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Battling Horseflies: Tips to Keep Your Horse Happy

Last updated: April 1, 2023

By: Miles HenryFact Checked

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I’ve spent countless hours at the stable and riding through dense woods. Over the years, one of the most persistent issues I’ve faced is battling horseflies. These relentless pests seem to have a mission: to make life miserable for our beloved equine companions and their human friends.

Protecting our horses from horseflies is crucial to their overall health and well-being. A horse’s quality of life can be severely impacted by the stress, irritation, and potential infections caused by horsefly bites. As responsible horse owners, it is our duty to take necessary measures to keep these pests at bay.

Through trial and error, I’ve discovered some effective tips to keep your horse happy and horsefly-free. I discuss preventative measures, natural and chemical repellents, early detection methods, and how to encourage natural predators of horseflies. If you’re tired of seeing your horse tormented by horseflies, I encourage you to keep reading.

Battling Horseflies: Introduction to a Persistent Problem

Horseflies are blood-sucking insects from the Tabanidae family, notorious for their painful bites. These pests can be quite persistent, especially during the warmer months, causing significant distress to horses. When horseflies bite, they can create small wounds that not only irritate the horse but can also lead to infections if left untreated.

In addition to their painful bites, horseflies can be vectors for transmitting diseases among horses. The pathogens carried by these insects can spread from one horse to another, further emphasizing the need for effective horsefly control methods.

Moreover, the irritation and stress from horseflies can negatively affect a horse’s behavior, leading to agitation and reduced cooperation during training or riding. As caretakers, our responsibility includes addressing these issues.

We must also protect our equine friends from external threats like horseflies. Using preventative measures, repellents, and early detection methods ensures their happiness and well-being, improving our experience as riders and caretakers.

Picture of a horsefly.

Understanding Horseflies

Gaining a deeper understanding of horseflies is crucial for effectively managing their impact on your horse’s well-being. In this section, we explore the horsefly life cycle, their attraction to horses, and the effects of their bites.

Horsefly Life Cycle

To combat horseflies effectively, it’s essential to understand their life cycle. Adult horseflies typically emerge in late spring and are most active during the warm summer months. Female horseflies feed on blood to nourish their eggs, while males feed on nectar and plant sap.

After mating, female horseflies lay their eggs near water sources or in damp areas, such as marshes or damp soil. The eggs hatch into larvae, which are aquatic or semi-aquatic and feed on organic matter. Eventually, the larvae pupate and transform into adult horseflies, continuing the cycle.

Why Horseflies Are Attracted to Horses

Horseflies are attracted to horses for several reasons. Their primary target is the blood, which provides essential nutrients for female horseflies to lay eggs. Horses emit carbon dioxide, warmth, and moisture when they breathe, which act as attractants for horseflies.

Additionally, horseflies are drawn to the movement and dark colors often found in horses’ coats. The combination of these factors makes horses an attractive host for these blood-sucking insects.

The Effects of Horsefly Bites on Horses

Horsefly bites are not only painful but can also have negative consequences for a horse’s health. The horsefly’s mouthparts cut through the skin, creating a small wound that can easily become irritated or infected if not properly cared for. In some cases, horseflies can transmit pathogens that cause diseases such as equine infectious anemia.

The constant annoyance and pain from horsefly bites can also lead to stress and agitation in horses, affecting their behavior and performance. For these reasons, it’s crucial to take proactive measures to protect our equine companions from horseflies and minimize their impact on our horses’ health and well-being.

Picture of a horsefly mask.
Cashel Horse Fly Mask

Preventative Measures

Taking preventative measures is a proactive approach to minimize the risk of horsefly infestations and ensure your horse’s comfort and happiness. There are various strategies for horsefly-proofing your stable and pasture, as well as protective gear designed to keep your horse safe from these bothersome pests. By implementing these precautions, you’ll be one step ahead in the battle against horseflies.

Horsefly-Proofing Your Stable and Pasture

  1. Cleanliness and Sanitation

Maintaining a clean and sanitary environment in and around your stable is crucial to deterring horseflies. Regularly remove manure, damp hay, and stagnant water, as these can be breeding grounds for flies. Ensure proper drainage around your stable and pasture to prevent standing water. Additionally, clean and disinfect feed and water containers frequently to minimize the chance of attracting horseflies and other pests.

  1. Proper Fencing and Vegetation Management

To further minimize the presence of horseflies, consider installing fencing that limits their access to your horses. Strategically placed mesh screens can help keep horseflies out of stables and barns. Manage vegetation around your pasture by keeping grass and shrubs trimmed, and eliminate overgrown or damp areas that may provide a breeding ground for horseflies.

