Warm summer weather can bring with it the menace of flies and other biting insects. Signs that your horse is being irritated can include leg stamping, turning to bite his sides, shaking or swinging his head, rubbing his ears and shuddering the skin over his body. Horses vary in their response to flies, from this type of mild irritation, to alarm and even bolting. Significant ongoing worrying by flies can cause restlessness, anxiety, weight loss and distraction from work. Fly bites range from being mildly irritating to acutely painful, depending on the species.
To help your horse battle the bugs this summer…
- reduce the availability of fly breeding sites by reviewing the management of your muck and compost heaps, areas of standing water, and long, damp vegetation
- make some home-made fly traps suitable for horse and deer flies (designs are available online)
- where possible, locate resources such as water troughs and mineral licks away from fly-prone areas so your horse can enjoy them in comfort
- use a fly sheet or fly mask on your horse when he’s turned out, or put mesh over his stable windows
- apply repellents frequently and thoroughly. Choose one that contains ingredients such as DEET, permethrin, citronella, or benzoyl benzoate
- pay particular attention to horses with conditions such as melanomas, a type of skin tumour. Melanomas or other growths are more attractive to flies than normal skin because the area is easier to penetrate and less clean.
While we all love the British summer weather, sun exposure can be as problematic for horses as it is for ourselves. Horses with poorly pigmented (pink) areas of skin are at high risk of developing sunburn – commonly affected areas are the muzzle and around the eyes in horses with white markings or in certain breeds, such as Appaloosas. Sunburn can be prevented by applying horse-safe sunblock and by avoiding sun exposure, for example, only turning out on overcast days or at night, or avoiding periods of high exposure by restricting turnout to early morning and late evening only, avoiding the middle part of the day.
Sunburn can happen due to excessive exposure to sunlight, but may also indicate other problems. It’s more likely to occur if your horse is exposed to St John’s Wort because, when eaten, pigments from the plant are absorbed and react with sunlight, causing photosensitisation, where pink skin becomes seriously sunburnt under normal exposure to sunlight. Photosensitisation can also be a sign of liver disease in horses, as it’s more likely to occur when liver function is compromised. It can be difficult to distinguish between photosensitisation and sunburn, but if your horse shows signs of sunburn under normal exposure to sunlight, it’s wise to talk to your vet to rule out other potential causes.