Top five tips for protecting your horse from insects

Tired of those pesky insects biting your horse? Learn here 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 many of you may have noticed, insects are out in full force this year. Although managing these pests can prove challenging, below are five tips by Michigan State University Extension that can help you protect your horse from insects!

1. Manure management
Firsts things first, 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 will help prevent areas where insects will congregate. Removing manure from pastures is a good way to prevent the spread both of external and internal parasites.

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 fish 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 the 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 searching for. During the spring and summer months many horses wear fly sheets. 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 all 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 he’s 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, it would be a good idea to 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. I apply SWAT to the sensitive areas of my horse, such as the underside of his barrel, and anywhere that I find insects will bite more often. If you show your horses throughout the summer it is imperative that you take extra care to protect the areas where you’ve clipped their hair, such as their ears. The hair on the inner ear provides great protection from insects, so when it’s removed I will apply a repellent ointment to the ears.

5. Natural predators
One area of insect control that is often overlooked is the utilization of 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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