"PESTS ON THE TRAIL"
By Willis Lamm
Reprinted with permission of TrailBlazer Magazine for non-commercial use.
They range from pesky flies to bloodthirsty ticks. Insects pests are all
around us. While most are mere annoyances, some insect encounters can prove
to be a health or life threatening experience for you or your horse. This
segment deals with common insect pests, what they can do and what you can do
What animal experience would be complete without flies? We're all familiar
with stable flies which bite horses most often on the legs. Horses will run
to avoid these vexations or will endlessly stamp their feet and wear
themselves out when they should be resting. A similar looking airborne
invader which can cause a variety of problems is the common housefly. This
fly is a host for stomach worms, which are hideous invaders which among other
things are responsible for summer sores.
Out in the field there are numerous problem flies. Many, such as horse
flies, black flies and deer flies, live near streams and marshy areas. Horse
flies are powerful fliers who can target a horse from up to a mile away.
Their bites are vicious, some being able to bite through a stable sheet. No
wonder that a horse who is attacked by a swarm would tend to bolt, buck, and
even roll while wearing a saddle to escape or scrape off these pests. Tiny
black flies have been known to attack in numbers sufficient to kill helpless
Face flies are commonly found around cattle and may attack nearby horses.
Face flies "hit and run", making them difficult to control. Continual head
tossing while in "cow country" can often be attributed to face flies.
Blow flies are typically found swarming around dead animals. In
southwestern states their notorious cousins, screw worms, dine on living flesh
which they reach through wound openings. Infested wounds will often
chronically bleed and give off a distinctive odor. Screw worm infestations
are difficult to eradicate and call for veterinary attention.
OTHER INSECT PARASITES:
Mosquitos, aside from being irritating, are the primary cause of equine
encephalomyelitis. Some horses may become sensitized to mosquito bites,
developing large welts which can affect the horse's rideability. Fly
repellents have limited effectiveness against mosquitos. In heavily infested
areas, stable sheets can offer more reliable protection.
Buffalo flies, sand flies ("no-see-ums") and punkies are considered fierce
biters, and due to their minute size are difficult to see and defend against.
Most varieties live in aquatic and marshy areas. The Valley Black Gnat,
abundant in the western Sacramento Valley, lives in cracks and pores in adobe
soil and has a bad bite which produces a long lasting, inflammatory
This section is being edited.
The best way to deal with insect problems is to prevent their occurrence.
Prepare yourself for typical local problems. When riding out of your home
area, size up the situation. Streams and marshy areas generally include
biting flying insects. Brushy areas generally include ticks. Pack your
provisions accordingly and also prepare for the unexpected.
Good fly sprays, accompanied by fly wipes on the trail, will help ward off
most offenders. Once a horse starts sweating the effectiveness of most
repellents greatly diminishes. Proper wraps not only help support legs, but
also protect them from stable flies. Sheets can protect against mosquitoes
and gnat-sized biting flies, particularly around dusk and dawn when these
pests are most active.
Fly masks can help reduce the impact of face flies as well as mosquitos,
however one should be careful riding with a fly mask, ensuring that there is
enough outdoor light for the horse to see through the mask, and that the mask
fits properly and doesn't impair vision due to catching eyelashes, etc. Roll-
ons and fly wipes can be effective to repel face flies when the light is too
poor to ride with fly masks on.
Ticks can be such a serious problem that they have caused many neglected
pasture horses to die from anemia. Ticks carry Rocky Mountain spotted fever,
Tick Paralysis and Lyme disease which can be transmitted to humans.
Tick problems are exceptionally bad in mountain foothills. Most tick problems
in horses appear around late winter and into early spring, however any venture
into tall grasses and brushy areas may result in a few of these pests catching
ticks are prevalent in the south and southwest. These parasites attach themselves
inside horses' ears, just below the hairline. There they will molt and may
remain for as long as 6 to 7 months. Animals with recurrent tick problems may
also have lice. Fortunately, insecticide treatment for both is essentially
Ticks can be avoided and removed by sponging the horse with lindane dip. A
properly mixed and applied dip can control ticks for a period of two weeks to
a month. Lindane also controls lice. Lindane must be diluted properly,
according to the label, and I would avoid applying lindane to the saddle area
of a horse just before a ride. Trailers and stalls may need to be similarly
sprayed to prevent reinfestation from ticks which have dropped off the
Note: Since this article was originally published, Lindane has been
removed from the list of insecticides approved for sale without a
The best way to remove a tick is to prevent one from settling in for a
meal. Inspect yourself and your horse regularly when in tick country. While
there are many conflicting suggestions in how to remove embedded ticks, keep
in mind your first priority is not to squeeze the tick and cause it to inject
its potentially disease-laden fluids into the host. While a Lindane drench is
practical for horses, you might consider removing a tick from yourself with a
pair of tweezers. Use slow, steady upward pressure to remove the body, head
and mouthparts as a whole. If part of the tick's head breaks off in the skin,
see a health professional.
