Consider yourself lucky. Not only do you have arms (and various swatters) to keep flies out of your face, you can go inside when the buzzing bugs reach “I can’t handle this anymore!” annoyance. Your horse, however, isn’t as fortunate. Yes, he appreciates your efforts to minimize flies—removing manure, installing fans, applying fly sprays. But you know there’s no way he’s thinking, “Yeah, this is OK,” when the flies invade his face, eyes, and ears.
Do your horse a favor: Look into the innovations in six fly masks we’ll feature on the next two pages. Find one that fits his needs. He’ll be less annoyed (which makes for a better attitude under saddle), and he’ll get an extra layer of protection from nasty, disease-carrying flies.
The mask: Noble Outfitters Guardsman.
The buzz: Ever the innovators, Noble Outfitters offers a new patent-pending mask that’s the result of tireless product testing and modification based on user feedback. Choose from masks with and without ears, and use the removable nose guard, treated with UPF 25+, for ultimate protection from bugs and the sun. Double-sided hook-and-loop throatlatch closures offer a secure fit, and brushed fleece at the crown and muzzle prevent rubbing and irritation.
How it’s different: The mask’s framework is made of the same materials used in pop-up tents. It offers a balance between flexibility for comfort and rigidity to maintain the mask’s shape. If bent against the intended curve, the frame bounces back into position. If it breaks, it does so away from your horse’s face and eyes.
Size range: Extra-small through double-extra-large.
Get one: Visit nobleoutfitters.com.
The mask: Manna Pro Opti-Force.
The buzz: Insect Shield repellant, an odorless, invisible insect deterrent, coats the Opti-Force mask. The treatment repels mosquitos, ticks, flies, fleas, and other bugs that carry diseases like Lyme and West Nile Virus. The mask is designed with the horse in mind with a secure fit, room around the eyes, and Clear View Vision mesh. The durable fabric stands up to wear and tear but is smooth and pliable for your horse’s comfort.
How it’s different: If your horse has a plus-size head (big can still be beautiful!), go for the new extra-large size.
Size range: Original (900- to 1,200-pound horses) and extra-large (larger breeds).
Get one: Visit mannapro.com.
The mask: Tough-1 Fly Mask/Catch Halter.
The buzz: If your horse needs full coverage—from the tips of his ears to the end of his nose—this mask fits the bill. Choose from black, brown, or white mesh to blend with coat colors, a strategy shown to minimize other horses’ interest in pulling at the mask. Darts above the eyes and seams around the ears help the mask keep its shape to avoid rubbing on your horse’s face.
How it’s different: Perfect for pasture-dwellers, this mask doubles as a catch halter. The straps below the jaw have a ring to attach a lead rope to take your horse into the barn, switch turnout spaces, or move to another pen. This minimizes the fuss of removing a mask and replacing it with a halter in an open space, which can be dangerous (or frustrating, if your horse likes to evade you).
Size range: Horse.
Get one: Visit tough1.com.
The mask: Cashel Econo.
The buzz: Modeled after the Crusader mask, also made by Cashel, this mask’s Econo name says it all—an economically priced model with the same attention to safety as its predecessor. The Econo mask offers double-dart eye protection and soft, bound edges, just like the Crusader, to prevent rubbing. Pliable micromesh blocks UV rays to prevent sunburn in addition to keeping bugs at bay. A soft, mesh crownpiece will keep your horse cool and comfy around his sensitive ears.
How it’s different: If you mask multiple horses in your barn or have to use one only occasionally, the budget price will accommodate your horse’s needs without breaking your budget.
Size range: Yearling/LG Pony, Small Horse/Arab, Horse, Warmblood.
Get one: Visit cashelcompany.com.
The mask: Absorbine UltraShield.
The buzz: Extended fabric behind the ears offers greater protection, both in the ears and no-ears models. Structured darts keep the mask away from your horse’s eyes, and a double-locking, hook-and-loop closure at the throatlatch holds the mask securely in place.
How it’s different: This standard has been redesigned with high-tech, stain-resistant fabrics. If you choose a model with ear protection, the fabric used here is commonly seen in football jerseys, so it’s lightweight and breathable. The crown and jowl areas are made from a textile used in warm-weather running apparel, which offers stretch and airflow. Highly durable mesh protects the face from bugs and blocks 80 percent of UV rays.
Size range: Cob, Horse, and Warmblood.
Get one: Visit absorbine.com.
The mask: Horseware Ireland Rambo Plus.
The buzz: Touted as Horseware’s longest-lasting mask, thanks to the durable “textiline” body fabric, the Rambo Plus isn’t solely focused on durability. It also offers soft polyester ear material and comfortable fleece edging. True to Horseware’s style, you can choose from a variety of trim colors to match your barn’s hues. Online reviews suggest going down a size for this mask, so be sure to check the measurements and try it on your horse for optimal fit.
How it’s different: An improved design allows optimal eye protection, thanks to eye guards that help the mask maintain its shape. If your horse is exceptionally sensitive to bugs and sun exposure, the detachable nosepiece and large, soft-fitting ear protectors will keep him fully covered. Elastic at the adjustable closures keeps your horse comfortable as he grazes.
Size range: Small Pony, Pony, Cobb, Horse.
Get one: Visit horseware.com.
- DO remove the mask at night, so your horse’s vision isn’t impaired. Flies tend to buzz off once the sun goes down.
- DO ensure that the mask’s lower edge lies at least 1 inch below your horse’s cheek bones to prevent a gap that can allow pests into the mask.
- DO check for spots that rub or pinch. You should be able to easily slip your finger between the mask and your horse’s face.
- DO check the mask every day for rips, rubs, stray fibers, and cleanliness. Repair or rinse as needed.
- DO apply a wipe-on repellant under the mask the the peak of fly season for extra protection.