Treating horses and ponies with bites

By Lucy Nicholas

Flying insects attack horses in several different ways; biting flies can pierce the horse or pony’s skin and feed on its blood, while ‘nuisance flies’ lay secretions, causing discomfort. Some horses and ponies suffer from an allergic reaction.

For a one-off bite, apply an ice pack, or bathe with cool, salt water. (You can purchase re-usable gel packs that remain flexible when frozen.)

For multiple fly bites, a mild horse shampoo can cool the inflamed skin and will help to remove irritating scurf and bacteria.

As they are alkaline, wasp stings should be bathed with a dilute acid, such as vinegar or lemon juice. Bee stings however are acidic and are ideally bathed with bicarbonate of soda.
Try to prevent the horse making the affected area worse by rubbing. A soothing topical antiseptic cream may help.

It is rare for a bite to turn septic; if the area is open and weeping, bathe with a medicated product. If this does not help, consult your vet, in case the bite needs further attention.

Keep a ‘fly kit’ at the yard with the above products and ingredients, plus a bowl and some saline solution and cotton wool, ready for when it is needed.

Preventative measures

horse in stable
Consider physical barriers, such as anti-midge fly masks and rugs – they’re usually made from a strong mesh material.

Apply a high-quality, long-lasting fly spray.

Spray clean stables with a disinfectant, to maintain a clean environment.

Try to eliminate puddles and ponds of still water where midges might breed.

Keep horses stabled when the flies are bad.



Consider a fly repellent collar

Insect repellent collars are my favourite form of fly-bite prevention.
fly collar
They’re a very easy and effective way to give your horse constant and total protection from flying insects. The insect repellent collar contains a blend of natural ingredients to protect the horse or pony against most parasites such as flies, mosquitoes, horse flies and midges. The collars are effective for three to four weeks, depending on climatic conditions. Once the active ingredient reaches the surface of the collar, it then migrates across the horse or pony to give total coverage. I find them to be about 80-90% effective – the same as an expensive fly repellent. My horses have them on 24/7 (see picture below of my mare Primrose), with no rubs or problems, and I ride and do everything as normal with them on.

primrose wears fly collar

The worst flying offenders

*Horse flies (Tabinidae) like to feed on the horse’s underside, legs, neck and withers.
*Black flies (Simuliidae) are prevalent at dawn and dusk. These flies commonly feed around the face.
*Midges (Culicoides) hover in swarms at dawn and dusk. Female Biting Midges suck the horse or pony’s blood and are usually the culprits of Sweet Itch.
*Stable flies lay eggs in moist areas, and feed on horse’ and ponies’ legs and abdomens.
*Other biters include mosquitoes, bees and wasps.





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