Tips for Fly Season


Well, now that Spring has finally sprung here in Maryland, it’s time to get ready for the flies.

I like to use organic, non-toxic, eco-friendly methods to keep the flies down as best as possible. I know it’s not possible to get rid of all the flies or even win the war on flies, but I try to keep my horses as comfortable as possible during fly season.

There are a few things I like to do so I thought I would pass my tidbits on to you and hope that they may help you and your horse stay comfortable as well.

One thing I do is try to keep the flies out of the barn or help deter them from staying in the barn too long. Here is a video of what I do in my own barn.

But my horses aren’t in the barn all the time, so I have to do something else for them while they are out in the pasture.

Zebra blanketIn my research about natural and organic ways to keep flies off my horses, I’ve learned that one way to do this is to use a fly blanket that actually looks like a zebra. Yes, zebra stripes (black and white) actually confuse a fly’s landing ability and keeps them from landing on your horse. At least for the most part.

Instead of going into the science of that here, you can read about it in one of my earlier blogs: 4 ways to reduce flies from biting your horse

However, if you don’t use a fly blanket, you can help your horses keep the flies off by using a fly spray. Again, I try to use spray that is organic and as natural as possible but still effective. However, which one to use and when is something else to think about?

My fly spray decisions depend on a few factors:

  • The time of season.
  • How bad the flies are swarming.
  • If my horse is working hard or hardly working.
  • How humid or dry the weather is.

The research I’ve read confirms that using the same fly spray over and over, year after year can cause your horse to become resistant to it. So it is suggests using different types and strengths at different times and strategically rotating what you use.

And by rotating the fly sprays we can keep our horses and ourselves more comfortable during fly season. Even though there are a few things to keep in mind when trying to find the best fly spray solution for your horse, this doesn’t have to be complicated.

Here is what I use:

In the Spring when the flies are just starting to come out and they aren’t too bad yet, I use a fly spray that is not too strong. I like to go with an eco-friendly, light spray that has essential oils and is powerful enough to repel a low number of flies. I also like to make sure it repels mosquitoes and gnats for at least 8 hours.

In the beginning of Summer when the flies start to get worse, I use a fly spray that has a moderate strength and is ideal for more normal conditions. I still look for one that repels flies and other irritating insects like ticks.

In late Summer/early Fall when the flies are really bad and we get swarms of them, I use a fly spray that is considered an “ultimate” repellant. A heavy hitter, as they say, and the one that is the most advanced formula. I go for the 24/7 strength. We have some major “horse flies” in Maryland that are huge and really hurt when they bite. These are much different from regular flies.

Well, as you can see, the temperature has a lot to do with the number of flies and how aggressive they are. The hottest time of the year here in Maryland is July, August, and September. Plus, we have high humidity to add another factor into what kind of fly spray to use.

When I lived in California which had very low humidity and lower temperatures than Maryland, I stuck with a low to moderate eco-friendly fly spray because the flies stayed at a lower level during the height of the Summer. However now that it gets hotter and more humid here in Maryland, I go with the stronger strengths in late Summer.

One more thing to factor into what you use as a fly spray is how much your horse is sweating.

When the number of flies is low, you’re out on a light trail ride, doing light training, or just have your horse relaxing in his/her pasture, then an all-natural 8–12-hour protection fly spray should work well.

When the number of flies is high, you’re cantering on trails, doing heavy training, or your horse is playing hard and sweating heavily, then a sweat-resistant stronger 24/7 fly spray should work well.

Here’s one more tip.

If you’re standing in the fly spray aisle looking at the multitude of options, besides looking for one that says, organic or all-natural, look for one that is water-based. However, that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t have essential oils in it. Essential oils can be included and still be a water-based formula.

Water-based fly sprays are easier on most horse’s skin and they won’t attract dirt or dust as easily. You’ll also want to make sure that the water-based fly spray includes synergists in the formula to keep them from breaking down too quickly in environmental conditions such as; sunlight, rain, winds, etc.

According to my research, oil-based fly sprays are usually made with ingredients that come from petroleum distillates. The idea behind these is that they won’t evaporate as quickly in the sun.

But the problem with the oil-based fly sprays is that they can cause burning by amplifying the sun like tanning oil. They may also dry out your horse’s skin and coat resulting in cracking, itching, or a rash. And they can leave a sticky residue behind that attracts bugs, and dirt, and even smells bad.

So while you are in that aisle looking for a good mix of fly sprays make sure you…

  1. Read the fine print – Look at the list of ingredients and their percentages. Knowing more about the formula of the fly spray you’re considering will help in determining how well it will work for you and your horse.
  2. Know the difference in active ingredients – Insecticides are what kill the insects, repellents prevent insects from touching your horse, and some products will both repel and kill. Figure out which is best for your situation. I use fly spray on myself when out with the horses, so knowing the ingredients is important for me too.
  3. Know what synergists are in the formula – Many of the fly sprays include synergists, which are additives that increase the effectiveness of the insecticides and repellents. The most common insecticides in equine fly sprays are pyrethrins and pyrethroids.If you see pyrethrins, these provide a very fast reaction, thereby killing insects quickly. However, these can easily be broken down by sunlight. These are usually added to protect and extend the effectiveness of the formula.If you see pyrethroids, these are a synthetic version of pyrethrins. These will also protect and extend the effectiveness of the formula, but they are not easily broken down in sunlight. So they can remain effective for several days.

It’s important to note that while the active ingredients kill and/or repel insects, the base of the formula contributes to the overall experience. So depending on the strength you need, it’s important to find a long-lasting fly spray with a base that is going to give you and your horse the best experience.

While oil-based sprays may seem to last longer, they can cause irritation, and dryness, and leave an unpleasant oily residue and smell. I like water-based fly sprays better because they cannot only be long-lasting, but are also gentle on my horse’s coat and skin without leaving an oily mess on my horse or myself.

Hopefully, these tidbits help you and your horse be more comfortable this Summer and enjoy some fun times riding or just hanging out together.

Let me know what you do to handle the flies where you live. I’m always looking for good ideas.

Please Share

  • The tips you give on flies are wonderful to read about. I use Repel-X on my horses and it seems to work good plus the scent is nice as well. Since having a substantial amount of snow and rain it also has brought a problem with ticks.

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