10 Ideas To Keep Your Horse Fly-Free

Summer is a great time to own a horse and spend time riding – except when you’re swarmed with flies.  In addition to just being annoying, flies can also spread disease, including  Pigeon Fever and Equine Infectious Anemia (EIA).  Here are some ways to help keep the fly population away from your horse and barn.horse in fly sheet and mask


  1.  Fly masks – there are many different styles.  The key is finding one that fits your horse.  Be sure that it’s large enough so that your horse’s eye isn’t rubbing against the mesh. Get the ones with ears to help keep flies out of your horse’s ears.

Or consider using a fly bonnet – the ones that are crocheted with fringed ends help keep flies out of your horse’s eyes and ears while riding.

2.  Fly sheet – again, many different styles, including some that cover the neck and belly as well as the rest of his body.  A sheet can also protect your horse’s coat from sunburn.

3.  Fly protection legs – the horse’s sensitive legs are a popular place for flies to land. When fly spray isn’t enough, try fly boots or wraps to add an extra layer of fly protection.

4.  Fly spray – repellents provide a basic layer of fly protection for your horse.  There are many different types made of a variety of ingredients.  The two most common ones in commercial fly sprays  are Pyrethrins (made from a type of chrysanthemum flower) and Permethrin (synthetically produced). Both are relatively non-toxic to mammals (including humans) and both break down fairly easily.

Still, if you are not a fan of processed products, there are many options for homemade or “natural” fly sprays.  Most contain citronella and/or apple cider vinegar.


5.  Manure pickup – many flies breed in manure.  Get rid of their breeding medium, i.e. pick up manure regularly in stalls, paddocks and turn-out areas, to help reduce the fly population.

6.  Feed-through fly control – products like SimpliFly are ingested by the horse, then passed through in their manure.  The product prevents house & stable fly egg development.

barn fan7.  Fans – fans in your horse’s stall or in the barn helps keep air circulating, making it harder for flies to land  on your horse.

8.  Fly spray – you can get an automatic fly spray dispenser for just your horse’s stall.  They dispense a spray at regular intervals to keep flies away.  For a large number of stalls, you might consider a fly suppression system that dispenses an insecticide in a fine mist at specific intervals through special spray nozzles.

9.  Birds – while sometimes considered pests themselves, birds are actually a great asset in fly control by  feeding on bugs after catching them  in midair .

10.  Predators –  tiny non-stinging wasps both lay eggs in the fly pupa as well as feed on fly larvae while it is in the manure around your farm. By eating the larvae fly predators break the fly life cycle. In addition, the eggs the predators laid hatch and naturally increase their predator population on your farm.

For best results, build an integrated pest control system to beat flies both in your barn and on  your horse.

Photos from HorseTackReview.com and Classic Equine Equipment




How Your Horse Work: The Mouth

horse teeth slohorsenews.netWhen someone says, “don’t look a gift horse in the mouth,” they are talking about the custom of telling a horse’s age by looking at his teeth.  It is possible to estimate the age of a young horse by observing the pattern of teeth in the mouth, based on which teeth have erupted.  A horse’s incisors, premolars, and molars, once fully developed, continue to erupt as the grinding surface is worn down through chewing. A young adult horse’s teeth are typically 4.5–5 inches long, but the majority of the crown remaining below the gum line in the dental socket. The rest of the tooth slowly emerges from the jaw, erupting about 1/8″ each year, as the horse ages. When the animal reaches old age, the crowns of the teeth are very short and the teeth are often lost altogether.  Differences between breeds and individual horses, however, can make precise dating impossible. 

Horses are both heterodontous and diphyodontous, which means that they have teeth in more than one shape (there are up to five shapes of tooth in a horse’s mouth), and have two successive sets of teeth, the deciduous (“baby teeth”) and permanent sets.  By the time a horse is fully developed, usually at around five years of age, it will have between 36 and 44 teeth – mares have 40 permanent teeth and males have 42 permanent teeth.  The difference is that males have 2 canine teeth that the female does not have.

All horses have twelve incisors at the front of the mouth, used primarily for cutting food, most often grass, whilst grazing. They are also used as part of a horse’s attack or defense against predators, or as part of establishing social hierarchy within the herd.  Behind the front incisors is the interdental space, where no teeth grow from the gums. This is where the bit is placed when horses are ridden.  Behind the interdental space, all horses also have twelve premolars and twelve molars, also known as cheek teeth or jaw teeth. These teeth chew food bitten off by incisors, prior to swallowing.

