How to deal with horse fly bites

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Horse fly bites are an almost inevitable consequence of being around horses during the warmer months. The problem with managing them is that almost always, you will have your hands full either riding or handling the horse on the ground and are just never quite in the right place to brush them away or swat them.

And horse flies seem to operate a policy of stealth and approach silently and without warning unlike the trademark humming of the mosquito.

a horse fly

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How to treat horse fly bites

The bites themselves are not dangerous unless you suffer a severe allergic reaction or they become infected so for most people, they are just troublesome and the main problem is that they are damn itchy.

picture of a horse fly bite

What does a horse fly bite look like? Image Source: NHS

People react in different ways to horsefly bites; some just get tiny lumps that itch for a while and then go down whereas others develop angry, red, and inflamed patches that are hot to the touch and stay swollen and uncomfortable for days.

Horseflies actually bite into the skin which is why the bite is painful when it happens and also why they take much longer to resolve than some other insect bites.

Here is how you can effectively treat horsefly bites:

  • Apply an icepack to instantly cool the area and calm the inflammation. Prompt cold treatment using ice or cold compresses can really help with the initial reaction.  Icepacks should not be applied directly to the skin but wrapped in a cloth and then only left in place for fifteen minutes.  You may have to reapply ice or cold frequently to manage the inflammation but the cold can help soothe the itching
  • Keep the area clean which means no scratching. Because the horse fly actually breaks the skin, it is easy for infection to enter the skin particularly if you are working outside with horses
  • If you have a lot of bites on your limbs then a cool bath or cold shower on a low speed can help calm the inflammation. Add some fine oatmeal to the bathwater (one cup) or two cups of Epsom salts as this can help soothe angry and inflamed skin
  • After the bath or shower, don’t rub the skin dry as this will just irritate it – pat dry
  • Use cooling Aloe Vera Gel or Calamine lotion to apply to the bites which will help keep them cool before you go to bed
  • Wear loose cotton clothing in bed and don’t overheat yourself as this will always make the bite areas more angry and itchy
  • If you have an allergic reaction which is like an overreaction to the bites then over the counter anti-histamines are an excellent way to deal with this response but they do take a couple of days to work

Some people can suffer a very severe allergic reaction known as anaphylaxis or anaphylactic shock.  This is usually evidenced by one or more of the following signs or symptoms:

  • Angry red lumps get worse and seem to spread out rather than reduce
  • A fever
  • Dizziness
  • Feelings of sickness or nausea
  • Swollen skin around the eyes and lips
  • Difficulty in breathing

Any or all of these symptoms require prompt medical attention.

Prevention is better than cure

Riders and horse owners take plenty of steps to protect their horses from the misery of horsefly bites but do they take the same amount of care over their own skin?  Probably not.

spray for horse flies

Pyranha Wipe N Spray horse fly spray for horses

Here are some tips to preventing or at least minimizing horsefly bites during that particular window in the summer months:

  • Cover up when you ride – wear a vest top with a loose cotton shirt over the top that allows plenty of air to circulate but covers the skin on your arms and has a collar that can protect your neck
  • Wear loose cotton jodhpur or riding trousers where the fabric is comfortable and breathable but is not tight against your skin which horse flies love. They can latch onto the back of your legs whilst you are riding and you won’t even know they are there until you feel the bite.  Loose jodhpurs make it much harder for horse flies and other insects to make contact with your skin as the folds of fabric prevent them from latching on
  • Bright light makes horse flies worse so try and ride when there is less direct sunlight – early in the morning on a dull day is one of the best times as you are likely to have the smallest fly population
  • Lovely those it is to wear shorts on the yard on a hot day, those areas of unprotected skin are perfect for the horsefly to take aim at. If you do need to wear shorts because it is just too hot then use an essential oil insect repellent to help keep the little critters away
  • Cover yourself in your favorite natural bug spray (read our recommendations here)

Essential oil recipe for homemade fly spray

In half a cup of a base or a carrier oil like coconut or sweet almond oil, add the following:-

  • 5-10 drops of peppermint essential oil
  • 5-10 drops of tea tree oil
  • 5-10 drops of eucalyptus essential oil
  • 5-10 drops of lemongrass essential oil
  • 5-10 drops of lavender essential oil

Blend the oils and then dilute with water.  Diluting with water makes it easier to dispense and ensures better coverage on your skin.  If the spray is very oily, it can be difficult working around horses which is invariably dirty and dusty if you are covered in an oily coating.

Some people make fly repellents for their horses using essential oils and the same blend can be used for humans but just remember, horses have a coat, we don’t.

Essential oils must be diluted first in a base or carrier oil before they are applied to human skin and many equestrian recipes for the horse don’t factor this in.

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