A professional groom’s guide to selecting grooming and fly repellents for your horse.
I’m often asked which grooming products and fly repellents should be used for this, that and the other. My initial instinct is to ramble off a list of all the snazzy and spiffy things I see in glossy magazines and on the internet – and then I remember that maybe the best product can only be chosen when you take many other things into consideration. Think about actual need, cost, ingredients, concentrations and even alternatives to your barn management and grooming routines in order to come up with the best solution for your horse.
Address root causes of a poor coat
Many folks (myself included!) love grooming products for shinier coats, sleeker tails, softer manes, etc. However, we need to realize that the source of dry skin, brittle hair and coarse textures are often the result of an incomplete diet, not enough elbow grease with the currycomb, or some sort of skin issue that may need the attention of a veterinarian. Work on figuring out the cause of your horse’s issues, and then you can correctly address it and select the proper remedy from there. You may start out thinking you need a new shampoo, but eventually discover you need to add some fatty acids to your horse’s diet instead.
Become a label reader
Let’s say you discover you really do need a new shampoo/ spray/detangler/fly repellents, or have run out of your previous supply and need to stock up. My “go-to” place on any bottle I pick up at the store is the ingredient list. As a general rule of thumb, I’m suspect about products that don’t have ingredients listed. Don’t rely on the front of the label alone to tell you about the product – marketing words are not always indicative of the ingredients.
When you are scanning the ingredients, don’t completely rule out a product if you can’t pronounce some of them. Do a quick internet search on the ingredient – you may be surprised to learn about its natural sources. Take cocamidopropyl betaine, for example. Sounds scary, but really it’s not. It’s a naturally derived substance that helps shampoos and soaps adhere to dirt and remove it. Remember that ingredients are listed in order of predominance, so a questionable ingredient at the very end won’t worry me as much as one that’s listed first.
When it’s time to battle flies, which can be all year in some areas, many of us are quick to jump to the chemical sprays, potions and lotions. Before you start looking for fly repellents, note that I’ve have found that changing your barn management routine can virtually negate the need for using sprays and lotions continuously. Start by learning about the life cycle of the specific flies and bugs in your stable area – this will help you deal with them smartly. Learn how they breed, what they feed on, and what their life cycle is. For example, the common flies that call your barn home are attracted to fresh manure. Keep your stalls and paddocks picked clean, especially in the shady areas. The sun will dry out manure piles quickly, which won’t attract new flies to lay eggs. If you compost your manure and bedding, make sure your compost area is in the sun to harness its power to make this area unfriendly to flies.
Use fans in the barn, and utilize turnouts during breezy parts of the day to discourage flies – they can’t land on your horse in the breeze. Allow your horse to roll in the dust and mud – this serves as a natural fly repellent, and will keep you fit and strong with all that extra grooming you’ll be doing! Fly masks with ears, fly sheets, and even fly boots can work wonders. Another natural way to deal with flies is with the use of fly parasites. These tiny predators eat the fly pupae – thus breaking the fly life cycle. You can even order them online and receive them in the mail on a regular schedule.
Essential oils and sprays
Peppermint, citronella and lavender are common essential oils that can be used around the barn as fly repellents. Research indicates that most biting flies are unaffected by these oils, but they do show some repelling abilities towards mosquitoes. If you choose to use essential oils in your repertoire, apply them to your horse when heavily diluted with water for homemade fly repellents. For store bought fly repellents in the form of sprays, I like to look for pyrethrins. This is a compound derived from chrysanthemums, and is naturally biodegradable.
Tip: Concentrates are cost effective
Examine the concentration of any product you are interested in buying. This will factor into the cost – an 8 oz bottle of highly concentrated serum that you can dilute 10:1 will last you much longer than a 24 oz bottle of serum that is not concentrated.
You will notice that the grooming boxes of top grooms are loaded with top quality, natural products that will stand the test of time. We all have budgets to work within, so do your research, shop around, and opt for the best you can to keep your horse healthy and happy.