Top five tips for protecting your horse from insects

Tired of those pesky insects biting your horse? Learn how you can manage insects at your farm.

A fly sheet is a great way to keep bugs away while providing a small heat block.
A fly sheet is a great way to keep bugs away while providing a small heat block.

As the temperatures rise, so do the insect populations across all of Michigan and the Midwest. Although managing these pests can prove challenging, below are five tips from Michigan State University Extension that can help you protect your horse from insects.

1. Manure management

Although we can’t eliminate insects all together (and honestly, we wouldn’t want to), we can control our management practices to minimize our interaction with these pests. The first step, which isn’t glamorous, involves a pitchfork and some elbow grease. Insects are drawn to manure, which means keeping stalls and small turnouts as clean as possible. This will help prevent areas where insects will congregate.

Removing manure from pastures is a good way to prevent the spread of external and internal parasites. If complete removal of manure isn’t possible, breaking up clumps of manure can be a good start to eliminating parasites by exposing them to sunlight and other environmental conditions.

2. Clean water supply

There are numerous reasons why a clean water supply is important for your horse, and just one of those is insect control. One method of creating a clean water supply is to introduce a few goldfish into your larger water troughs. Along with consuming a small amount of the algae that may build up, the fish will also consume much of the mosquito larvae, prohibiting the growth of your mosquito population. As you may already know, many equine diseases are spread through mosquitos, which makes controlling that population extremely important to the health of your horses.

3. Protective gear for your horse

You’ve cleaned up your horse’s environment, now it’s time to focus on the horses themselves. If your horses are sensitive to insects (like mine tends to be), then providing them with some protective gear may be just the solution you’re seeking. Fly sheets can provide protection from the sun’s rays, which can damage a sensitive haircoat, but it also provides a bit of relief from the heat while guarding against biting insects.

In addition to a fly sheet, some horses may benefit from wearing a fly mask to protect their face, eyes and ears. It’s extremely important to remove sheets and fly masks on a daily basis to check for any cuts or scrapes and be sure there’s nothing trapped between the horse’s face and the mask. While you have the sheet off, it’s a great time to assess your horse’s body condition score to be sure they’re maintaining the appropriate weight.

4. Fly repellents

In addition to the steps above, it may also be helpful to use fly repellents on your animals. Before saddling up to ride or show, apply fly spray to your horse’s skin and coat. This will often result in a much more pleasurable ride, as your horse won’t be bothered by flying insects. Repellent ointments can also be very useful, and they often last longer than your average fly spray. I utilize products such as SWAT when my horse is turned out during the day. Apply SWAT to the sensitive areas of your horse, such as the underside of the barrel, the chest and under the jaw.

If you show your horses throughout the summer, it is imperative you take extra care to protect the areas where you’ve clipped their hair short, such as their ears. The hair on the inner ear provides great protection from insects, so when it’s removed, a repellent ointment should be applied.

5. Natural predators

One area of insect control that is often overlooked is using natural predators. Believe it or not, maintaining a population of bats on your farm can be a very effective way to minimize flying insects, such as mosquitos. Bats will consume up to 1,000 flying insects in just one hour.

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