Horseflies. We hate them. We spend gobs of money every year fighting them: fly spray, fly sheets, fly masks, spray systems for the barn, fly catchers, fly swatters, you name it. In North Carolina, we get these big horrible horse flies that are nearly the size of humming birds. I bet three of them on one horse could carry it away.
Nature, however, has designed horses with amazing tools to combat this problem. Amazingly efficient tails that act like a whip to brush off flies. Forelocks to keep their eyes free of the annoying bugs. Hairs in their ears to keep gnats and such out. Incredibly sensitive skin that can ripple to brush off a fly on one square inch alone.
Sometimes I think people forget the horse was designed to deal with mother nature’s side effects: terrain, weather, bugs, sun, etc. We stall them, shield them from the cold, the sun, the bugs, the rain, we put shoes on their feet so their soles don’t get sore; we are so willing to run out and buy things for the comfort of our horses, and yet find it sometimes incredibly difficult to do nothing and let the horse deal with its environment.
Not all these things are bad, and we love our horses and want them to be comfortable. But I believe of all the problems nature presents to a horse, bugs are the least of their worries.
Some of my students simply can’t focus at all if a fly lands on their horse during the ride. They become obsessed with swatting and slapping these bugs away. For the comfort of their horse, they forfeit their ability and the horses ability to focus on anything but one small section of its body that is facing discomfort. I had a training horse that threw itself on the ground in a fit if a fly landed on it, after being kept in a stall and only ridden heavily fly sprayed in this fashion. She could not focus or settle down with bugs in the air, and in North Carolina, that is a problem, because in the summertime, bugs are certainly in the air.
I’m not here to change anyone’s mind about what products they buy or tell them to stop swatting flies off their horse. But I will make one request:
Please stop slapping your horse.
When a fly lands on him, and you slap and kill that fly, your horse does not relate you helping him with you slapping him.
One of two things will happen – you scare the death out of him, which does not help your relationship
you disrupt your ride and dull him down with that meaningless slap.
I want my hand on my horse to bring him feelings of comfort and calm. Not anticipating a slap, or worry, or tuning my touch out.
You can just as easily brush them away, squish them, or leave them alone entirely. None of these options involve an unpleasant slap.
Nobody likes to be slapped. You might be surprised what kind of progress you can make if you ignore the flies for a bit and just focus on your ride – your horse just might learn to ignore them too.