Protective Gear for Horses

  1. Fly Masks and Sheets

Equipping your horse with a fly mask can help protect its face, eyes, and ears from horseflies. A well-fitted fly mask provides comfort and visibility while preventing horseflies from reaching the sensitive areas around the horse’s head. Fly sheets are another useful tool to protect your horse’s body from horsefly bites. These lightweight, breathable sheets cover your horse’s body without causing overheating or discomfort.

  1. Fly Boots and Leg Wraps

To protect your horse’s legs from horsefly bites, consider using fly boots or leg wraps. These products cover the legs and can be particularly beneficial for horses that are sensitive to fly bites. Ensure a proper fit to prevent rubbing or irritation, and regularly check for signs of discomfort or injury. Using fly boots or leg wraps in conjunction with other protective measures can help provide comprehensive protection against horseflies for your equine friend.

Natural Horsefly Repellents

Opting for natural horsefly repellents is an eco-friendly and gentle way to protect your horse from these irritating insects. In this section, I look at the benefits of essential oils as natural repellents, share some DIY recipes you can try, and provide tips for safe application and usage.

Essential Oils and Their Benefits

Essential oils are a popular and effective natural option for repelling horseflies. Many essential oils, such as eucalyptus, lavender, citronella, and lemongrass, have insect-repelling properties that make them a safe and environmentally-friendly alternative to chemical repellents. These oils can help keep horseflies at bay without causing harm or irritation to your horse when used correctly.

DIY Natural Repellent Recipes

Creating your own natural horsefly repellent is an affordable and customizable option. One simple recipe involves combining a few drops of essential oils (e.g., eucalyptus, lavender, citronella, or lemongrass) with a carrier oil, such as coconut or almond oil, and water in a spray bottle.

Shake well before each use, and spray the mixture onto your horse, avoiding the eyes, ears, and any open wounds. Another option is to add a few drops of essential oils to a mild, unscented soap or shampoo and use it during your horse’s regular grooming routine.

Safe Application and Usage Tips

When using natural horsefly repellents, it’s crucial to ensure the safety and comfort of your horse. Always dilute essential oils with a carrier oil or water to avoid skin irritation. Perform a patch test on a small, less sensitive area of your horse’s skin before applying the mixture all over to ensure there are no adverse reactions.

Keep the repellent away from your horse’s eyes, ears, and any open wounds. Reapply the repellent as needed, and monitor your horse for any signs of discomfort or irritation. If you notice any adverse reactions, discontinue use and consult a veterinarian if necessary.

Picture of Endure Chemical horsefly repellant.

Chemical Horsefly Repellents

Chemical horsefly repellents can offer a powerful and efficient solution for safeguarding your horse from these persistent pests. By making informed decisions about chemical repellents, you can effectively protect your horse while minimizing potential risks.

Popular Commercial Repellents

There are several commercial horsefly repellents available on the market, which can be an effective solution for protecting your horse. Some popular brands include Farnam’s Endure Sweat-Resistant Fly Spray, Absorbine’s UltraShield EX, and Pyranha’s Wipe N’ Spray.

These products often contain active ingredients like pyrethrins or permethrin, which are powerful insecticides that target and repel horseflies. My favorite is Pyranha’s Wipe N’ Spray; it’s a little more expensive but works really well.

Pros and Cons of Chemical Repellents

Chemical repellents can provide quick and effective relief from horseflies. They often have a longer-lasting effect compared to natural alternatives, reducing the need for frequent reapplication.

However, chemical repellents may cause skin irritation or other adverse reactions in some horses, particularly those with sensitive skin or allergies. Additionally, some horse owners may have concerns about the environmental impact of using chemical insecticides.

Application Guidelines and Safety Precautions

When using chemical horsefly repellents, it’s essential to follow the manufacturer’s instructions and adhere to safety precautions. Be sure to apply the product evenly and avoid the horse’s eyes, ears, and open wounds.

Wear gloves and protective clothing when applying the repellent to minimize skin contact. Reapply the product according to the manufacturer’s recommendations or as needed. Keep chemical repellents out of reach of children and pets, and store them in a cool, dry place away from direct sunlight.

If your horse shows any signs of discomfort or adverse reactions after using a chemical repellent, discontinue use and consult your veterinarian for advice. Additionally, consider using a natural alternative if your horse is sensitive to chemical products or if you have concerns about the environmental impact.

Picture of fly paper we use in our barn when battling horseflies.

Monitoring and Early Detection

Detecting horsefly infestations early is key to minimizing their impact on your horse’s well-being. Some signs of a horsefly infestation include increased horsefly activity around your stable or pasture, your horse exhibiting agitation, stomping, or swishing its tail more frequently, and visible horsefly bites or wounds on your horse’s skin. If you observe these signs, it’s crucial to take action to control the horsefly population and protect your horse.

