Horse Fly Sheet - Fly Rugs - Fly Masks
Fly sheets, rugs and masks are one of the 10 Solutions to Horse Flies.
A horse fly sheet covers the body of a horse, to protect it from flies and in particular from biting insects. Some people use the term 'horse fly rugs', which means the same thing, although this name is somewhat misleading as the product is in the form of a sheet (e.g. thin mesh) rather than a rug.
The topics covered in this article are:
1.0 Benefits of Fly Sheets
A fly sheet serves multiple purposes:
1.1 Disadvantages of Fly Sheets
The most common complaint about fly sheets is that they rip (see section 3.1 for discussion) or may not fit the individual horse (see section 4.0).
Another problem, fortunately uncommon, is that not all horses will accept fly sheets or masks. The vast majority of horses will wear them comfortably, after a few hours or days to get used to them. In fact, many horses soon learn that the sheet and masks will protect them, and I've known horses to run away if their owners tried to remove this protection while there were still flies about. However, the occassional horse does not get used to them and will either try to remove them (sometimes damaging them in the process) or will show signs of stress. This appears to be more of a problem with fly masks than with fly sheets due to the visibility problem.
One of the special problems with fly masks is that they reduce visibility. Horses are more sensitive than people to obstructions in front of their eyes (perhaps due to their differing eye placement). The reduced visibility can cause stress as the horses feel they can no longer see potential threats as well. This problem is worse if the masks become wet or dirty, further reducing visibility. When approaching a horse with a mask, it is best to start talking some distance away so that the horse can hear you and know that you are there., to avoid startling the horse who may not see you until you are very close.
When putting fly sheets on a group of horses for the first time, there can be social issues and even aggression because the horses may not recognise each other any more. Consequently, fly sheets and masks should be gradually introduced to a group. For example, rather than put the entire outfit on at once, use just the fly sheet until they get used to it and then add the fly mask. Once the horses become used to the sheets and masks, they learn to recognise and accept each other when wearing them; this can take anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours (in exceptional cases, a few days).
As fly sheets are worn mainly during warm weather, they are typically white or silver so that they reflect the heat of the sun. Be wary of choosing dark colours, as this can result in overheating of the horse. There is some dispute as to whether the insulation provided by the fly sheet increases the horse's temperature or if the reflective white/silver colour actually protects it from the heat. This is further complicated by the fact that the type of material the fly sheet is made of (see section 3) affects the extent to which heat is retained. In any case, we would advise that on hotter days, the horse owner should ensure that the fly sheet is not overheating their horse.
2.0 Types of Fly Sheets
There are several elements to a fly sheet:
The following pictures illustrate different elements and some of the combinations for fly sheets:
These pictures are examples of different types of masks. Some masks are designed to be used on their own, while others are designed to be attached to a bridle (these, in particular, are often known as a 'riding mask').
3.0 Types of Material
Fly sheets (and masks) vary not only in terms of how much of the horse is covered, but also in terms of the material and construction:
Perhaps the most common buyer complaint about fly sheets is the material ripping, in some cases shortly after purchase. In some cases the actual material rips, while in others there is separation at the seams. The probability of a fly sheet ripping is dependent on a number of variables, only some of which are related to the fly sheet itself. Consequently, some horse owners have trouble with brand A but not brand B, whereas others have the opposite experience (trouble with brand B but not brand A). Although certain brands will be of higher quality, the lack of consistent results makes recommendation of specific brands difficult. Factors which determine how long a fly sheet will resist ripping include:
As a result of these variables, there is great variation in how long fly sheets last in practice. On one hand it is not uncommon for fly sheets to be ripped within a couple of weeks of use, while on the other hand many buyers find that it lasts the entire year (which is just a few months, depending on how long the biting insect season is) or even multiple years.
The use of a repair kit to fix tears as soon as they happen, before they become larger, can greatly extend the useable life of a fly sheet. Depending on the location and severity of damage, as well as the type of material, it is usually possible to repair small rips oneself. Many manufacturers of fly sheets can provide a repair kit for this purpose. You may wish to ask about this before ordering a fly sheet, as it is preferable to purchase a fly sheet that can be repaired rather than one that cannot. When buying a fly sheet, it may be cost effective to order a repair kit at the same time as they normally are not expensive and you can avoid the additional charges of postage and handling associated with ordering it separately at a later date.
Fly sheets come in a number of sizes, normally based on the length of the sheet. The width is of secondary importance since the sheet lies loose down the sides of the horse. For ordering purposes, one needs to know how the individual fly sheet manufacturer measures length. The common method is to measure from the centre of the chest to the middle of the bum, as measuring in this way will take into account somewhat the breadth of the horse. Although individual manufacturers may specify at what height the measurement should be done, in our experience it is best to do this at the widest point (i.e. at the chect height giving the longest length when measured in this way), using the same height for both ends of the measurement.
When producing the fly sheet, each manufacturer chooses a sheet shape based on the general shape of the horse. For example, a fly sheet with an attached neck piece must base the neck cover on a certain neck thickness and length. However, horses are not all the same shape, so individual fly sheets do not always hang or fit well on the horses for which they are intended. Furthermore, as different manufacturers use somewhat different shapes for the fly sheet patterns, for one horse brand A may fit better than brand B, while for another horse brand B may fit better than brand A. Consequently, it is preferable if you can try before you buy.
For fly masks, the way in which the measurement is done will depend partly on the type of the mask (e.g. full head or partial head, independent or bridle attached). Check with the individual supplier when choosing a size.
The mask edges need to fit closely around the head, to prevent flys entering the mask under the edges. To prevent this, one must ensure both that the mask is not too large and also that when it is put on the horse the straps are adjusted for a close fit (most fly masks have velcro attachments for this purpose). However, one must ensure that it is not so tight that it causes discomfort to the horse or that it chaffs the horse.
When ordering a fly mask, one should be aware that certain fly masks are made of soft materials which can stretch with use. For such masks, it may be best to order slightly on the small side and let the velcro straps out slightly until the mask stretches. Otherwise, one risks ordering a mask which after a couple of months is too large to provide a snug fit.
5.0 Choosing a Fly Sheet or Mask
As discussed above, there are many different variables to fly sheets (e.g. material, thickness, which parts of the horse are covered). Selecting each of these different items correctly requires consideration of both your objectives and the nature of the horse. One of the major considerations is the type of flies that you are trying to protect the horse from:
One also needs to consider factors such as temperature (thick sheets may be unsuitable in very hot temperatures), durability (a thick but flexible material is best), use (a stand alone mask for pastures or one suitable for riding out) and quality of manufacture (in terms of material and seams).
To ensure a correct size and fit, the option to try before buying is preferable.