Equine teeth are designed to wear against the tooth above or below as the horse chews, thus preventing excess growth. The upper jaw is wider than the lower one. In some cases, sharp edges can occur on the outside of the upper molars and the inside of the lower molars, as they are unopposed by an opposite grinding surface. These sharp edges can reduce chewing efficiency of the teeth, interfere with jaw motion, and in extreme cases can cut the tongue or cheek, making eating and riding painful.

In the wild, a horse’s food supply allowed their teeth to wear evenly.  But with domesticated horses grazing on lush, soft forage and a large number being fed grain or other concentrated feed, natural wear may be reduced.  Equine dentistry can be undertaken by a vet or by a trained specialist such as an equine dental technician, or in some cases is performed by lay persons, including owners or trainers.  Regular checks by a professional are normally recommended every six months or at least annually. 

dr johnson dentalMany horses require floating (or rasping) of teeth once every 12 months, although this, too, is variable and dependent on the individual horse. The first four or five years of a horse’s life are when the most growth-related changes occur and hence frequent checkups may prevent problems from developing. Equine teeth get harder as the horse gets older and may not have rapid changes during the prime adult years of life, but as horses become aged, particularly from the late teens on, additional changes in incisor angle and other molar growth patterns often necessitate frequent care. Once a horse is in its late 20s or early 30s, molar loss becomes a concern. Floating involves a veterinarian wearing down the surface of the teeth, usually to remove sharp points or to balance out the mouth. 

Problems with dentition for horses in work can result in poor performance or behavioral issues.  However, good dental care can not only eliminate these problems, but can help your horse lead a longer, healthier life.

photo courtesy of slohorsenews.net and Brian Johnson, DVM

Try It Tuesday: Competitive Trail Riding (CTR)

competitive trail riding 2If you and your horse enjoy trail riding, then the sport of Competitive Trail Riding (CTR) might be a good fit for the both of you. A Competitive Trail Ride is not a timed event like endurance where the fastest time wins.  It is probably closer to Eventing in that riders are out on the trail one at a time and negotiate obstacles.  There are also mandatory vet checks.  And, like Eventing, success comes from the trust and communication between horse and rider to safely complete the course.   A CTR is usually held on a weekend and can run one, two or even three days.  The competitors usually cover a distance of 15-40 miles per day.

In the United States and Canada, as well as in other countries, there are several organizations that sanction competitive trail riding. In the United States, they include North American Trail Ride Conference (NATRC).

In NATRC competitions, the horses are evaluated by an approved veterinary judge, and riders are evaluated by an approved horsemanship judge. The judging begins at the preliminary examination, usually the day before the ride, continues during the ride, and concludes at the final examination one or two days later. The equines (horses, ponies, and mules) are evaluated on condition, soundness, their trail manners, and way of going. Riders are judged on horsemanship as it applies to competitive trail riding. The judges will examine the horses at the end of a day’s ride and again before timing out on the second day. The final vet check, after the ride, is similar to the pre-ride examination. Competition is over when this final vet check is done.

Most any horse can compete in Competitive Trail Riding, but both training and competitive trail riding 3
conditioning should be a part of the program before you attempt your first event. Training aims at teaching the horse not only to obey commands, but also how to handle rough terrain and obstacles such as steep climbs, rocky descents, deep creeks, fallen limbs or logs, etc. Conditioning toughens the horse and builds stamina by improving the muscles, heart, lungs, tendons, ligaments, skin, feet, etc. In the peak of condition the horse will not tire readily. His breathing will not be as rapid as when he was “soft”, nor will the heart have to pump as fast. And since he is trained, he will handle himself better and waste less motion through inexperience and nervousness.

To find out more information, click HERE to visit the North American  Trail Ride Conference website.

.photos courtesy of the North American Trail Ride Conference

How Your Horse Works: Breathing.

horse breathing equestrian profesdsionalThe horse’s respiratory system (lungs) provides much needed oxygen to assist with metabolism, while the circulatory system (heart) delivers the oxygen and nutrients to the tissues.  It also provides a way to carry off the waste products (most commonly carbon dioxide) created when the horse’s “engine” is running/  On the simplest level, the respiratory system acts like an air exchange – oxygen comes in and carbon dioxide goes out.