Regular Inspections and Vigilance

Consistent monitoring is vital to keeping horseflies in check. Regularly inspect your horse’s skin for signs of bites, irritation, or infection. Maintain a clean and well-maintained stable and pasture to minimize breeding grounds for horseflies.

Keep an eye on your horse’s behavior for any signs of distress or discomfort that may indicate a horsefly problem. By staying vigilant and proactive, you can catch horsefly infestations early and take appropriate action.

Immediate Actions to Take Upon Detection

If you detect a horsefly infestation, it’s essential to act quickly to protect your horse and minimize discomfort. Implement a combination of preventative measures, such as cleaning and sanitizing your stable, managing vegetation, and using protective gear for your horse.

Employ natural or chemical repellents to deter horseflies and consider attracting natural predators to help control the horsefly population. We also use flytraps and zappers around our barn.

Check and treat any existing horsefly bites on your horse to prevent infection and alleviate discomfort. Consult with your veterinarian for guidance on the best course of action for your specific situation and to ensure your horse’s health and well-being.

Picture of a rider checking his horse for horsefly bites.

Treating Horsefly Bites

While it’s nearly inevitable that horses will experience horsefly bites, most occurrences are harmless. However, there are instances where your horse may suffer multiple bites or exhibit a reaction that requires attention.

In such cases, it’s crucial to treat the affected area and take necessary steps to prevent further harm. If you notice that your horse has a reaction to a horsefly bite, it’s important to treat the bite promptly to prevent infection and ease any pain or irritation. Here are some steps to follow when treating a horsefly bite:

  1. Clean the bite area: Gently clean the affected area with mild soap and water to remove any dirt or debris. This helps to reduce the risk of infection.
  2. Apply a cold compress: Use a cold compress or ice pack wrapped in a towel to alleviate swelling and discomfort. Apply the compress for 10-15 minutes several times a day, as needed.
  3. Use a topical treatment: Apply an over-the-counter hydrocortisone cream or a natural soothing ointment, such as aloe vera gel, to the bite area to reduce inflammation and itching.
  4. Monitor for signs of infection: Keep an eye on the bite area for any signs of infection, such as increased redness, warmth, discharge, or worsening pain. If you notice any of these symptoms, consult your veterinarian for further guidance.
  5. Prevent additional bites: Implement preventative measures and repellents to protect your horse from further horsefly bites and reduce the risk of complications.

By promptly recognizing and treating horsefly bites, you can help to minimize your horse’s discomfort and maintain their overall health and well-being.

Picture of a barn swallow flying.
Barn Swallow

Encouraging Natural Predators

Promoting a balanced ecosystem that includes natural predators of horseflies can be an effective and sustainable approach to horsefly control. Certain bird species, such as swallows, purple martins, and sparrows, feed on horseflies and can help reduce their population around your horses. Encouraging these birds to inhabit your property can contribute to a healthier environment for your equine friends.

Tips to Attract and Support These Beneficial Birds

To attract and support birds that prey on horseflies, consider implementing the following measures:

  1. Install birdhouses and nesting boxes designed specifically for the bird species you want to attract. Place them in suitable locations around your stable or pasture, away from predators and disturbances.
  2. Provide a source of fresh, clean water, such as a birdbath or shallow pond, to attract birds and meet their hydration needs.
  3. Plant native trees and shrubs that provide shelter, nesting sites, and a food source for the birds. This will also help to create a more diverse and balanced ecosystem.
  4. Avoid using harsh chemicals or pesticides on your property, as they can harm birds and other beneficial wildlife.
  5. Maintain a clean and well-kept environment, as this can help to support a thriving bird population.


Protecting your horse from horseflies is an essential aspect of ensuring their health, happiness, and comfort. By understanding the nature of horseflies and their impact on horses, you can implement effective preventative measures, choose the right repellents, and monitor for early signs of infestation.

Encouraging natural predators and fostering a balanced ecosystem can further contribute to a healthy environment for your horses. As a responsible horse owner, taking the time and effort to safeguard your equine companions from horseflies will not only provide them with a more enjoyable experience but will also enhance the bond between you and your horses. So, take action today and keep your horse happy and horsefly-free!


Can essential oils be used as natural horsefly repellents?

Yes, essential oils such as eucalyptus, lavender, citronella, and lemongrass have insect-repelling properties and can be used as natural horsefly repellents.

What are some popular commercial horsefly repellents?

How can I protect my horse from horsefly bites?

Implement preventative measures such as horsefly-proofing your stable and pasture, using protective gear like fly masks, sheets, boots, and leg wraps, and applying natural or chemical horsefly repellents as needed.