Surviving Spring, Flies & Sweetitch

Fly rugs and fly sprays are a godsend in the summer months, helping to keep those pesky flies at bay. The purpose of a fly rug is to prevent your horse from being bitten by flies or other insects.

Although there are many different styles and makes of fly rugs on the market, they are usually a soft and durable mesh-like material to keep your horse comfortable in the warm weather. Some fly rugs are waterproof, this is usually just over the top of the back/neck and then mesh material for the rest of it to keep it breathable. Fly rugs are usually a full neck rug with a tail guard, some also have the mesh material to cover under the horse’s belly. Whereas some don’t have a neck cover attached, it is really down to personal preference and which suits your horse best.

They are usually light in colour to reflect the sunlight to keep your horse cool, some even have built-in UV protection within them, which protects the coat and skin from the damage that would be caused by overexposure to direct sunlight. Some rugs are patterned, research has shown that small patterns i.e. butterflies can confuse the insects and therefore they tend not to land on the rug.

Boett Rugs are an alternative to the fly rug, more so for those horses that have Sweetitch, they are made of a unique, water-repellent, yet breathable fabric. They have proven to be the most effective rugs for combating Sweetitch in horses.

Sweetitch is a common skin condition in horses caused by an allergic reaction to the protein in the saliva of biting insects. This causes the equine to become extremely itchy and irritated by the insects. Horses are most commonly affected between March and November when the biting insects are most active. There are many ways in which we can help to soothe and reduce the symptoms; Sweetitch rugs, cover the most affected areas to avoid the flies from biting, there are lotions you can use to soothe, fly masks can also be worn along with fly spray to help deter the insects.

Like fly rugs there are a lot of fly repellent sprays on the market all designed to deter the flies away from your horse. Some fly sprays are chemically created and some natural. Fly sprays can be homemade, where you can get a recipe and create it yourself, these usually contain natural ingredients. It really depends on your views on chemicals verses natural, or on how sensitive your horse is as some can have an allergic reaction i.e. hives. Should this occur, discontinue use and once the reaction has cleared try another product. Fly sprays can be a lot of trial and error unless you know your horse is allergic to certain things.

Some of the useful products in fly sprays are: DEET (however no product in the UK can contain more than 20% DEET), there are many other chemicals that can be used (i.e. Ethyl Butylacetylaminopropionate 4 and N-Diethyl-m-toluamide 5), apple cider vinegar, essential oils such as lavender, lemon, citronella, sage, bergamot, eucalyptus, lemongrass, peppermint and rosemary.

It’s about finding out which spray works best for you and your horse.

For a fly repellent to be truly effective, the horse needs to be properly coated in the spray. If your horse doesn’t like sprays, it may be an idea to spray onto a sponge and then wipe onto the horse to improve coverage. There are also a range of gels/creams on the market that will do the same job.

Choosing a fly repellent can be a difficult decision, do your research on the product and patch test it on your horse, better to have a small patch of hives rather than the whole body!

Remember it’s all trial and error!