Horse Fly Mask Selection, Fit, Care Tips
Use these tips to help choose the right fly
mask style and fit to give your horse effective bug-season
This fly mask provides generous fit
in the eye area and lots of facial coverage.
Photo by Mandy Lorraine
Your horse's head is a vulnerable target
during bug season. Face flies seeking mucous-membrane
moisture irritate his eyes and can trigger allergies or
infections. Biting flies attack the thin, tender skin,
sometimes working out of sight under his jaw. Voracious
gnats creep into his ears and leave crusty scabs and
discomfort behind. Fly repellent, which helps you keep
insects away from most of your horse's body, is a challenge
to apply to his head and ears for full protection.
An alternative strategy is a fly mask. Here's
what it can do, if it fits well and is clean and in
- Allows your horse to see out while
face flies can't get in to irritate his eyes.
- Keeps gnats out of his ears (if style
includes ear coverings), always a plus but especially
beneficial if you clip his ears for showing.
- Protects sun-sensitive eyes and skin
(such as pink skin under large white facial markings)
from harmful rays. Some designs come with extended
muzzle for extra coverage.
|Fly Mask Tips
• Not sure which size mask will
fit your horse? Contact the manufacturer (website
email links are useful) and ask which of his head
measurements they need to determine his size.
• For extra
protection at the height of bug season, before
putting your horse's fly mask on wipe fly repellent
(sprayed on a soft cloth) under his eyes, on his
muzzle, around his ears, and under his jaw.
• Make sure to
always have a clean mask handy by rotating two fly
masks, giving yourself more time to wash one while
the other is in use.
Find the Mask that Fits
Here are the critical points to check for fit:
mask's lower edge needs to reach one to one and a half
inches below the bottom of your horse's cheekbone;
otherwise the cheekbone creates a gap under the edge of the
mask through which flies can easily pass. A mask whose lower
edge ends on, not below, the cheekbone can cause rubs as
well. Greater facial coverage reduces the amount of skin on
which face flies (which will hang around even if they can't
get at his eyes) can crawl, and protects more facial skin
The edge of the mask doesn't need to be so
snug against the skin that an insect can't creep under it;
you should be able to slip your finger easily between the
mask and your horse's muzzle. Elastic around the lower edge
of the mask is useful because it provides some "give" for
jaw movement when your horse is grazing outside. (Flies that
encounter the edge of the mask don't try to push underneath
it; they typically crawl up over the mask on the outside.)
This area can get uncomfortably tight when your horse picks
his head up unless you allow a couple of fingers' width
between the mask edge and his throatlatch. As with the
muzzle, you should also be able to slide your finger easily
between the edge of the mask and his skin at the side of his
head. In addition to chafing and binding, a too-tight
throatlatch fastened with Velcro™ or other types of
hook-and-loop straps used on most fly masks will tend to
come undone from the constant pulling.
Ears: If your
horse is sensitive about having his ears handled, he may be
less bothered by a fly mask with ear protectors that slip
softly over his ears than by a design with holes through
which his ears must be threaded. Check the ear area to be
sure the mask's ear coverings or ear-holes are aligned with
your horse's ears and are roomy enough for his ear size. If
the mask doesn't fit him well here--the openings are spaced
too closely or too wide apart for his ear placement--he's
more likely to get rubs from the edges of ear holes than
from ear coverings.
saved the most important check for last. A fly mask becomes
an irritant instead of a protector if it fits too closely
around the eye, where the mask mesh can cause painful
abrasions to the eyeball. The fabric of the mask needs to
stand out well away from the eye, giving total clearance to
the eyelashes. When you've fastened the mask with the
correct amount of snugness and checked for fit elsewhere,
look carefully from the front, side and rear of your horse's
head to be sure it clears the eye from every angle whether
his head is lowered or raised.
If using a mask made of stiffer mesh with
sewn-in darts shaping the fabric around the eye, make sure
the widest, roomiest part of the mask is actually located
over your horse's eye rather than higher up his face; some
masks are simply too short between the ear area and the eye
shaping. (In extreme cases where the mask fits much too
close to your horse's eye, it's sometimes possible to see
his eyelashes poking through the mesh--take the mask off
Wash it! Wash it every day, if necessary. Unless your
horse's fly mask is clean, it will shed flecks of dirt into
his eyes or irritate his skin through contact with sweat-
and mud-caked fleece edging. It's a quick, simple matter to
dunk a mask into a bucket of water with a squirt of mild
liquid soap and slosh it around (gently) until all the dirt
has loosened and washed away.
Pay special attention to fleece edging,
scrubbing it between your fingers if needed. When the edging
is very soiled, use a mild Betadine solution (the color of
weak tea) instead of soapy water, for disinfection.
(Hook-and-loop closure straps can become matted with bits of
trash or hair, but avoid hard scrubbing, which can damage
their ability to grip. Instead use a stiff grooming brush or
a dog's wire "slicker" brush on matted straps when they're
dry.) When dirt is washed off, rinse the mask very
thoroughly in several changes of fresh water until all
traces of soap or Betadine are gone, then shake off excess
water. The mask air-dries in a couple of hours (don't put in
the clothes dryer).
Check for damage.
Ripped or worn areas of the mask can let insects in and
stray fibers from the mesh may irritate your horse,
especially if the damaged part is near his eyes (as can
happen if he snags it on something while having a good
roll). It's also common for wear and tear to show up in
seams that connect ear coverings. Masks are difficult to
repair satisfactorily and it's a good policy to replace them
when damaged. Recent improvements in design and materials
have increased durability and it's not unusual for a fly
mask to last a season or more.
Amy Anderson is barn manager for the
Katonah, N.Y., home base of Andre Dignelli's "A" circuit
powerhouse Heritage Farm, where she supervises the care of
65 to 70 horses as well as training and teaching.
This story originally appeared in the June
2004 issue of Practical Horseman magazine.