Under attack

Horse & Hound|May 28, 2020

Under attack
Summer pasture is home to all manner of biting pests and parasites, as Karen Coumbe MRCVS explains
Karen Coumbe

BEING outdoors at this time of year can mean battling an army of bugs and bacteria, seemingly intent on targeting the hacking or grazing horse.

Whether lurking in the long grass or flying above it, these pasture-borne pests can be more than just a nuisance – causing anything from mild discomfort to more serious ill health and even spreading disease. It pays to know the enemy and take preventative measures where possible.

The British summer produces the perfect conditions for flies, which generally benefit from a mild, wet winter, flourish around damp, woodland areas and fly in warm weather. They tend to breed in muddy, wet and unhygienic conditions, such as marshes, ditches and unkempt muck heaps.

Midges will only fly if the wind is less than four miles per hour, so a breezy hack, or a hilltop or coastal paddock would be perfect for the pony with sweet itch – a condition caused by an allergic reaction to midge bites. Other flies, including black, stable and horseflies (pictured above, right), are also incriminated in allergic skin reactions.

In hotter, drier conditions, insects such as bees, wasps and hornets (pictured above, left) can irritate. There are stories every year of horses who have injured themselves in panic after an insect attack. Little can be done to prevent this, beyond good fencing to minimise injury risk and the sensible use of decent fly repellents, bug rugs and fly masks.


REPORTS suggest tick numbers may be increasing, possibly as a side effect of global warming. With climate change affecting the habitat, range and active period of tick species in the UK, along with greater international movement of domestic animals, including horses, there is increasing concern about tick-borne disease.

Ticks (pictured, left) live in thick vegetation and attach to mammals, such as livestock, horses and dogs. They prefer areas with dense ground cover and shade, so heathland, bracken, tall grass and woodland all provide a suitable habitat. Since they avoid direct sunlight and low humidity, they thrive in springtime and a mild summer.


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May 28, 2020