HORSEPLAY: Keeping pests away from your horse

HAVE YOU HEARD this joke? When talking to a person who annoys you, just slap them on the shoulder and cry out, “Mosquito bite!”

Admittedly, I probably shouldn’t be promoting it, but that joke just tickles my funny bone every time I read it.

We all know how annoying those pesky little mosquitoes, along with flies, no-see-ums and other tiny insects are to horses and humans alike. Sometimes their bites can even be dangerous as they spread diseases.

I’ve noticed for a while now how Lacey loved to lie down on the grass to scratch her belly. While I should have taken a closer look much sooner, when I finally got down on my hands and knees a few weeks ago for the sole purpose of scrutinizing her belly, I saw it was lined with scabs — to my horror!

Poor Lacey! I felt horrible I hadn’t looked sooner. There was no sign of any open wounds. The skin on her lower belly just looked like one solid incrustation.

The good news is, crust from bites and wounds only forms over healing skin, so there wasn’t a glaring infection. I knew she regularly had dry skin around her girth area, but this was so much worse. Immediately, I set to work to relieve the itch and repel — and hopefully kill — any tiny bugs, like biting midges (Culicoides) attracted to the area.

Whenever I’ve feel attacked by some, say, hay mites or mosquitoes, I slather on organic, cold-pressed virgin coconut oil my skin. Years ago I discovered oil in any form is a death blow to mites and other pesky insects. Coconut oil itself possess antimicrobial properties that can possibly kill bacteria and fungal infections.

In truth, I just use it because I find it quickly brings relief from the itching, pain and the feeling of microscopic bugs crawling all over my skin and scalp.

Yes, scalp! On more than one occasion I’ve felt certain I had hay mites crawling over my neck and head after I fed the horses hay. While I dislike applying liquid coconut oil all over my hair to reach the scalp, because I will have to wash it later, it’s worth it to stop the feeling of itching and crawling.

Lacey loved the feel of the coconut oil when I applied it to her belly. First I warmed it with a hair-dryer to turn it from a solid to a liquid form, and then I added a couple drops of a blend of lemon and eucalyptus essential oil to serve as a natural pest repellent.

As flies are also attracted to the eyes and ears, I rubbed some on my hand and then gently applied it around her eyes and ears. I then applied some to the top of her tail and inner thigh, and then finally her belly lest I spread any bacterial or fungal infection anywhere else.

Gradually the scabs started sloughing off. And then larger pieces of dead scabs began separating from her skin and exposing her light pink skin underneath. With that, the area become painful for her and she didn’t want me to touch it. I decided to change tactics and turned to spraying on scarlet oil, which is a non-drying dressing oil used for the treatment of simple wounds, cuts and abrasions.

As I sprayed it on Lacey, she relaxed and had a look that said, “Aah, this feels nice.”

When the sun got hot enough, I bathed her with an antimicrobial-medicated shampoo for horses. All told, Lacey is fast on the mend. If she wasn’t, I think I would have turned to a veterinarian for help. I hesitated because I have limited income and a farm visit alone can be costly, let alone the treatment.

Repellents

This situation has also caused me to get diligent about regularly applying fly and mosquito repellent. And while I’ve found traditional sprays with pesticides and other chemicals to be very efficient, my intuition tells me it’s not a good idea overall for the horse’s health.

Natural sprays, such as a marigold spray, work well as a repellent, but its effect only lasts a few hours rather than days, like the traditional sprays. One thing that bothered me about both was the cost, especially with the natural sprays, which need to be applied twice a day.

That leaves me with making my own natural spray. There are a lot of recipes for natural sprays on the internet. I’ve tried using those mixed with apple cider vinegar, water and a few drops of essential oils known to be bug repellents, and, yes, they’ve worked. But with the above methods, my horses have never liked being sprayed around the face, thus I’ve always put some on a rag and rubbed it on their face and ears.

Sonny, whom I’ve only had for a couple of years, always immediately pulls back and tries to get away at the sight and sound of any spray. Until now. I’ve discovered both horses actually love it when I spray them with a mixture of one-third white vinegar, two-thirds water and several drops of the lemon and eucalyptus essential oil. Both will even let me give them a light spray of their faces! Of course, I shield their eye with my hand on each side.

My longtime go-to spray for repelling flying insects from entering my house through doors and windows is diluted Pine-Sol. And it works. I also like to spray it around the horse shelter, but never on their eating surfaces, and never on the horse. I cannot emphasize that enough.

Another good deterrent for insects and mice to sprinkle outside the shelter and hay storage area is dolomite lime. Yep, same stuff you can fertilize grass with. When applied to pastures, do not let your animals graze until water — from rain or sprinklers — has thoroughly dissolved it into the ground.

So, healing Lacey’s scabs is one thing that’s kept me occupied during this pandemic’s stay-at-home order. What have you been up to? I’d really like to hear what others are using to repel bugs and to heal scabs or wounds. Please email your comments to me at the address below.

Happy trails!

________

Karen Griffiths’ column, Peninsula Horseplay, appears the second and fourth Sunday of each month.

If you have a horse event, clinic or seminar you would like listed, please email Griffiths at [email protected] at least two weeks in advance. You can also call her at 360-460-6299.

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