Where there are horses, there are flies. I hate seeing these biting insects swarming around my horse’s face, especially at the corners of his eyes. This has to be annoying and even uncomfortable at times.
Wanting to help ease his discomfort, I retrieved his fly mask and suddenly thought of something. If horses and flies have co-existed for thousands of years, does he actually need to wear a fly mask? After asking several horse experts and doing some research on my own, I found the answer.
Flies generally do not pose a health risk to horses so they don’t need a fly mask at all times. However, a fly mask should be used on horses that get overly agitated by flies or have a wound that needs to be kept clean. Some masks provide more protection by covering each ear and extending down over their nose.
There is plenty more to discuss about fly masks for horses including when you should use them and what masks are the best that money can buy. Keep reading and I’ll give you all the info.
Are fly masks good for horses
Fly masks are a good invention for the modern horse. They are a simple and inexpensive way to keep annoying bugs away from your horse’s sensitive eyes. Hold one up and see for yourself. Bugs simply won’t fit through the mesh yet you can still see through it.
If your horse has an eye infection, fly masks are essential in keeping their eyes clean since flies carry germs and diseases that could make an eye infection worse.
Fly masks also provide some protection from the glaring sun during hot summer months. Think of it as a wrap-around pair of sunglasses for your horse.
Always make sure that the fly mask is clean and free of debris before putting it on your horse. Horses don’t like getting dust or dirt in their eyes any more than you do. A quick shake removes most dust and really dirty masks can be washed with soap and water. Make sure to dry it before putting it back on though. A wet mask is hard to see through.
Should you ride with a fly mask on
Fly masks are great for horses in a pasture, barn or even tied up while grooming. However, you should not ride a horse that is wearing a standard fly mask. While fly masks are see-through, horses should have full visibility while being ridden so they can watch each step and respond appropriately to your commands. A horse might spook if they cannot see clearly an object you are asking them to walk by.
Although, there are fly masks designed specifically to be worn while riding. The mesh is softer and sheer, giving your horse better visibility. Due to the daintier material, these fly masks should not be used daily for pasture turn outs. Horses are hard on equipment and they will inevitably become ripped and are much more expensive to replace.
Personally, I never ride with a fly mask on. If the flies are so bad that you want to keep the fly mask on your horse, then they are probably going to swarm you as the rider as well. Nobody will be comfortable during that ride. Go to a different location or use some fly repellent spray.
How do you keep a fly mask on a horse
Fly masks are easy to put on and stay in place relatively well. A basic fly mask has a slim strap that goes over both ears and lays on their poll. The body of the fly mask covers their forehead, eyes and cheeks and secures under their throat with a velcro strap. Make sure the velcro strap is tight but you should still be able to fit a couple fingers between it and their throat.
Fly masks with full ear protection attach the same way. Instead of having a slim strap behind the ears, these masks have mesh sleeves for each ear. Just make sure to place theirs ear into the correct pocket which is easily distinguishable by holding the mask upright. Secure with the velcro strap under their throat.
Regardless of how well you velcro the throat strap, it is inevitable that one day you will find the fly mask hanging off one ear or lying in the dirt. Horses love to scratch at itches underneath a fly mask.
If you have a horse that is constantly removing their fly mask, they probably don’t like it and are more comfortable without it on. Save yourself the time of retrieval and money for a new mask. Remember, flies are more annoying than harmful for a healthy horse.
Can horses wear fly masks in the rain
I have placed fly masks on my horses many times in the morning sun only to find it pouring down rain later that afternoon. They patiently wait for me to remove the wet masks but no harm is done.
Horses can wear fly masks in the rain but it is unnecessary and mostly just uncomfortable. A wet fly mask is harder to see out of because the water clings to the mesh holes. And having a cold, wet piece of fabric wrapped around their face is down right uncomfortable.
Have you ever noticed that the flies go away when it’s raining? You won’t need to put a fly mask on your horse if it’s raining and they are outside. Rain is a natural deterrent for insects.
However, horses kept inside a barn or stable may still be exposed to pesky flies even when the weather turns nasty outside.
Can horses wear fly masks at night
Horses should not wear fly masks at night for several reasons. First, visibility is greatly hampered through a fly mask when it is dark outside. It is important that your horse can see to safely maneuver and feed throughout the night.
Second, you cannot keep an eye on your horse in the dark. A fly mask that gets stuck or halfway falls off can cause your horse to panic and lead to injuries. This also applies to fly masks that have gotten dirty throughout the day. If dirt or debris gets into your horse’s eye, they will have to wait painfully until morning when you finally check on them.
The only time a horse should wear a fly mask at night is when medically necessary. Some eye or facial wounds need to stay fully protected until healed. In a situation such as this, containing your horse at night in a well-lit stall or smaller paddock is wise to prevent further issues caused by the fly mask.
3 Best horse fly masks and which one to buy
Like everything else nowadays, there are numerous styles and options to choose from when buying a horse fly mask. Personally, I like simple masks that are easy to put on and take off, minimize ear rubbing, and don’t touch their eyes. Here are my 3 favorite horse fly masks.
This fly mask may have a low price tag but don’t let that fool you. The open ear style fits horses 900 – 1200 pounds without rubbing. The double velcro throat latch prevents the mask from coming off in the field and the sturdy lead-line loop under the chin allows you to attach a lead rope without the need for a halter!
The Opti-Force is similar in style to the Pro-Force mask mentioned above but this mask has longer coverage down the nose and the smaller mesh is coated with an insect shield repellent that creates a bug free zone around the open ears and nose. This mask also features double throat latches to secure its bigger size. Available in Standard (900-1200 lbs) and Extra Large.
If you are looking for a full coverage mask then Cashel’s Quiet Ride in Regular or Long is the perfect mask. The entire fly mask is made of lightweight, sheer mesh which allows for great visibility and can be worn under or over a bridle.
The ear sleeves are made of a soft fabric which allows for free movement of the ears. There is also a forelock slot so you can pull your horse’s forelock out from under the fly mask to prevent rubbing. These masks also come in 5 sizes so you can guarantee one will fit your horse!
Alternatives to fly masks
Fly masks might be the easiest and most affordable method for fly protection but there are alternatives. For those of you with head shy horses who will not accept wearing a fly mask, fly repellent is a good alternative. A good repellent will keep flies at bay for several days before needing to reapply.
It is never a good idea to spray directly onto your horses face with any chemical. Overspray can get into their eyes and they usually startle and pull back when liquid is squirted at their face. Apply the fly spray to a soft bristle brush or rag and gently wipe it over their face.
Fly collars are another great product to try. Picture a dog collar but for horses. A strip of fabric material is permeated with citronella and other repelling ingredients and wraps around a horse’s neck just behind their ears.
It creates a bug free zone around their head and its potency can last up to 2 months depending on the brand. Take it off if you think it’s going to get wet. Two brands to try are Fly Free Zone and Defy the Fly. Defy the Fly also has repellent leg bands in addition to the neck collar.
Fly masks are an easy and effective way to keep flies and insects away from your horse’s eyes. The fact that they are reusable makes them just as friendly for your wallet. Your horse may not be complaining about the flies but putting on a clean fly mask will make you feel better as a horse owner and they will get a few hours of relief.