Shoo, fly! |

Shoo, fly!

Holly Thomas
for Tri-State Livestock News
Buckaroos commonly hang a “shoo fly” from convenient locations on the tack of their horse to keep pests from bothering their mount. Photo by Holly Thomas

There are few things more annoying than a fly – especially when riding horses. Between the biting and the buzzing, it is difficult for you or your horse to accomplish anything. You can slap, swat or swing an arm or a tail at the pest, but they keep coming back. To put an end to this vicious cycle, horse owners have resorted to everything from herbal supplements to full-body armor, but what really works?

Buckaroos commonly hang a “shoo fly” from convenient locations on the tack of their horse to keep pests from bothering their mount. Shoo flies come in a variety of forms, but most commonly are built from horsehair and hang as a tassel that sways back and forth as the horse moves, mimicking a swishing tail. This swaying tassel is placed under cinches, curb straps, and even brow bands to discourage pests from landing and biting horses.

Ranch wife Darby Frank, from Shoshoni, Wyo., deals with her fair share of insects on the ranch and says, “Shoo flies work in the immediate area; but as for keeping the flies off of the whole underneath of a horse, they don’t do much. For the most part shoo flies are decorative – they just look cool.”

While it’s great to look cool, horses and riders still need relief from biting insects and many owners turn to fly sprays and wipes. Fly sprays are a common staple in most feed and tack stores and, according to Valley Vet Supply (horse, pet, farm and ranch supply company []), are always popular. The company listed Pyranha fly spray as one of their top sellers for fly control products, followed by metered fly spray kits such as the Country Vet Automatic Flying Insect Control Kit. However, some owners have concerns about the ingredients in these common sprays and rely on natural products instead. Frank said, “We don’t use fly sprays much because of the toxic part of them,” and then added, “I like to use Young Living Essential Oils. They have an oil called ‘Purification’ that does wonders.”

When sprays, oils or tassels aren’t enough, physical barriers in the form of blankets and masks are often the next line of defense. Insects target soft tissue which is often a sensitive area of the body for horses and people, alike. Areas such as the eyes and nose cannot be lathered with repellent, so masks have become a common shield.

Horse owners Randy and Lori Thompson of Gillette, Wyo., enjoy trail riding in Wyoming and South Dakota. The Thompsons know the bugs can get thick on the trails and have found that fly masks give their horses and donkeys relief. Depending on the need, the Thompsons use nose, eye or full face masks to keep the flies away. Even while at home, the Thompsons keep masks on some of their animals all summer long, but cautioned, “Some don’t like them,” while pointing out a ripped mask. Others, Thompson added, require a mask during fly season for health reasons and gave the example, “We have one mare who gets eye infections all the time, so we have to keep the mask on her.”

In large breeding or boarding facilities, it might be impossible to spray or mask every horse on the property. Because of this dilemma, some operators have dug to the root of the problem by investing in fly predators. Owner/operator of Log Barn Stables in Plattsmouth, Neb., Derek McMains boards almost 50 horses at his 86-acre facility. After one year of operation and thousands of flies, he decided to find a natural way to control the pests in his barn.

Spalding Laboratories markets Fly Predators and states on their website, “Fly Predators are nature’s own enemy of all common manure and rotting organic matter breeding pest flies.” McMains described, “Fly predators are a small wasp, like a gnat, that travel from manure pile to manure pile killing fly larvae. I get a shipment every couple weeks and sprinkle them on fresh manure piles.” He explained that fly predators are shipped in an immature stage and the user sprinkles the cocooned predators which hatch and start feeding on the fly larvae, which are also in the manure. When asked about the success of the predators, McMain indicated that they do not kill all the flies and he still has to use some fly traps; but the number of flies was significantly lowered and he would recommend fly predators to others.

The next time the flies are bugging you or your horse, consider the addition of a predator to your barn. If you’re looking for something more direct, look for a spray, tassel, oil, or mask. Or if you want to really pester the pests, try all of the above and watch the flies “shoo!”

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