With the recent very high temperatures in some parts of the country, summer seems to have arrived with a vengeance, surely a relief for all horse owners after one of the wettest winters on record. However heat and the longer days herald the arrival of insects so how can you be prepared for the warmer temperatures?
Horses can be troubled by a variety of insects, the usual black flies which appear early in the season and horse flies which arrive mid-summer through to harvest time. They are also the target for bot flies, midges and sometimes even hornets and wasps. Insect life varies each year and will depend upon the arrival of spring and what type of summer weather is on offer in terms of heat, rainfall and general temperature.
Horses can be protected from flies in one of two ways, by using fly rugs and/or actual repellent creams and sprays – some people use a mixture of the two. There are various different types of fly rug available based on the standard rug design. Some have detachable necks, some have a flap that goes underneath the horse to protect the midline area and some have a tail guard. They are made from a tightly woven mesh which the flies find almost impossible to penetrate. For maximum effect, the rug should be fairly close fitting as you wouldn’t want a fly to be able to access the inside of the rug as anyone who has seen a horse with a fly inside a rug will testify to! Fly rugs are however quite hot and so it is a balance between protecting the horse if the flies are severe without overheating him.
The horse’s eyes also need protection and this can become an issue even before the main insect season has started. Flies just love to work away at the eyes causing them to weep which makes them even more attractive. Horses can suffer from irritation and some inflammation which can lead to conjunctivitis. If the horse’s eyes are becoming irritated, this can lead the animal to rub the eye which may cause damage or infection. There are a variety of fly fringes, veils and masks on the market which provide a partial or complete covering for the horse’s eyes.
There are many fly sprays and creams available which seem to range from effective to useless. A lot of these products are citronella based which is a popular choice of ingredient to deter flies. Some contain Deet which does seem to work. Deet was developed by the Americans after the Second World War to help combat insect predation in jungle warfare. It is effective and is used in many human insect repellents but some horses do react to it so it is to be used with caution.
Horses that have pink skin on their muzzles or legs can suffer from sunburn and consequently need protection. Factor 50 sun creams for children are a very good option, these offer the highest level of protection against UV rays and are also water resistant which means you do not have to re-apply them each time the horse sticks his nose into the water trough to have a drink. Some of the creams are brightly coloured, designed to indicate exact coverage. Sunburn is as miserable for horses as it is for people and it can make feeding very uncomfortable if the muzzle is sunburnt.
Sweet Itch is the name of a specific allergic reaction to the saliva of the biting midge. Horses and ponies that suffer from switch itch are driven to distraction, often rubbing their manes and tails raw. The midges also predate around the head and forelock and underneath the horse on the midline. As always, management is the key in this situation and there is a specific rug available called a Boett rug which provides a total protection against the biting midge. It is completely breathable and has been used successfully in very hot countries so many people now use it as a standard fly rug because of this.
Topical relief with soothing creams such as Calamine and Sudocrem can assist but the key is to prevent the midges biting in the first place. Dawn and dusk are the worst times of the day so try to avoid turnout during these periods. In severe cases, veterinary support may be necessary. Antihistamines such as Piriton have proved helpful and in some instances, corticosteroids, but these can cause other issues such as laminitis so need to be used really only as a last resort. There is no substitute for good management and prevention is always better than cure.