How to Deal With Horse Flies, Treat Bites & Protect Your Equine

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It’s summer, it’s hot, and the days are long, but all this amazingness is blighted by horseflies biting you and your horses.

I experience the same problem as you and have found some great ways to deal with horseflies and treat their bites.

I want to share what I’ve learned over the years and the many horses I tried to protect from this horrible insect.

So read on for my tips and treatments, but first, let’s understand what horse flies actually are.

This post contains affiliate links, and I will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on my links.

What Are Horse Flies?

horse flies all over the horse's face

Some might feel that horse flies are the spawn of the devil, their horses probably feel the same. But on a serious note, the horsefly is a flying insect that appears in hotter weather.

It is part of the Tabanidae family. [1] This family group includes around 3,000 different types of flies. [2]

They are known for their large size and unpleasant bites. It is only the female horsefly that bites. This is because they need blood so they can produce eggs.

The horsefly is also persistent to the annoyance of its victim and will follow them around, harassing them and trying to land and bite.

They have wide, large, brown bodies that often have stripes. Their eyes are large and antennae. From research, I found that they can be as big as one inch long.

However, I swear I’ve seen the odd huge one! In fact, just the other day monster horsefly landed on my horse and would not leave him alone. 

This one was definitely bigger than one inch! It was so big, I was really looking at it because I thought it was some other horrible biting insect.

Where and When Do Horse Flies Live?

Horse flies are attracted to moist areas, but they will travel many miles. This is why you find them in your barn or horse’s paddock.

They lay their eggs in the damp soil that surrounds rivers or streams. They also like dunes and marshes. When the eggs hatch, they develop into nasty maggots that prey on other small animals. They even eat small vertebrates.

The growth stages will take several months, going through the pupa stage until finally, the adult fly emerges sometime in the later spring or early summer.

Adults then continue the lifecycle with the female biting animals such as horses so they can lay their eggs. Adults have a short lifespan of only around 60 days. At least that’s some consolation!

They will bite humans but are particularly attracted to animals that a big and dark. This is where your poor suffering horse comes in. So let’s take a closer look at why horseflies are attracted to horses.

Why Are They Attracted To Horses?

Horse flies like dark objects, warmth, carbon monoxide, and even sweat. A study found that it is polarized light that horseflies are attracted to and that this light is stronger off dark surfaces, like your horse. [3]

The study also concludes that this is one reason why horse flies don’t bother horses with white coats as much. Though, my grey horse still seems to be a target! 

Horses meet all of the criteria for horseflies. They have dark coats, give off heat and breathe out carbon monoxide. 

Protect Your Horse from Horse Flies

If you’ve ever received a horse fly bite, you know that it can be quite painful. The same goes for your horse. This is because horse flies have scissor-like mouths that literally cut the skin. Ouch!

The bites not only cause painful welts on your horse, but the constant harassment from these flies can also drive your horse nuts. I’ve seen horses galloping around their paddocks to try and get away from them.

That can lead to them overheating in the summer and injuries. As horse owners, you don’t want any of the above to happen. This is why you, like me, look for ways to protect your horse from horseflies.

While there is no way to protect your horse completely, they are some things you can do that will help a lot. So, let’s take a look at those now.

Fly Spray

Every horse parent needs to have fly spray in their box of tricks during the summer. While some equestrians like to use homemade fly repellants, myself included, these usually don’t help much against these aggressive flies.

Your best defense is to get horse fly sprays that contain cypermethrin. The insecticide pyrethroid, permethrin, and DEET are also good. The only way to use these is to purchase a commercially made spray made for horses.

Two really popular ones are Absorbine UltraShield Spray for Horses and Farnam Endure Sweat-Resistant Horse Fly Spray

Absorbine UltraShield EX Insecticide Spray for Horses & Dogs, Kills & Repels Fly Tick Mosquito Flea Lice, Lasts Up to 17 Days, 128oz Gallon Refill
  • OUR STRONGEST FORMULA: Kills and repels 70+ species of pests & bugs like flies, mosquitoes, ticks, gnats
  • WEATHERPROOF: Protection up to 17 days with UltraBond Technology
  • NO MIXING: Ready to use, water-based formula for horses, ponies, dogs, barns, or on premise
  • BUGS & SUN: Advanced formula contains protection against insects plus multiple sunscreens and coat conditioners
  • USA: Made in the USA
Sale
Farnam Endure Sweat-Resistant Horse Fly Spray, Kills, Repels, Protects, 32 Ounces, Quart Spray
  • SWEAT-RESISTANT fly, mosquito and tick protection
  • IDEAL for the most challenging conditions, won't sweat off
  • MULTIPLE ACTIVE ingredients stay active in hot, humid conditions for up to 14 days
  • CONTAINS RepeLock conditioner, which binds to the hair shaft
  • PROTECTS AGAINST biting and nuisance flies, gnats, mosquitoes and ticks that may transmit Lyme disease
  • AVAILABLE IN 15 oz. Finishing Spray, 32 oz. Ready-To-Use Spray and Easy Pour 128 oz. Gallon Refill

In addition to fly spray, you might want to consider using fly sheets and boots. These are particularly good for sensitive horses.

I have a horse that needs both fly spray and a fly sheet as her skin is super sensitive, and the flies drive her nuts.

Fly Sheets & Boots

Fly sheets and boots are made from mesh material and cover the areas of your horse’s body that are most likely to get bitten.

horse wearing a fly mask

Fly masks will keep all kinds of flies from your horse’s face, especially their vulnerable eyes.

They are also light colors, which make your horse less attractive to horseflies. There are loads of these available to choose from. Though I recommend a fly sheet that has UV protection.