 Air comes in through the horse’s nostrils and travels along the horse’s long nasal cavity.  The benefit of the horse’s long nose is that it has time to warm the air before it reaches the horse’s lungs.  It then passes through the trachea to tiny tree-like passageways (bronchus) in the horse’s lungs. These bronchi further branch out to alveoli where the air exchange occurs.  At the same time, the circulatory system is bringing oxygen and delivering it to tissues throughout the body, along with nutrients absorbed during the digestive process.  The amount of oxygen required and the amount of carbon dioxide waste produced will vary with the amount of exercise the horse is performing.  More oxygen is needed and more carbon dioxide is produced during strenuous exercise than it does when the horse is standing in its stall. It is this increased process of air exchange that caused a horse to have a faster respiration rate.

 The circulatory (or cardiovascular) system of the horse is made up of blood, the blood vessels through which blood flows, and the heart that provides power for the flow of blood. The key element in the entire vascular system is the heart.  Its job is to pump blood throughout the circulatory system via a system of blood vessels. When blood is pumped from the heart, it travels through a network of arteries, arterioles, capillaries, and venules.   A horse’s blood is composed of red blood cells (erythrocytes), white blood cells (leukocytes), platelets, and liquid (plasma).  Red blood cells have an iron-containing protein (hemoglobin) that helps transport oxygen to the tissues. The main role for the white blood cells is to work with the rest of the immune system to defend against bacterial invasions. Platelets function in the blood clotting process.

The heart itself is divided into two halves and each half has two chambers (atrium and ventricle). The right atrium and ventricle pump blood into the lungs, where it is loaded with oxygen. The oxygen-laden blood returns to the left side of the heart, where the left atrium and ventricle then pump it throughout the body. Like the increase in respiration rate when a horse exercises intensely, so does the heart rate increase under the same circumstances.
quote-a-horse-gallops-with-his-lungs-perseveres-with-his-heart-and-wins-with-his-character-federico-tesio-60-93-05While all of the systems of the horse must work together, the horse’s respiratory and circulatory system have a special symbiotic relationship.  Both sides must work equally well for the horse to remain happy and healthy.  It is therefore important that your horse receive the recommended shots to prevent such diseases as influenza, strangles and rhinopneumonitis.

 In addition, use good barn management practices to be sure to provide horses with plenty of clean, fresh air.  Classic Equine Equipment offers a variety of stall systems, barn doors and barn windows that will help provide your horse with air circulation.  Using Classic Equine Equipment’s grain and hay feeders will help keep food off the ground and at a recommended eating height to avoid either ingestion of non-food particles from the ground or inhaling hay particles from hanging hay net, both of which can cause lung issues.

photo credit: Equestrian Professional
photo credit:  AZQuotes

How Your Horse Works: Hearing

horse earsHorses have binaural hearing, meaning they hear out of both ears at the same time, the same as people and most other animals.  However, unlike humans who have small, flat ears, a horse’s ears are large and shaped like a cup.  These ears act like a satellite dish to capture sound waves and funnel them to his inner ear.  Because of this, very little sound is missed and the horse might hear noises that you can’t.  This is one reason why you may think that everything is perfectly fine, but suddenly you horse spooks for no apparent reason.  He may have heard something that sounded like a predator to him.

A horse also has the ability to hear a wider range of high-frequency tones, like a dog being able to hear a dog whistle.  As a prey animal, hearing acuity is a necessary form of “early warning system” from predators.  Since predators rarely vocalize when stalking prey, the horse has learned to carefully listen for any sounds that a predator could be approaching – the snap of a twig, the rustle of grass. These noises contain the high-frequency sounds that you horse can then use to locate the direction from which the predator may be coming.  Horses aren’t worried about pinpointing the exact location of the predator – they’re not planning a counter-attack.  Instead, horses just want to know generally where they are located so they can decide which path will take them the furthest away from fangs and claws the fastest.  First the horse will use his ears to pinpoint those early warnings.  Then he’ll follow-up with eye movement and finally will raise and turn his head so he can better focus (see previous blog on “How Horses See.”)  During this time, the horse will stay as motionless as possible – often stopping their grazing so they can hear better.
Once the horse has determined that danger is in the area, it’s time to react.  Horses have a strong emotional response (fear) to whatever sensory input they receive.  This fear triggers a horse’s flight mechanism for safety.  Horses aren’t brave – they won’t remember that you are sitting on their back or standing in front of them.  Their only concern is survival – run first, think later.

