As the days lengthen and temperatures rise with the summer weather, oodles of critters emerge to pester ranchers and their horses.
Some of the first pests your horses will notice – are flies. I don’t have to tell you that flies are irritating! They also carry diseases such as equine infectious anemia and anthrax.
Fly bites can also develop into sores that, if infected, cause pain and inflammation.
While commercial sprays are often the most effective method for keeping flies off horses, the more we use them, the more flies develop a resistance against them.
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Fly populations that plague your horses, stable, and farm likely already have some level of resistance to insecticides.
Alternative natural repellents are not only good for the environment! As insecticide resistance increases, they’re also potentially more effective than commercial fly sprays.
Other eco-friendly alternatives include fly-repelling feed supplements, fly sheets, masks, and boots.
When used with a natural spray, these can provide the most effective approach to combating flies.
Before exploring fly repelling equipment, let’s look at the best natural ingredients to use when creating a homemade fly repelling spray.
What Natural Substances Are the Best for Repelling Flies?
There are endless DIY recipes for homemade fly repellents. Many of which use some, if not all, of the ingredients listed below. Just how effective are these substances, and which should you include?
Not all kinds of vinegar were created equal! And while I’ve used white vinegar in a DIY fly spray, apple cider vinegar is considered much more effective.
There is little scientific evidence to support this theory, however. Many people even use apple cider vinegar to attract and trap flies, making its efficacy as a repellent somewhat questionable.
Ecovet makes a powerful fly repellent for horses. It's made from natural fatty acids. It repels ticks, mosquitos, and flies. The reviews are also excellent. However - be warned. The spray has a unique odor!
2. Essential Oils
Horse owners have long believed that flies find the smell of citronella oil utterly repelling!
But studies conducted in South Africa suggest that the midges responsible for spreading African horse sickness may find it rather attractive.
I’ve also read from excellent sources (University of Minnesota Extension) that citronella does reduce fly annoyance in horses.
(They also found that leggings and hoof leg bands showed promising results in offering relief from flies. Check out their study!)
Other essential oils with surprising reputations for deterring houseflies (and other pests) include:
3. Catnip Oil
Cats love catnip! And catnip oil has also proved surprisingly effective in deterring stable flies and mosquitos.
Research published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry showed that pellets made from a combination of catnip oil, paraffin wax, and soy were 99% effective in keeping bloodsucking flies away from feedlots and stables.
4. Neem Oil
Neem oil comes from the seeds of the neem tree. Neem oil contains insecticidal compounds and insect growth regulators, with azadirachtin as the active ingredient.
Neem oil regulates insect growth effectively! When administered as a feed supplement, it can eradicate virtually all the horn fly larvae from fresh manure. It also helps to control the stable fly population.
Many people swear by using neem oil in a homemade fly spray to repel horse flies, and when used in combination with lemon eucalyptus oil, it seems to keep the flies at bay.
100% Pure neem oil without fillers or artificial ingredients. Add to a carrier oil, your shampoo, lotion, or other products - or make a DIY fly repellent spray.
Vampires – and insects. Beware!
Whether applied topically in the form of a fly repellent spray or included in feed-through supplements, garlic helps to keep flies, midges, gnats, and mosquitos at bay.
I’ve been feeding my horses garlic powder for years in the hopes that it helps deter ticks as well as flies.
Some horse owners and researchers have raised concerns about the long-term effects of feeding garlic to horses, fearing it could produce clinical signs consistent with Heinz body anemia.
So – consult with a trusted vet before using garlic to keep flies off your horses.
The latest source we could find indicates that garlic supplements may be safe for horses – but additional research is needed!
A Simple Recipe for DIY Fly Repellent for Horses
In a one-liter spray bottle, combine the following ingredients:
- One cup of natural apple cider vinegar
- One cup of water
- 1 ounce of catnip oil
- 1 ounce of citronella oil
Spray liberally over horse three to four times a day.
4 Other Ways to Reduce Fly Irritation in Horses!
Essential oils aren’t the only way to protect your horses from stable flies and horse flies!
These are the best methods we know to keep your horses relaxed – and to keep flies at bay.
1. Fly Repelling Boots
Fly boots can keep your horse comfortable, stopping him from stomping his feet as he battles against annoying insects.
They also help prevent infected insect bites on the legs without using nasty chemicals.
Look for an airy mesh material and an ergonomic shape, so the boots don’t cause your horse more stress than they prevent.
SHOOFLY horse leggins are the perfect complement to your fly repellent spray. They help protect your horses from nagging fly bites. They're also light, comfortable, and breathable for your horse.
2. Feed-Through Supplements
Fly garlic granules are one of the best natural feed-through supplements for fighting off pesky insects.
Feed-through supplements work by poisoning your horse’s droppings. It interrupts the breeding cycle of the fly and kills off the younger larvae. Perfect!
Some feed-through supplements also have health-promoting benefits as they support the horse’s digestive system and boost natural defenses against internal parasites.
SimpliFly is a horse feed additive that helps eradicate flies! The horse pellets contain a fly growth regulator that helps to disrupt the fly lifecycle. The reviews are also excellent.
3. Fly Sheets
Fly sheets are probably one of the best physical deterrents to help solve your stable’s pesky fly problem. They protect the body of horses – and some also have neck covers.
The best fly sheets have breathable fabric to protect your horse from flies while keeping him comfortable in hot weather.
Combined with your homemade fly spray, they provide an effective barrier against all kinds of biting insects.
This mesh fly sheet feels comfy for your horse - and it also helps keep flies at bay. It's made of polyester and has shoulder lining plus adjustable leg straps.
4. Fly Masks
Flies irritate a horse’s eyes, ears, and nose. They can deposit Habronema larvae into your horse’s eyes, causing sores to develop.
A fly mask can protect your horse’s eyes while defending against damaging UV rays.
One of the only downsides of fly masks is that most of them I’ve seen seem to limit the vision of your horse. They look so big, bulky, and uncomfortable!
I think a vision-limiting horse mask is still desirable over an invasive fly swarm – but I still prefer lighter mesh masks to keep the horses comfy.
Fly masks keep the buzzing insects away from the face and eyes of your horses. Here is our favorite horse fly mask because it's mesh and doesn't impede your horse's vision. It's also by Cashel. Cashel has a stellar reputation for comfy and reliable fly masks.
With so many natural insect repellents available, there’s no reason to invest in pricey commercial products containing nasty chemicals like DEET or permethrin.
Making your fly repellent also gives you more flexibility, enabling you to adapt your recipe to suit your horse and its environment.
By changing the ingredients regularly, you also reduce the chances of flies becoming resistant to a single formula.
If you have tips for keeping flies off of horses? Please share them with us.
Your tips could make the life of a horse (or an entire stable) far less stressful.
Thanks again for reading!