Annie Get Your Gun – The moosequitos they are a comin’

Disclaimer:  Though I use the products mentioned in this article, none of the manufacturers or retailers are paying to have the products mentioned.  I mention them as I have used them and have faith in the brands and products.

The HorseAlberta may not have mosquitos quite as big as those Ontario boasts.  Indeed, one could actually say the mosquito, or moosequito, is the provincial bird of Ontario.  Even in Alberta we have some nasty mosquitos.  In previous articles here, here, and here, I have discussed various equine diseases which are spread primarily by mosquitos and other bite and suck insects.

Unfortunately we will never eradicate these pesky creatures, and we really don’t want to as they are an integral link in the ecosystem around us.  Rather, we want to control them to a point, and use control measures to protect our animals, as best we can, from them.  Most of these controls take very little effort on our part, and some minor desensitizing on the part of our horses.

This is the time of year when our windshields become coated in various bug guts and road grime.  Yay!  Spring has sprung.  It is horse ridin’ season.  The trails, outdoor arenas, and fair grounds will be literally inundated with horses.  They will also be inundated with horse flies, mosquitos, gnats and midges, and a whole slough of biting sucking insects.

Mosquitos and horse flies are infamous carriers of such wondrous diseases as Western Equine Encephalomyelitis (WEE), Eastern Equine Encephalomyelitis (EEE), West Nile Virus and Equine Infectious Anemia. The number one carrier of Western Equine Encephalitis is the Culex tarsilis, better known as the vector mosquito.  EEE is carried by Culiseta melanura mosquitoes.  These mosquitos transmit the diseases from diseased birds to humans or Equines.  As noted in this article, the amount of WEE/EEE or West Nile Virus in the blood of a human or horse makes it unlikely mosquitos of other blood sucking insects can contact the disease from them.  While the names suggest the regions of North America where the mosquitos habitate, it is not unusual for a case of WEE to occur in the east and vice versa.  This is primarily due to horses travelling for shows, rodeos, and the like.  We must keep in mind, these diseases are zoonotic, meaning they can be contracted by humans and passed on to horses and vice versa.

Horse flies are nasty little buggers.  Their bite is painful at the very least.  The bite, even without transmission of disease creates a swollen patch which is very itchy if not painful.  To exacerbate this the horsefly is a common carrier of Anthrax, Vesicular Stomatitis (which can be transferred from horse to human), Tularemia, and other diseases.  These diseases, which the horse fly picks up from other animals when it bites, can be transmitted to horses and, in most cases, humans. ((Equestrian Center – Horseflies and the diseases they carry))

So what can we do to control these diseases, or even stop them.  Not much.  All we can hope to do is provide the most protection we can for ourselves and our animals.  The following steps can lessen the chances of our animals contracting any of the above diseases.

  1. Regular vaccination program
  2. Fly sprays
  3. Fly sheets
  4. Fly masks
  5. lawn maintenance and standing water removal

Let’s break these down, shall we?

A well thought out vaccination program can go a long way towards protecting your animals.  Unfortunately, it is commonly known that most vaccines don’t stop your horse from contracting a disease, they make it harder for them to contract them and if they do, the sickness usually passes quickly with little ill effects.  More about vaccines and vaccination programs can be found here.  Vaccination alone may not be enough.

Fly sprays are a good way of keeping mosquitos and sucking insects off your horse.  There are literally hundreds of spray type protectants on the market.  I prefer to use Absorbine UltraShield EX Spray or Bronco Equine Fly Spray.  It works agains sweat and protects from almost all known species of flying insect.  As with any spray, you have to be careful not to get any in the horse’s eyes.  If your horses are anything like mine, the first few times you apply fly spray, each season, the horse may be a little reluctant to stand still.  I handle this by spraying the bottle away from them but close to their ear, so they hear it.  Then I gradually apply it using light misting and a gentle back and forth swing to my arm.  the stuff tickles, so the horse may flinch for the first few applications.  I swear the horses eventually figure out that spray means no flies and they eventually stand for it.  I started spraying a young horse at the beginning of mosquito season this year (about 2 weeks ago).  He freaked out the first few times.  We untied him and took him outside and simply sprayed him as he ran from the spray.  The next time he ran less.  As of last night he is no longer running from the spray.  He figured out it doesn’t hurt, it tickles, and he can live with that.  It is a good thing too, he is HUGE.NEVER SPRAY THE HORSE’S face.  I spray the repellant in my hand and rub it on the horse’s face avoiding the mouth and eyes.  I also spray the entire body, avoiding contact with the genital areas.  If you have a horse that simply will not stand to be sprayed, most sprays can be applied to a sponge and then sponged on to the horse.  Slow movement and patience will allow you to accustom your horse to being sprayed.

As an added layer of protection, I like to have my horses covered by a fly sheet.  These can be purchased for a relatively low price at most tack shops.  Learn from my mistakes.  Do not buy the super thin white sheets.  The horse will roll a couple of times and the sheet will be toast.  I prefer to spend a few bucks more and get the Shedrow Protective Fly Sheet With Gusset or ones like it.  These will stand up to most rolling the horse will do.  The added benefit to these sheets is less time grooming!!

It is not safe to spray insect repellent in a horse’s face.  So I put it on using my hand in order to not get any in the horse’s mouth, nose or eyes.  This leaves unprotected areas around the face.  In order to add an extra layer of protection, I will also put the horse’s face in a fly mask.  there are many many of these on the market.  Selection is  a personal choice.  Here are some examples. As a personal choice, I like the Kensington Bug Eye Long with Ears.  I like the full coverage, and the mask is as tough as the above fly sheet.

Keeping the grass around pastures and barns cut and neat will take away much of the breeding real estate for mosquitos and other flying insects.  Grass in pastures isn’t a concern as the horses are constantly moving and stirring up any possible nesting areas.  Standing water, be it puddles or man-made ponds are natural breeding grounds for mosquitos.  Not allowing water to pool is a good start to controlling the insect population. Water holes where animals drink are not as big a problem as the animals are stirring up the water whenever they drink.  If your horses are like mine they will actually be found in the water on warmer days.  This in itself will stir up the water. You should avoid have standing water ponds where animals aren’t drinking.  These ponds are where you will experience the most insect breeding.

There is no 100% perfect answer to the flying insect issue with horses.  All we, as caregivers, can do is the best we can to limit the number of insects and the effects of their bites.  So, while we have to put up with the bugs, we do what we can to keep them off our four-leggers and we make the best of the season.  Of course, if your horse gets sick, isolate them away from other horses immediately.  Take care that other animals, such as dogs or cats don’t have contact with them.  Basically, place the horse in quarantine and call the vet.  Chances are it is nothing serious, but the health of your herd may depend on this quarantine.

Happy riding!!

Suggested Reading:  Controlling Mosquitoes on Horse Farms and Rural Properties – Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food