Male horses may react more strongly to sound simply because they’re traditionally the herd watchdogs. They don’t necessarily hear any better than females do, but they feel a need to alert “their” herd to perceived danger. That’s why some horses suffer more anxiety than others at shows or in any new environment. A strange place can put your horse on high alert for danger, causing him to be emotionally aroused and to make his reaction to noise even stronger than it would be in a familiar setting.  If he’s fairly “bombproof”, his anxiety may not result in undesirable behavior. If not, you may have a hard time keeping him focused in the ring and extra care should be taken when riding or working around him.

You can help reduce your horse’s ability to take in these reactive noises by blocking his ears with earplugs or thick wads of cotton.  If that’s not possible,
keep alert to your horse’s ears to avoid a possible spook.  His ears will signal where is attention is directed – to the side at a dog, behind him at a flapping bag, etc. If you can direct his attention elsewhere, you can usually avoid the spook.

Like humans and other animals, your horse can lose his ability to detect sound as he ages. Age-related hearing loss in horses can begin at age five for horses, starting with the higher frequencies and working down the scale. High-frequency hearing loss isn’t generally obvious in horses until they reach about fifteen. But because your horse has a wider range of high-frequency hearing than a human, he can lose more of it before you notice a lack of response to sounds you hear.
Practice good ear health by checking his ears weekly for signs of insect infestation or infection.  Redness, scratching, hair loss on the ear could indicate  rubbing. If you suspect a hearing problem in your horse consult your veterinarian.  If your horse has hearing loss, you’ll need to make some management changes for safety. These tips are actually good whether you suspect hearing loss or not, especially when working around a strange horse. Always speak to the horse as you approach, so you don’t startle him. And be sure he heard your approach warning by watching the direction of his ears.  One or both should flick toward you.

Understanding how your horse’s hearing and reaction to sounds differs from humans can help you anticipate and reduce his anxiety and avoid a dangerous reaction.

photo credit:  TheHorse.com

How Your Horse Works: Digestion

digestionHorses are herbivores, or roughage eaters. They are grazing animals with digestive systems designed for constant consumption of plant food.  Very much like humans, the horse’s digestive system is a twisty-turning roller coaster ride for any food that the horse eats.   It takes about two to three days for food to pass through this last and largest part of the equine digestive tract.

Starting in the mouth, the chewing (mastication) of the food starts the process.  Enzymes from the horse’s saliva start breaking down the food into various, reduces it into small particles so it can be easily digested and absorbed. From the mouth, the partially digested food moves to the oral part of the pharynx (or pharynx)) and into the esophagus, where the food takes a 50-60 inch slide down to the stomach. An extremely strong muscular sphincter at the junction of the esophagus and stomach helps move the food along.  This muscle was developed to allow horses to keep digesting even if they have to suddenly run off to avoid a predator.  But it’s this muscle that also keeps a horse from vomiting. If a horse eats something it shouldn’t, there isn’t a way to induce vomiting to rid the poison from his system.  The stomach store, mixes, digests and propels feed into the small intestine. Very little of the feed nutrients are absorbed in the stomach. Proteins and carbohydrates are only partially digested in the stomach, and fats are only slightly hydrolyzed before the food passes into the intestine.

From there, the food passes through seventy feet of small intestine!  The liver and pancreas both have ducts with openings that lead to the small intestine.  The liver delivers bile and the pancreas delivers digestive enzymes and both help to further break down the food.  Once the food is broken down into its components (e.g., amino acids, simple sugars), these microscopic nutrients are absorbed in the small intestines along with vitamins and minerals.  In the human digestive system, a pear-shaped organ called the gall bladder is located below the liver and stores the bile secreted by the liver.  Horses don’t have a gall bladder.