A genuine danger to the rider in tick country is Lyme disease. This
arthritic-like disease is found throughout North America and attacks humans,
horses and pets. Outbreaks can become significant. One farm study in a
section of New Jersey found 60% of the horses tested positive for Lyme disease
A tick called Ixodes dammini carries spirochetes which are very similar to
those which cause syphilis. Both Lyme disease and syphilis spirochetes cause
an initial skin lesion which disappears. Both develop into diseases which ebb
and flow, appear to go into remission but which inevitably return. Both can
affect the same organ systems, bones, joints, the nervous system, the heart
Ticks are more likely to carry Lyme disease in June and July. Once
contracted by humans or animals, the disease typically takes several months to
manifest detectable symptoms. When symptoms do appear, they vary widely and
are often confused with other diseases.
60% of Lyme disease victims exhibit a red, chronic, migrating rash. In
classic cases the center of the rash clears leaving a red circle and in some
cases concentric rings. About 60 - 80% of rash victims also experience flu
like symptoms. "Stage 2" symptoms include neurological and cardiac problems
ranging from unexplained changes in heart rhythm to seizures and partial
paralysis. Finally "Stage 3" symptoms appear which are arthritic in
Since there are enough symptom variations to fill a book, Lyme disease is
difficult to diagnose. A rider or horse who experiences repeated unexplained
and unrelated symptoms some months after receiving tick bites should be
considered a possible Lyme disease victim. There are tests for Lyme disease
antibodies and with early detection and oral medications such as tetracycline,
the spirochetes can be killed off.
Post script on ticks: Ticks can be a problem for pastured horses in many
regions. Removal of excess brush and tall weeds can help, but they can be
persistent pests. Kameron Price posted the following suggestion to the "Wildhorses"
list which caught my eye:
"Ticks are a problem no matter how much chemical you use...
We have lowered the ticks on 40 acres with guinea fowl.
If you can stand them, they are ferocious on the ticks;
eat 'em up, yum! yum!"
A good site we found for tick identification is provided by
The Bug Shoppe.
Red Fire Ants:
Bommie Day in Florida posted this idea to help control red fire ants:
"Its that time of year and I know that there must be people on the list that
have problems with the red fire ants in their pastures and property. This is
the non poisonous method that I use and it really works. What I use is
Diatomaceous earth. This is the same product used for pool filters. It is
cheaper to buy the pool kind then the kind for gardens or listed for ant
control. You just sprinkle it on the ant beds. You have to be persistent but
the beds will get smaller and smaller. I learned this method when I took a
Rhea/Emu/Ostrich seminar as red ants can kill these birds which I used to
raise. Hope that this helps those of you who want to go the natural way."
NATURAL REMEDIES ON THE TRAIL:
The Natural Health First Aid Guide offers the following suggestions for
treating ordinary insect bites and stings with supplies which might be in a
cantle bag, meal provisions or growing in the wild. Tea tree oil, also used
as an insect repellant, makes a good antibiotic and antiseptic when used full
strength. Fresh aloe can be obtained by breaking off a small tip of a plant
leaf and daubing it onto bite or sting sites. Lemon juice and vinegar can aid
in reducing inflammation. A couple of vitamin C tablets, ground up into a
moist paste, is also mentioned as effective. Finally, vitamin E, applied
topically, has been a long time popular antioxidant to aid healing of skin
Common sense and some preparation can help make adventures into pest
infested country somewhat tolerable affairs. On the other hand, lack of
concern for these tiny scourges can wind you up in a miserable, itchy or
painful situation... or worse!
Our thanks to TrailBlazer Magazine for permission to post this series on our web page.
You can visit the TrailBlazer website at www.horsetrails.com.
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