in doubt, dilute. Fine-skinned horses may need a diluted spray. American Saddlebred owner Judy Werner packs a piece of home, Red Wing Farm in Illinois, with her to the shows. She takes some of “the pyronene spray in our overhead system” and dilutes it, so she can use a product she knows won’t irritate their skin.
Go natural. Some owners prefer more frequent spraying with non-chemical products or homemade recipes. The most common active ingredient in natural commercial products is citronella, an oil distilled from lemon grass leaves. Despite its reputation as a non-toxic insect repellant, it can irritate eyes and should not be used on nursing mares’ udders, since foals that ingest the substance can get diarrhea. Some squirt straight citronella into tails to dissuade burrowing ticks, or combine it with water and mineral oil to make their own spray.
U.S. Olympic three-day veterans Bruce Davidson and Michael Plumb both use natural sprays. At Plumb’s barn in North Carolina, a commercial spray combining 10% cintronella in an aloe-based spray wins high marks. At Davidson’s Chesterland, an herbal, non-toxic spray from England, is used.
Make your own. Still others prefer to make their own repellant. For durability, Jane Kilberg of Timberswitch Appaloosas in Texas, has a “homemade concoction of pyrethrine and petroleum jelly” she uses as an ointment for “sores or wounds to keep the flies away.”
Mums the word. Another natural oil is chrysanthemum juice. Typically, the flower’s extract is used in a witch hazel base. Miniature horse breeder Cheryl Lekstrom says it’s “great on deer flies but can burn delicate tissue on some horses.”
Put in a system. One of the most popular weapons against flies is spray on its grandest scale–the overhead or central repellant system.
Multi-discipline facilities, like Pinegate Farm in Seekonk, Massachusetts, a four-time recipient of the state’s Horse Farm of Distinction award, “wouldn’t operate without it.” Owner Lauren Clegg calls it her best method of control. “I’ve never had a problem with it. I drain the system in the winter and clean the nozzles, spray heads, etc. It’s on from June to September, and in the heaviest season, runs six times daily, spraying for 10-15 seconds at a time.” Clegg says it helps dispel “flies from hovering. Just make sure it’s installed correctly. The maintenance is low and it’s inexpensive, compared to how long you’ll use it, plus about $300 a year for chemicals.”
Take a combined approach. Reiner Tony Lomangino controls flies at his Long Island through a non-toxic defogger system, as well as by fly strips, daily manure removal and a clear, odorless repellant paint for building exteriors.
Finally, while spraying, whether through an overhead system or from a hand-held bottle, is an essential part of a fly control program, too much of a good thing can cause problems. Be alert to signs that you may be going overboard, especially in young or small horses. Look for abnormal behavior, lethargy, fever and disinterest in food or water and consult your veterinarian if you see any of these signs.