Ward off the flies

By Keith Foster of www.finefettlefeed.com

Flies are a natural, seasonal part of keeping horses and ponies. By and large, insect bites and stings are acidic, and stimulate the nerves in the area where the bite has taken place on the horse or pony (or human!), causing pain and/or itching sensations. Mammals rub and scratch the affected area in attempts to dissipate these sensations, often further damaging the skin in the process.

These are the main flying and biting bugs and insects that target equines-

horse flyHorse flies (left), from the Tabanid family, cause pain and discomfort to the horse or pony, and transmit infectious diseases.

Because of their bite, they can lead to equines becoming restless and unmanageable.


The female Biting Midge (Culicoide) (below left) sucks the horse’s blood.


It is a tiny gnat that inflicts painful bites, and causes extreme itching.

These are usually the culprit of the equine skin condition Sweet Itch.

Black Flies (Simuliidae) are biting flies (pictured below left), which may have high populations in the spring and early summer, particularly in pasture areas, along streams.



black fly

Black flies can cause equine anaemia, and are also linked to Sweet Itch, although to a lesser degree than their partners in crime, the Midges.

Because it is Sweet Itch season for some horses and ponies, let’s just revisit our second culprit – the biting Midge. According to Edinburgh University’s Centre for Tropical Medicine, Midges respond to a combination of chemicals – including lactic acid – present in the sweat of certain mammals, which they detect via their sensitive antennae.


When Midges have identified a food source, they helpfully emit pheromones to call other midges to join them – hence the swarming seen around horses and ponies. Equines affected by Sweet Itch are thought to be allergic or sensitive to the Midges’ natural ‘anticoagulant’ compound that it injects into the horse or pony’s skin in the saliva, with each bite.

What should we do to prevent the bugs biting?

horses and flies

Nutritionally, there are some anecdotal remedies that may help both equines and people – specifically Brewers Yeast and Garlic – as the insects apparently dislike the scent of these compounds in the blood. But while these may help to a degree, I believe that topical products are the way forward.

Nature, in its infinite wisdom, has provided a series of countermeasures to stings and bites, a good example of which is dock leaves rubbed on nettle stings. Almost all of these natural countermeasures are of an alkaline nature, since alkaline substances will act to neutralise the acid of the bite or sting.

But you can assist nature by using some topical, consumer fly products to help relieve the horse or pony’s irritation and discomfort.

Topical products

We advise applying a barrier fly spray product to the animal regularly in spring and summer. What you really need to protect your horse or pony is an effective alkaline skin application that forms a healthy barrier that helps counter fly bites and irritation. Not just a scented spray!

A good barrier product plays a major role in avoiding midge nuisance. Female midges have to obtain a blood meal in order to mature their eggs, which is why they feed on horses and ponies; an alkaline-based product like Fine Fettle’s herbal Fly-Spray dramatically reduces the irritating effect of midge bites. It cools, soothes and calms the area under attack, building up an alkaline layer that, when combined with the natural oils on horses’ skin, forms a compound that helps any bites or recover more rapidly. Whenever horses are being troubled by midges, biting insects or bugs, use a barrier fly spray to help prevent discomfort – it also works well on humans.

We also like Fine Fettle’s D-BUG.


This is a topical product that will hinder insect infestation, since it neutralises their jaws’ biting mechanism on contact with the skin.

It does not kill insects, but simply deters them from biting in addition to neutralising insect bites and stings.

Of course, if your equine succumbs to Sweet Itch, always contact your vet for advice.




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