We might be excited about the prospect of some sun — but with it comes the pesky flies. So we asked Horse & Hound readers to reveal their handy tips for keeping flies at bay. Start stocking up...
NB: These best fly spray recommendations come from H&H readers based on their personal experience and may include products which have not been officially approved for use as an equine fly repellent. H&H takes no responsibility if your horse suffers a reaction to any of the suggestions below and recommends you patch test all lotions on your horse before applying to the whole body.
Avon Skin So Soft
“I use Avon Skin So Soft for both humans and horses, and find that it really helps. It’s widely recommended in Scotland as a midge repellent.
“Use any type that suits — sprays are easiest to get in awkward areas or you could massage the lotion/oil directly into the mane and tail. It also does wonders for the coat and is useful for detangling tails. I have been using it for years on several different horses. As well as repelling flies, it softens and moisturises the skin, helping avoid further scratching. It’s a lot cheaper than most sweet itch products, too.” Judith Morris
“I’ve used Deosect on my horse and it’s amazing. You dilute it into water and spray all over the horse. It lasts for a month and then you reapply. It also protects from ticks.” Christine Crompton
Note: this item is available by prescription only from your vet
“I am a qualified aromatherapist for humans and over the last 40 years I have worked out a few things that have helped me.
“One: feed a little garlic daily. Two: don’t over-groom or wash horses unnecessarily. Three: don’t brew a home-made citronella solution and spray it on madly. Citronella is a powerful antibacterial essential oil with the potential to cause irritation. It will affect the natural bacteria levels on the skin, and in many cases I have seen horses react far worse to insect bites where they have been over-treated. If you must use citronella, buy a good-quality spray that is a recognised brand. Four: keep fly masks spotless and change them regularly.” Ann Hesketh
“With regard to flies biting humans, I don’t have too much of a problem, but an old frontiersman once told me that his apparent immunity to fly bites was due to the amount of whisky he drank!” Anonymous
“I mix 300ml of Avon Skin So Soft with 300ml of cider vinegar, 300ml of water, a drop of washing-up liquid and five drops of citronella, then spray it on my cob.”
“My pony has sweet itch and destroys fly rugs, as well as rubbing his skin until it is sore and scabby. He’s 15 and his crest and dock are scarred with thick skin. I have found that hogging his mane, feeding garlic and giving him a bath with a Dermoline gel once a month, as well as a daily fly spray, works. I also apply Vicks Vaporub every other day to any bits that flies target.” Georgina Burnhill
“I always used to feed garlic, but found it doesn’t work well. My hubby and son eat Marmite and are never bothered by flies, whereas I get eaten the moment I’m out of the house. I’m going to try Marmite or a yeast extract, as it’s affordable.” Natalie Rowe
NAF OFF Extra Effect Spray
“I’ve tried several fly sprays over the years and find NAF OFF Extra Effect Spray the most effective for my ponies, particularly my skewbald pony Sonic. The flies seem to prefer him to my bay pony for some reason.” Alice Verrier
Forever Living aloe vera deodorant
“I use a Forever Living aloe vera deodorant — he’s never bothered by flies. I feed garlic, too.” Kymm Kitten
“Camrosa ointment is brilliant!” Natasha Anderson
“My horse wears a fly sheet and I use citronella wipes, plus Sudocrem for sunburn and cuts, as flies hate the smell.” Amelia May
Net-Tex Itch Stop Salve
“Net-Tex Itch Stop Salve is amazing. I apply it once a week — twice at the most — and my pony is happy.” Clare Nicholas
Equine America’s Tea Tree Shampoo
“Equine America’s Tea Tree Shampoo really helps. I use it on my dogs, too, and they all have lovely coats.” Louise Kyle
“Last year I put Sudocrem around my horse’s eyes and a bit here and there on his legs and body. The flies didn’t bother him at all.” Heidi Ingram
“My Dartmoor and Dales ponies both have sweet itch. I use benzyl benzoate every day from early March to November, plus I spray them with a dilute solution of pyrethrin.”
“A product we use in Australia is called Nature’s Botanical and it is amazing stuff. It has rosemary and cedarwood in it, and keeps flies off both me and my horse.”
“A Boett rug was the breakthrough for me, plus a steroid spray for the really itchy bits. I also recommend Red Top Fly Catchers, which have transformed my yard and paddock. They are available on Amazon.” Polly Eddis
Fly repellent rubber necklace
“My pony wears a fly rug from March until October, as well as lots of fly spray and a fly repellent rubber necklace. He has a freshly washed fly rug on every few days. He stays in at night and goes out during the day — after dawn and back in before dusk — but wears his fly rug in the stable, too. It seems to work.” Lynn Samuels
Premier Equine fly rugs and masks
“I feed brewer’s yeast and use Premier Equine fly rugs and masks, which I wash regularly in insecticidal shampoo. When riding, I carry a fly whisk, which is a horsehair switch on a leather whip.” Marylou Ashton
An alarm clock!
“When it comes to working the horses, I get up early, because it’s nicer for all involved. I work my hunt horses at 4am in the summer, then they stay in and go out at night. Just remember to set an alarm clock!” Kim Louise
Keep eyes clean and dry
“Keep eyes clean and dry so as not to attract more flies.” Ros Burch
“My section A gets sweet itch so I use cornucrescine on her rubs and hoof oil on itchy places.” Elfin Moreton
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“Apply Tabard lotion late in the afternoon and a Leovet spray before turnout. Flowers of sulphur powder mixed into aqueous cream, applied every evening, helps restore lost hair.” Shaun Baker
This article was first published in Horse & Hound Ask The Vet (Spring 2015)