Flies. Whatever your discipline, breed preference, or skill level, there’s one thing we can all agree upon and that is this:

Flies are THE WORST.

Like a bad ex, flies are always around, seeming to delight in being as irritating as possible. The worst part is that they (the flies, hopefully not the ex) also carry disease and viruses, their bites lead to painful welts, and they can cause hoof damage from frequent stomping.

Even worse, there’s no one single method that completely eliminates the issue. Effective fly control requires a multi-tiered plan of attack.

The good news is there’s an entire industry devoted to stopping a fly in its track, and with a few tricks and tools at your disposal, you can ensure that your barn and pastures are practically the Fort Knox of the insect world—safe from all manner of flying insects (but unfortunately, not from irritating exes).

Gotta catch ‘em all

Catch and kill methods like fly paper, traps, and bait around your stalls, arenas, and barn can help stop flies from buzzing around, and assist with other aspects of fly management as well, such as allowing you to keep count of the total fly population and monitoring what species of flies are prevalent in your area.

But do beware of how and where you use these options. Sticky fly paper traps don’t discriminate between flies or wild birds, and fly bait is toxic to animals and children (self-contained fly traps are often less deadly to other critters in your barnyard).

Like using aspirin to treat a broken leg, however, catching flies in the air is merely addresses a symptom and not the problem. If you really want to put a dent in your local fly population…

Stop them at the source

Many barn owners turn to fly predators to stop flies from getting a foothold at their barn, and they can be an effective first wave strategy to prevent fly problems. Friendly little parasites that do not bite or sting humans or animals, these little soldiers go to work when you release them in your manure disposal sites, taking over fly cocoons and preventing the pupae from developing.

As an additional benefit to decreasing the fly population, there’s just something really cool about telling people you have a “Fly Predator Army.”

©Jaroslav Noska

Keep it clean

As many fly species lay their eggs in manure, good hygiene practices at your barn are key to fly management. Cleaning up manure piles and soiled or wet bedding regularly is critical. You can further discourage flies from hanging around by keeping feed rooms clean, limiting sources of moisture, and maintaining separation between your barn and manure disposal areas.

If you want to take your fly management protocol a step farther, encourage composting in your manure sites by covering them with tarps and frequently turning the material. Composting will increase the heat within the pile, preventing flies from hatching.

As they say, “A clean barn is a fly-free barn.” Or if they didn’t say that, they should.

©Smitty Smitty

Feed for flies

Supplements are another option. Two main types currently exist on the market.

First, there are those that contain Insect Growth Regulator, typically diflubenzuron and cyromazine. Your horse consumes the supplement, then passes the IGR (harmlessly) through their system. Once in their manure, the IGR works by inhibiting the formation of chitin, the primary structural component of the fly’s exoskeleton, thereby preventing larvae from developing into an adult fly. IGR is shown to work best when used at the start of fly season and fed reliably every day.

The second type is supplements that contains ingredients like apple cider vinegar or garlic oil that claim to discourage and repel flies from the inside out.

Dress for success

The knights of old knew the importance of armor during a battle. So too should we recognize that of equine fly gear in your quest to be Lord of the Not Flies.

Decking your horse out in head-to-hoof fly protection with fly mask, fly sheet, and matching (obviously) fly wraps can shield just about every inch of exposed skin from irritating insects (if they even can recognize your horse anymore). If you’re looking to stock up your fly armoury, Equishopper has a large selection of fly masks, sheets, and wraps available. (And a $20 off your first order over $50 promo on right now.)

If you’re feeling particularly adventurous, take a look at Bucas’ Buzz Off’s line of Zebra print fly apparel. One study showed that zebra stripes help to confuse flies and stop them from ever landing.

One last Hail Mary

Fly spray, although utilized the world around, should actually be your last line of defense against winged invaders. And though every horse person seems to swear by one brand or another (or has their own homemade secret recipe), the research is undecided on the most effective option.

One study, conducted by the University of Minnesota, found that a combination of citronella-based fly spray and leggings/leg wraps was more effective at reducing reactions than Permethrin or Pyrethrin (two of the most common ingredients in commercial insect and fly spray). Another study by a University of Tennessee Master’s student showed that commercial fly sprays are effective, but acknowledged the lack of existing research on the subject, as well as the possibility that things like horse color might affect fly preferences.

The bottom-line: the jury is still out on the best fly spray on the market, but those made with chemical ingredients, citronella, or the tried-and-true Avon Skin So Soft may help your horse look a little less tasty during the day.

©Margarita Vasiukova

So whether you choose to outfit your horse like a knight in shiny, UV-reflective mesh armor, or you tackle flies from the manure up, there’s a whole host of options to help you defend your barn from an onslaught of flies this season.