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The Buzz about Horse Flies:
Preventing Equine Fly Bites and Disease Transmission

There are several kinds of flies which can wreak havoc in and around your stable or pasture. They not only attack the horse itself – and you by extension – but in addition to receiving painful bites, they are also liable to transmit dangerous diseases such as encephalomyelitis as well as swamp fever. Of course, there are a number of ways to reduce the number of parasites that are swarming around your barn and pasture.

Before you can take any preventative measures, you will need to know what kind of insects you are dealing with. Most commonly you will find tabanids, which is the family name for a wide variety of horseflies and also deerflies. A deer fly is very recognizable since it is yellow or orange in color and has dark colorings on its body. A horse fly may come in a variety of shapes, colors and sizes. What tabanids have in common is their nutritional staple: blood. They will actually ingest blood every three to four days. You will notice if you receive such bites since they are rather painful. Additionally, you will be able to see changes
in your skin. The same is true for your horse. Add to this the fact that these flies may transmit harmful diseases, and it only makes sense to control them as soon as they appear. Tabanids may be controlled with repellants since they are usually found in wooded areas but will venture into the open pasture if they suspect to find a good meal. Another mode of control is the electric light insect trap which may be mounted inside the barn or stable to keep the insects at bay.

There are, of course, other kinds of flies that are annoying your horse. For example, the blackfly also lives on blood, yet this species will seek its meal inside the sensitive ear, inside the soft skin of the thighs, and also around the underside of the animal. Commonly referred to as gnats, these little insects may be found around running water. You will be able to ascertain if your horse is affected by looking for bloody scabs or crusted over wounds. The way to control this pest is by using repellants, ear nets, as well as the application of petroleum jelly to the inside of the ear.

Other flying pests include what is common referred to as “no-see-ums” which are also known under the moniker sandflies. These animals are known to cause an allergic reaction to their bites with such monumental itching that the horse will frequently rub itself raw. Look for bleeding skin around the mane, withers, as well as the base of the tail. Sandflies are usually found in the high humidity of damp pastures and also ponds. You may control this pest by lowering the humidity in your stable and also installing mosquito netting. If your horse does display signs of allergic reactions, you may need to consult a veterinarian for appropriate treatment.

Further pests you may find are small horn flies which will attack your horse’s abdomen. Crusty and frequently ulcerated lesions point to the activities of this fly. To control them, keep your horse separate from any cattle you may pasture and use insect repellent. The lesions may be treated with corticosteroid-antibiotic creams to speed up the healing process. Another pest to watch for is the stable fly which also attacks the abdomen. House flies and face flies are more annoying than blood sucking, yet they do have an important role in the transmission of disease. Thus it is best to control them with repellents as well as insecticides.

Though technically not a fly, the mosquito is a blood sucking pest which is indicted in the transmission of several dangerous diseases to the horse population. Since they love standing water, it is best to control mosquito populations by getting rid of standing water, and also by using repellents.

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Tack needs to be maintained religiously. Synthetic tack can be hosed down or washed in the washing machine. It's lighter in weight, easy to care for, and less expensive than leather. Leather, needs much more care. Inspect it every time you clean it. Wash it every time you use it, and then oil the leather parts a few times a year.

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