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Did we even have a day this year where there weren’t any bugs? I feel like we never got a deep enough freeze to get rid of all the pesky little creatures. Without that deep freeze, the bugs almost seem to be coming back worse than ever this spring. So, let’s talk about the common bugs we deal with, and how to combat them.


Fire Ants

These little buggers are the whole reason why I can’t go barefoot outside. It never fails that I’m trying to work on a horse and I step on one of those dang mounds! Pretty soon I’m looking like a crazy person, trying to slap away all the biting nasties! And they’re not just pests for us. We

are constantly getting calls about horses covered in hives, having sprung up because an unsuspecting horse lay on an ant hill! Luckily, this spring, Dr. Katie went to a conference on how to treat for fire ants.

       There are two ways to treat for fire ants: spot treatment and pasture treatment, both of which use Amdro Fire Ant Bait. Spot treatment involves finding a sunny, 70-degree morning with no dew and no rain in the forecast for two days. Place a fatty food such as a potato chip, some cheese, or a piece of bacon about 2 feet from the mound you want to kill. In 20 minutes, the worker ants will start feeding on the food sample. It’s important not to disturb the mound at this point, as it may crush the tunnels of the worker ants that feed the brooder ants and the queen. Once the ants are feeding on the fatty food, apply 4-5 tablespoons of Amdro Fire Ant Bait on the ground around the mound. Do not put it on the mound itself. The mound will die in about 2 months, as the bait will kill the queen in the first week so no new ants will be hatching. Worker ants can live for up to 2 months, which is why it may take that long for the mound to die.

        Amdro Fire Ant Bait can be broadcast in pastures, even though it says on the label that it is toxic to pets. Spot treating the mounds will not harm your horses in the pasture, nor will broadcasting it. Be sure to wear long sleeves, gloves, long pants, and foot wear when applying, and wash your hands and clothes after application. Amdro Fire Ant Bait IS toxic to fish, so be careful with runoff. The bait can be purchased at any local farm/ranch store and will treat 5-6 mounds. Be sure to use within 3 months, and dispose of properly.

No See Ums

These tiny little biting midges are the main cause of “sweet-itch” in horses. Sweet itch is a constant concern for horse owners, as these horses are intensely itchy, and will rub themselves raw in places that these little guys feed. Come summertime, we’ll constantly be seeing itchy horses that are being driven insane from the itching, and owners have no idea how to give them any relief. No-See-Ums are most active in the late evening, night, and early morning, and their breeding grounds are in and around 

water. The best method of control is to eliminate stagnant water around your horses, which will disrupt their breeding grounds. Horses may also get some relief with the application of fly repellent ointment on the belly, which No-See-Ums seem to target in particular. Most owners will notice a raw spot on the lowest point of the belly which horses really love to have scratched. The raw spot is caused because horses are able to figure out how to lay down and scratch their belly on the ground.


We’ve all been educated from the time we were small children to beware of ticks. Always check for ticks and wear protective clothing and spray yourself with bug spray. Far from just affecting humans, ticks can also infest our horses, and can carry diseases specific to them. Not only this, but large infestations can have an adverse 

effect on our animals, not to mention the fact that they are creepy-crawly buggers are gross to pick off your animal! The most effective products against ticks are those with permethrins in them. Spot-ons tend to work the best, as well as keeping wild animals like deer off your property. Keeping your pastures clear of brush can also help, as this is where ticks like to habitate. Most fly sprays are ineffective against ticks as they last such a short period of time. There are several premise sprays available at your local feed stores that contain permethrin in them, which can help if you have a large population of ticks.

      Ear ticks can also be a huge problem in our horses as they can cause pain, infection, and ear shyness. If your horse is suddenly ear shy or head shaking, you may need to check for ticks in the ears. Some horses even require veterinary attention, as sedation may be needed to even get close to the affected ear. For ear tick prevention, consider using one of the dog flea/tick spot on medications that you can get at your local feed store. Be sure to find one with permethrin in it like Sergeants brand, Zodiac brand, or Nutri-Vet brand, which may be found at Tractor Supply. I go ahead and apply 0.5cc (approximately what comes in a toy dog application) in each ear. This seems to effectively keep ticks out of the ears without irritating them too much for about a month.

Stable Fly

The bane of every horse’s (and people’s!) existence, these little biting pests annoy horses more than anything else. However, they are the most common spreader of Equine Infectious Anemia (what a Coggins Test is looking for), so keeping them under control is dually important. Effective control involves both premise upkeep and direct application. Premise upkeep involves keeping high traffic areas clean of horse manure and other things flies like to 

feed on. Another effective method is to use a product like Fly Predators, which employs the use of another insect that feeds on fly larvae. This can be applied to manure piles, where they destroy newly hatched flies before they become annoying. Products like Maxforce Granular Fly Bait can be applied to areas where flies congregate to kill them.

      Direct application of fly sprays is one of the best ways to help give your horse relief, though it is usually very short-lived. Fly sprays with permethrin in them will kill flies on contact. I use these when I need just a few minutes of no stomping so I can accomplish something. For longer-lasting relief, I reach for fly sprays with citronella in them. A recent study by the University of Minnesota found that citronella reduces fly behaviors more than any other product. Keep in mind that fly sprays work best if brushed into the coat! Most people tend to spray and walk away, but brushing or sponging can make the fly spray last longer. I have actually found that leg bands infused with citronella reduce stomping in horses, especially when combined with fly sprays and/or fly sheets.

Black Horse Fly

These are probably some of the worst biting insects out there. I’ve seen swarms of these drive horses to a frenzied gallop or into bucking fit, trying to get rid of them. And unfortunately, nothing seems to work against them. To keep them under control, consider products using Bacillus thuringiensis israelensis (Bti), a naturally occurring bacteria that kills these flies by crystallizing within the body and destroying them from the inside out. Mosquito Dunks ® and Aquabac ® are products that contain Bti that can be placed in bodies of water to help prevent habitation of the area. But it seems like the best 

way to keep the giant Black Horse Flies off your horse is through physical barriers like fly sheets and masks. Consider using a fly sheet when black flies are most active, like the early evening. Some people have also had success using fly traps to kill these pests. 

Unfortunately, we’re never going to get rid of insects completely, and as much as we hate them, they are necessary for maintenance of our environment. Hopefully we’ve given you some ideas on how to keep your horses more comfortable this summer. As always, if you have questions, contact your veterinarian.