I wrote review guides on the best horse fly sheets and the best fly boots if you’re looking for good options.

If your horse is really sensitive to insect bites, like one of mine, you will need to take your bug protection methods to another level. In this video, a vet gives you some great tips.

Treat Horse Fly Bites

If your horse gets a bite from one of these nasty little critters, there are a few things you can do to treat it and make your horse more comfortable.

Ice is a good way to soothe a horsefly bite on your horse. You too! If you have an ice pack handy, place it on the bite. It will help reduce itching and swelling.

It is also a good idea to clean the bite, particularly if your horse has multiple bites. This will not only help remove bacteria transferred by the fly but it will also cool the bites, soothing your horse.

Once you’ve cleaned the bites, apply a wound cream. My favorite is a zinc oxide cream. The easiest cream to use that has this is diaper cream, such as Desitin. I use it on every little cut or scrape.

Desitin Daily Defense Baby Diaper Rash Cream with 13% Zinc Oxide, Barrier Cream to Treat, Relieve & Prevent Diaper Rash, Hypoallergenic, Dye-, Phthalate- & Paraben-Free, 16 oz
  • 16-ounce tub of Desitin Daily Defense Baby Diaper Rash Healing Cream works from the first use to help soothe, treat and prevent diaper rash
  • This skin barrier cream instantly forms a protective layer on your baby's skin for diaper rash relief and prevention
  • Made with 13% zinc oxide skin protectant, its fast-acting hypoallergenic formula helps seal out wetness to treat diaper rash from the first signs and is clinically shown to provide diaper rash relief
  • This diaper cream is specially formulated for babies' tender skin and is paraben-, phthalate-, fragrance- and dye-free so it's gentle enough to use daily at every diaper change
  • Its rich, creamy formula goes on smoothly and wipes off easily, making Desitin Daily Defense Diaper Rash Cream your trusted partner for treating diaper rash from the first signs

You can also use witch hazel or calamine lotion, though I’ve always stuck with Desitin.

How To Reduce Horse Flies

In addition to dealing with horse flies by protecting your horse, you are probably wondering if there are ways you can reduce them.

While these methods won’t get rid of the flies completely, they can help reduce their numbers. One less horsefly is a win, in my opinion.

Fly Traps & Repellents

Placing fly traps around your barn and property will help attract horseflies and other flies, trapping them, hopefully before they lay their eggs.

The RESCUE! Big Bag Fly Trap is very popular and can be used outside. You can place it strategically around your farm; just make sure it’s out of reach of children and all the animals.

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RESCUE! Big Bag Fly Trap – Disposable, Outdoor Use - 2 Traps
  • For Big Fly Problems — Catch and kill up to 40,000 flies with the Big Bag Fly Trap. Perfect for outdoor areas, barns, stables, and yards where you need serious fly control.
  • Fast Acting — This trap uses an attractant bait that flies can’t resist. Lured by the scent, flies enter the trap through the cap and drown in the water.
  • Easy to Use — Follow the easy directions on the bag to expose the trap entrance. Add water to activate bait and hang the trap outside, at least 20 feet away from any living spaces.
  • Outdoor Use Only – Once activated, these traps have a strong odor. Only use this trap outdoors, and at least 20 feet away from any living areas.
  • Made in the USA – At RESCUE!, our goal is to design and manufacture the safest and most effective pest control solutions available. We proudly manufacture our products in the USA!

There are lots of different traps available such as the bag I suggested above to sticky tapes you can hand around your barn.

You also use your fly spray on areas of the barn, such as stall walls.

If you’re handy and enjoy making things. You might want to take a look at this video on how to may a DIY horsefly trap.

Fans

While fans won’t reduce the number of horseflies on your property, they can keep them away from your horses. The breeze from the fan makes it difficult for the bugs to fly.

FAQs

What can riders do to protect themselves from horseflies?

Riders can protect themselves from horseflies by wearing long pants and sleeves in lighter colors. It is also a good idea to use your own insect repellent.

Are horsefly bites dangerous to horses?

brown horse with horse flies near his eyes

Yes, and No. Horse fly bites, in most cases, cause irritation, itching, and lumps. However, they can also transmit parasites, and bacteria, and lead to infections, such as equine infectious anemia.
Some horses might have an allergic reaction and break out in hives.

Conclusion

I hope you found this guide to horseflies helpful. While I don’t have the magic solution to permanently getting rid of them, I wish I did; the tips I’ve included here will help you wage war on the awful biting insects.

horse flies on the equine's face

Do you have any tips or tricks that have helped you deal with horseflies? I’d love to hear them! Let me know in the comments.

Resources

  • 1. Wahome C. What to Know About Horseflies [Internet]. WebMD. [cited 2022 Jul 19]. Available from: https://www.webmd.com/a-to-z-guides/what-to-know-about-horseflies
  • 2. Tabanids [Internet]. escholarship.org. [cited 2022 Jul 19]. Available from: https://escholarship.org/content/qt7rt6983g/tabanids.html#:~:text=The%20insect%20family%20Tabanidae%20(Order
  • 3. White horses are less attractive to horseflies [Internet]. Science. 2010 [cited 2022 Jul 19]. Available from: https://www.nationalgeographic.com/science/article/white-horses-are-less-attractive-to-horseflies
Siun L
Siun L

Siun is an all-around animal lover, with a passion for horses. She grew up in the United States, competing in the hunters, equitation, and jumpers. Now living in Ireland, she competes with her own showjumping horses. She is experienced in the care and training of horses, as well as teaching riding lessons. She loves to combine her love for horses with her work. When not working, Siun will be found at the stables, rain or shine.
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