The small intestine then connects to the large intestine.  The large intestine is an important source of water and electrolytes for horses that don’t have adequate water.  Horses can absorb water from the large intestines to help avoid dehydration. The remainder of the horse’s meal is primarily structural carbohydrates—the fibrous components of forage such as cellulose.  These carbohydrates pass from the last part of the small intestines (the ileum) into the first part of the enormous large colon (the cecum).

The cecum is an 18-inch to 24-inch blind sac that processes the food through fermentation, where it passes from the cecum to the large colon (comprised of the right and left ventral colons, and left/right dorsal colons) to the transverse and descending colons. The rate of feed movement through the colon is relatively slow. Because the colon folds back on itself several times and its diameter varies, horses are predisposed to digestive upsets when nutrient flow is abnormal. Since the horse’s digestive tract is primarily designed to digest forages, fewer problems occur when the diet is predominately hay or pasture.

Keep your horse’s digestive system healthy by providing plenty of clean water, good quality hay or pasture and plenty of exercise. A regular de-worming program will help eliminate parasite damaging infestations and regular dental care will ensure that your horse is grinding his food efficiently.

Horses do best when fed several small meals throughout the day rather than one large meal.  To make feeding your horse easier, many of the Classic Equine Equipment stalls have swivel hay and/or grain feed doors, swing out water bucket holders and hay racks.  Classic Equine also has several feeding and watering options, including the EQUIFount Horse Waterer and corner grain and hay feeders.

Photo credit: Elite-Equine

How Your Horse Works: Eyesight

horse eyeHorses, like most prey animals, have their eyes positioned on both sides of their head.  This is so that they can have a wide field of vision t to watch for approaching predators.  Horses have “monocular” vision, meaning that each eye sees things differently and independently.  Again, this benefits the prey animal as it allows him to look to the side to see where the rest of his herd is with one eye and at the same time look behind him to see if anything is coming after him.

Horses can also switch to a version of “monocular” vision, though it is not the same as human or predator monocular vision.  The horse can look at something with both eyes at the same time and will see the same thing in both eyes.  However, he is still seeing two separate views.

Horses can switch between monocular and binocular vision depending on the situation they are in.  When they are relaxed and grazing, they can use their version of binocular version.  But if they sense something moving behind them, then can immediately switch to their monocular version and continue looking at the grass with one eye, while checking for predators with the other.  Once he realizes there is nothing there, he can relax and go back to binocular vision again.  This switching back and forth between looking at something with one eye vs. something with both eyes is why horses sometimes spook at inanimate objects.  Your horse may have seen it with one eye, but when he turns to focus on it with both eyes, until he gets his eyes focused at looking in one direction,  it can appear to the horse as if the object moved.

Horses have large eyes. This is an advantage for a prey animal as it enables him to detect the slightest motion.  Horses also move their heads up and down because their visual field is narrow.  To see an object clearly, the horse tilts his head so as much of the object as possible fills his eye.  Tilting his head also gives the horse better depth perception.  Despite all this, there is still an area around the horse where he is quite blind –  in front and behind the horse at about the width of his body.  If you can’t see either of the horse’s eyes when mounted or working on the ground, then he can’t see you!

Based on the eye chart developed by the Dutch ophthalmologist Herman Snellen,  horses see as well as we do in some instances.   Comparing horse vision with humans, research found that horses actually see well at a distance. The Snellen scale for humans is 20/20, meaning that a person can read the same line on an eye chart from 20 feet that the ‘standard’ person reads from the same distance. Using this Snellen scale, horses rate 20/30 a dog is 20/50 and a cat is 20/75.

Horses are mostly day animals although they will continue to graze at night which suggests they do have some night vision. Horse’s eyes are sensitive to weak light, so they can see fairly well at dusk, but they don’t have the ability to adjust their eyes to darkness quickly, which is why they will often refuse to enter a dark building or float from bright sunshine.  When designing your barn, consider using some of the light and open stall configurations and windows from Classic Equine Equipment

It was once commonly thought horses were color blind, but in fact they do have the ability to see some color. The eyes contain light-sensitive cells and there are two types of cells called rods and cones. Humans have three different types of cones which means we can see all colors.  Horses have only two types of cones so see far fewer colors.

Knowing how your horse sees things will change the way you approach and work around your horse, creating a safer and more trusting environment and a better, stronger partnership

eye photo credit:  David Ramey, DVM
eyesight area photo credit.   thinklikeahorse.org