It’s a lightbulb moment when you realize that the humble fly mask shielding your horse’s face from biting bugs is actually a multi-tasker’s dream.
Need to prevent eye injuries? Check. Protect an eye during treatment, or post-surgery? Double check. Looking to prevent sun damage or ear infections? Some styles (literally) have your horse covered there, too.
“We do use them sometimes for protecting an eye from injury,” confirms Barb Crabbe, DVM, of Pacific Crest Sporthorse, an equine veterinary services provider in Beavercreek, Oregon. Indeed, whether the issue is flies, pollen or airborne debris on windy days, many folks find that fly masks make great equine safety glasses. After all, ouchy peepers can really ruin your horse’s day.
The secret of the fly mask is in the mesh or netting, which allows a horse to see through it while deflecting assaults from outside. However, as Crabbe noted, mask construction should be rigid over the eyes to prevent further damage to them from rubbing or interference should these areas become dented when impacted. “The portion covering the eye needs to be pretty resistant to collapsing,” she explains, adding, “I prefer the style with the raised, round eye pieces.”
Hauling horses this season? Odds are you’ll leave the trailer windows down or open for ventilation—because, let’s face it, it gets hot in there. When hauling without a fly mask, don’t be surprised if your horse’s eyes are weepy, swollen, or quickly blinking. Just think about all the branches, bugs and other junk blowing through those windows on your drive. (See that dump truck in front of you? It’s loaded with who-knows-what.)
Fly masks to the rescue again! As veteran horseman Denny Chapman says, “I often use fly masks during the summer at my Mounted Shooting Training Facility in Florida, as well as for travel in horse trailers when the windows are down (bars only) to protect their eyes.”
Here, too, it’s wise to inspect the design of the mask before purchase. “It’s important to me to have fly masks that won’t rub the horses’ eyes, seal well, and have a good hook-and-loop closure but will release if necessary while the horse is on its own and may get it hooked on something,” Chapman notes.
Fly masks also come in handy when treating eyes that have been injured, infected or irritated by foreign bodies. Whether your horse has undergone surgery, received stitches or is having drops or ointment applied, keeping the area clean and free of chaff, dirt and dust is essential. In addition, your horse will be thankful for relief from pests. Unfortunately, flies, gnats and midges have a nasty habit of gathering around secretions. They can actually reopen wounds, starting a cycle that attracts still more insects and can negatively affect a horse’s health. This just further proves the need for protection around the sensitive areas on your horse’s face.
Do you know that horses with pink skin and white noses can get sunburned? Or that harsh sun can bother a horse with sensitive eyes? Some fly masks are crafted with UV-blocking materials and—better yet—extended nose covers to keep your horse protected from the sun. A sun-blind or sunburned horse is an unhappy horse (and who wants pain and peeling)?
On the subject of special features, equine ears can benefit from masks sporting built-in ear sleeves. Ticks, chiggers and mites can burrow inside the ears, causing head rubbing, shaking and general irritation. Black flies are another potential worry. In addition to their painful bites, which can lead to ear infections, they are believed to spread the virus that causes aural plaques, the ugly, wart-like patches sometimes found in horses’ ears. (A tip for masks with nose and ear coverage: Look for fabrics that provide maximum airflow for comfort on hot days.)
So, the next time you go shopping for fly masks, think outside the box and remember their many other uses. Cashel Company fly masks carry all of the features mentioned above so you don’t have to worry.