We all know how much our horses hate flies! Let’s face it, they are incredibly bad news. Not only are they unbelievably irritating, but, they bite, causing itching and spreading infection. Given that some flies carry highly contagious diseases such as strangles and vesicular stomatitis, keeping these winged pests away from our horses should be high priority. While we can’t recommend using Spalding Fly Predators as your first line of defense, enough, when you ride out on the trail, go away to shows, or near a neighboring property, you may need to add some additional strategies to your fly fighting arsenal, meaning, you may have to use fly spray on your horse.
Unfortunately, many owners are then faced with a problem – as soon as their four legged friend spots the fly spray, they pin back their ears, swing their rear ends towards your general direction! Of course, this is flat-out unacceptable. Particularly as you may need to use sprays when applying wound medications. So, how do you get your horse to accept being sprayed?
If your horse becomes unmanageable when you try to use sprays on him, do not try to desensitize by yourself. Speak to a trainer and obtain professional help. It is always advisable to wear a helmet and protective footwear when dealing with horses, particularly when working on behavioral issues. The best way to get your horse to accept sprays is to gradually introduce the spray, via a step by step process, showing the horse there is nothing to be concerned about. You want the horse to see the spray as positive!
Often the sound of the bottle is the one of the main concerns for the horse, so when working on this desensitization, use a water spray which is silent or a quiet spray applicator such as Ultrashield Green. Remember that this process will not happen overnight, you may need to repeat certain steps on consecutive days, but with perseverance, the horse will learn to accept the spray.
Step 1. Securely tie the horse in a safe area with room to move around, such as in cross ties or in his stall.
Step 2. Hold the spray bottle in your hand and approach the horse. If the horse remains calm, reward him with a pat or treat. If not, take a step back and stand still with the bottle in view until he accepts it. As soon as he becomes calm, acknowledge this with a reward.
Step 3. Touch him on the shoulder with the spray, if he is happy with that and stands still, reward him.
Step 4. Walk round him and stroke him with your hand, (while talking to him warmly,) holding the spray in the other hand. Wave the spray around but don’t touch him with it or spray it. Reward him for remaining calm, with your voice, your pats and treats.
Step 5. Once the horse is habituated to the spray bottle’s presence, it is the next step to familiarize him with the noise. Stand away from the horse and spray the bottle outwards. If the horse remains calm, reward him for not over reacting. If he does react, put the bottle away and do something he’s good at with him. Then, follow steps 1-4 the following day and repeat until he accepts the fly spray bottle’s noise without a reaction.
Step 6. Move closer to the horse while spraying and for each step closer you get, reward him with a pat or treat. If at any point he responds negatively to the spray, go back to your last successful step and do it again.
Step 7. Move closer until you are spraying while standing right next to him. When you feel he is accepting the spray, gently use the spray on him and reward him while you do this. It is often useful to have two people around so you can reward quickly. Move around his body, spraying the more sensitive areas, out of his line of sight. The more he accepts, the more he’s rewarded.
For some horses, this training process may take a couple of days, while for others, it could be a couple of weeks. Repeating in 5-10 minute sessions each day will help to condition the horse to see the spray as less of a threat. If you can do multiple sessions in the same day, this will help speed up the process. If you are using food as a reward, use some of his daily ration so that you don’t risk overfeeding.
If your work with broodmares and young horses, part of your newborns foal’s imprint training should involve “spray training.” Fill a bottle with warm water and spray the newborn foal before they even stand up. Do it slowly and gradually.
If you find that your horse is still struggling with submitting to fly spray applications, we highly recommend The Mitt. This innovative applicator will allow you to apply fly spray without spraying! The Mitt is re-useable ($10.95 value) and will be sent free from Spalding Labs with your first yearly order comes to $80 or more. It’s great for applying repellent around your animals’ eyes as well as avoiding breathing over spray and/or getting it on your skin. When you’re done using it, it easily folds up with a zip lock seal that keeps the damp applicator side protected from dust.
So, when it comes to protecting your horse from unnecessary fly exposure, do him and yourself a favor and get him trained to see the fly spray bottle as just another part of the grooming process. But, if he won’t cooperate, make it easy for both of you with a Spalding Labs Fly Spray Mitt.
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