There are about 825 species of tick in the world, and it feels as though all of them want to suck my horse’s blood.
In areas like ours, where the winters aren’t cold enough to kill off these blood-sucking critters, constant vigilance is needed to manage tick populations and prevent tick-borne disease.
As a result, I try to use natural methods rather than chemicals and topical treatments. I’m not always successful, especially in tick season, but the following substances will help keep the number of ticks per horse to a minimum.
The 6 Best Natural Tick Repellents for Horses
I add garlic granules to my horse’s feed throughout the summer months, the theory being that it makes their sweat smell like garlic, which ticks, flies, and other bugs hate.
While there is little scientific evidence to support this, some researchers have reported “a significant reduction in tick bites when consuming garlic.”
We’ve read that feeding too much garlic to horses can cause anemia. Don’t exceed more than two to four ounces per day.
And – it’s always wise to consult a trusted veterinarian to keep your horse safe! (Ask them about natural horse tick prevention. They might have a few organic anti-tick tricks up their sleeve!)
Some homesteaders also use garlic as a repellant. The only problem with using garlic as a bug repellant? The oil wears off quickly. Like other natural repellants – the oils don’t last that long and only repel insects for about two hours.
If you want reliable tick protection for horses that last longer? Consider using repellent containing permethrin or cypermethrin.
(We know many of our homesteading friends detest synthetic repellents! We don’t like synthetics either! But – sometimes, if the tick population gets out of control, using synthetic repellent is likely better than letting your poor horses get eaten alive by ticks!)
2. Neem Oil
This natural substance is extracted from the fruit and seeds of the neem tree and can get used topically to repel many biting insects. Its effectiveness against ticks, experts say, is questionable. They also say neem oil’s usefulness at repelling pests depends on the concentration and frequency of application.
We also found a study examining the effect of neem oil on tick larvae. The study determined that neem seed oil successfully killed tick larvae on cattle. The study results were promising and showed 100% tick larvae mortality after approximately 24 hours. That’s excellent news!
I’ve had little success using neem oil on its own but, when used with one or more of the essential oils listed below, it proves quite effective.
Used undiluted, it can cause skin irritations in some humans and animals, but many horse owners rub pure neem oil into their horse’s legs to waterproof them and deter ticks without any nasty consequences.
So – while sources aren’t 100% unified on whether or not neem oil can repel ticks, there’s an indication that it may help – at least somewhat. As always, we recommend manually checking your horses for ticks. That’s in addition to any natural horse tick repellant you use!
3. Turmeric Oil
In my article The Benefits of Turmeric for Horses and How to Make Golden Paste, I explored many of the benefits of turmeric but overlooked its potential as a tick repellent.
A study conducted on dogs in the UK found that turmeric oil was more effective at repelling ticks than orange oil – another popular natural treatment.
Turmeric oil isn’t readily available, but you can use the powder to create a homemade tick spray. You can also feed turmeric to your horse to alleviate the itching and irritation associated with a tick bite.
4. Essential Oils
Several essential oils have proven effective at keeping ticks at bay. Adult ticks seem to find their aromas as off-putting as we find them pleasing.
The following essential oils create a kind of invisible bubble around the horse, helping (somewhat) prevent ticks and other pests from landing on them. At least for a short while.
WebMD also cites that mixtures of natural ingredients such as thyme, cedar, peppermint, rosemary, and geraniol can help repel ticks. Sounds good to us. The more weapons in our anti-tick arsenal? The better!
Did you know?
We believe essential oils are excellent for natural horse tick prevention. But soothing your horse with essential oils can be tricky. The American College of Healthcare Sciences published an excellent animal aromatherapy guide for essential oils and horses.
Our favorite takeaway was to avoid applying essential oils near your horse’s ears, eyes, genitals, or mouth! Also – they advise diluting the essential oil with a carrier oil – like vegetable oil.
5. Diatomaceous Earth
Diatomaceous earth isn’t poison. Nor is it a pesticide! Instead – crawling insects (and arachnids – like ticks) that come into contact with diatomaceous earth cut their bodies – it’s sharp and abrasive on bugs! As a result – the bugs end up drying. And dying!
The only problem with diatomaceous earth is that it’s indiscriminate! It may kill beneficial crawling insects that walk across it in addition to pests.
For that reason – we usually recommend using thermal tick traps instead of diatomaceous earth or other pesticides. That way – there’s less chance of harming beneficial ladybugs. Or innocent grasshoppers. And crickets!
Make sure you only use food-grade diatomaceous earth around your horses and other animals – and one with pesticide labeling.
6. Destroy the Tick’s Habitat
We saved the most foolproof horse tick prevention tip for last. The best natural horse tick prevention tip is to remove the tick’s habitat.
Ticks love lurking in the tall grass, under leaves, and along with wild-growing weeds.
From there – they latch on to unsuspecting victims. Horses, humans, dogs, and cats included!
So – try to eliminate, cut, and mow as much yard waste as possible.
That way – ticks have fewer chances to snatch, grab, and attack your horse.
Recipe for Homemade Tick Repellent
While natural tick repellants are effective, they’re not as long-lasting as chemical or synthetic sprays and therefore need applying more regularly.
Use the following recipe as a guideline, switching in different essential oils to keep those pesky ticks guessing:
- 30 drops of geranium oil
- 30 drops of eucalyptus oil
- 10 drops of garlic oil
- 1-ounce witch hazel or alcohol
- 3 ounces distilled water
- 1 4-ounce spray bottle
During the height of the tick season, you’ll need to apply this spray three to four times a day. If you’re going out on the trail, a quick spray can stop your horse from bringing home any stealthy hitchhikers.
Any natural substance that repels ticks is highly potent and should therefore be used with caution. If applied undiluted, some essential oils can, for example, irritate the eyes and skin, causing burning, redness, and itching (source).
Mixing your essential oils with alcohol or oil helps prevent any adverse reactions without diluting them so much that they become ineffective.
Natural tick repellents can be effective if used correctly. It’s unlikely that you’ll eradicate all tick exposure, but you should be able to keep both contact and bites to a minimum.
A combination of internal and topical remedies gives your horses the best chance of avoiding contact with ticks and recovering from an infected tick bite. You also need to keep an eye on your horse, checking daily for any signs of potential tick infestations and symptoms of tick-borne diseases.
These tick tubes are miracle workers! If your yard or field crawls with these unsightly parasites, try deploying these tubes. They're from the Harvard University Public School of Health. Highly recommended for an easy (and no-spray) way to combat ticks. They're safe for the environment and won't hurt beneficial pollinators.