Fly control: keeping your horse healthy and happy in summer

By Wendy Talbot on 02 June 2017

Flies are not only annoying they are also a health risk to our horses. While it’s bad news that they are inevitable during the warmer months the good news is that you can take steps to reduce the fuss, bother and disease they cause. The best way is to be prepared and start your fly controlprogramme before the flies really take hold.

It’s not just horse flies you need to worry about

Horse flies are the culprits that usually spring to mind but there are plenty of other flying pests that can make your horse’s life miserable and some can cause more than just misery. The bot fly lays eggs, usually on the horse’s forelegs. These hatch in the horse’s mouth as it is grooming itself and are transmitted to the stomach where they continue their lifecycle. The house or stable fly can transmit a worm that irritates the stomach and aggravates wounds.  Midges can also cause an allergic reaction in some horses, commonly called sweet itch, which is far from sweet for your horse.

Other nasties such as ticks, lice and mites can make your skin crawl just to read about them and they may cause considerable discomfort to your horse.

If you have a problem with flies it pays to identify the types involved as this will give you some clues about how best to control them. For example, black flies are more likely to be found near streams whereas mosquitoes and midges like to hang out around stagnant water.

The best approach to fly control is two-fold: good management and the right fly repellent or insecticide.

Stable management for effective fly control

Flies tend to be attracted to and lay eggs on damp organic material such as feed or manure so keeping the yard swept and clean, removing droppings from the field and keeping the muck-heap away from the horses can all help to reduce the irritation posed by flies.

  • Regularly clear horse droppings away from the stable and pasture so flies can’t breed in them
  • Keep the muck heap well away from where your horse sleeps and grazes
  • Keep the stable scrupulously clean
  • Make sure there are no puddles near the stables
  • Consider putting a fly rug and/or a fly facemask on your horse if it is badly affected
  • Consider stabling your horse at certain times of the day – mornings and evenings when many flies are about
  • Some people even put a fan in the stable to stop the flies coming in

Which fly product should I use?

As an owner it can be very difficult to choose which fly product will work best for you. A repellent aims to make the horse less attractive to the fly. An insecticide aims to kill the fly as soon as possible after contact with no biting needed. For maximum effectiveness, treatment should be started before the fly season has begun, to control breeding, and continued at regular intervals throughout the season.

There are many different sorts of repellents and insecticides but you should use one that’s specifically designed for use on horses unless your vet has specifically advised you otherwise. Some need daily application, others less frequently. You might want to use a spray insecticide on the horse’s coat and a cream product on sensitive areas like ears and sheath. You can also use some specifically designed insecticides in areas around the horse’s stable where flies congregate such as the roof or on mesh around the windows – always check the product label carefully to ensure it is safe to use in a horse’s environment.

Speak to your vet or somebody suitably qualified (an SQP) for the right information on products and preventative measures.

Start early

It might seem strange to treat your horse for insects before there’s a problem, but being proactive is the best option for your horse’s health. Insecticides are more effective if you start using them before the fly season begins, and may help reduce fly breeding. Then you can establish a regular schedule of re-applying the treatment until the end of the season, along with other sensible stable management routines.

If you’re in any doubt about whether all this effort is worth it, ask yourself: would you put up with being bitten by flies?

Other related content: 

Check out our video on ‘Why all the fuss about faecal worm egg counts?’


Horse and Hound 

Townsend L (2010) Fly Control around Horse Barns and stables.



Wendy graduated from Bristol University in 1999. She then went on to complete a residency at Liverpool University and holds a European Diploma in Equine Internal Medicine. After working in practice for 13 years, she joined Zoetis in 2012 as the National Equine Veterinary Manager.

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