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101 Horsekeeping
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Fly Sheets for Horses
2006  Cherry Hill   Copyright Information

Flies live to eat and to procreate. Horses and their habitat can provide a perfect medium for both of these activities. While wild horses can take evasive action like mud baths or running to escape pesky fly hordes, domestic horses are often at the mercy of flies.

That’s why our horses need all the help we can give them. Fly populations can be reduced by using fly traps, insect predators, misting systems, and good management practices. Fly spray applied to horses will give varying degrees of relief for a limited time. Fly gear can provide non-chemical fly protection and it can be used on horses in stalls or pens, out on pasture, or while you are riding.

Protective horse clothing should fit the horse, be appropriate for the horse’s activity and for his environment. A flysheet is very versatile and the number one item in a horse’s summer wardrobe.

There are basically two types of flysheets—scrim sheets for use on stalled horses, and turnout sheets for horses in pens or pastures.

A scrim sheet is usually made of lightweight cotton or nylon mesh and is fit more like a cooler—quite loosely. This makes it unsuitable for turnout but it works quite well for keeping flies off a well-groomed horse in a clean stall. An added benefit is that it acts as an anti-sweat sheet, which minimizes fly attraction.

Today, the most popular flysheet is the turnout style made of the same type of mesh fabric that covers your lawn chairs (see sidebar). It not only keeps a horse’s body fly free, but it also protects the horse’s coat from the sun and helps keep him cool.

The mesh fabric of any flysheet tends to “groom” a horse’s hair coat as he moves, massaging natural skin oils into the hair without roughening a short summer coat. But an ill-fitting turnout flysheet or one left on a horse too long can act like sandpaper, removing patches of hair and even creating sores.

The two places most likely to be rubbed are the point of the shoulder and the mane at the withers. Some poorly designed sheets have seams right at point of the shoulder, which can exacerbate hair loss. A smooth fabric lining is used by some manufacturers to reduce friction, but it won’t necessarily prevent hair loss if the sheet fits poorly.

A sheet with a large, sloping neck opening, if not fitted properly, can fall behind the withers and then be stretched tight between the withers and the point of shoulder, causing friction when the horse moves and pressure when he puts his head down. A sheet with a smaller, more upright neck opening, if properly fitted, tends to stay forward on the horse and is less likely to rub. Some horses, however, especially those with long sloping shoulders and prominent shoulder point, seem to lose hair at their shoulders no matter which sheet is used. Keep a close watch on your horse the first couple of days he’s wearing a sheet to make sure that it fits properly and is not creating bald spots.

Turnout flysheets are inherently stiffer than cotton or nylon scrims, and if they are well designed and fitted properly, they tend to stay centered on a horse better without relying on snug surcingles or leg straps. It’s customary to cross or intertwine hind leg straps on winter blankets to keep the straps from rubbing the inside of the hind legs. But during fly season, not crossing the hind leg straps will allow the horse's tail to swing more freely between the legs (and get those pesky flies on the belly) without getting snagged on or tangled in the straps.

Elastic leg straps are less likely to break than are nylon straps during exercise or rolling. Detachable leg straps are nice because they can be washed separately and can be easily replaced if damaged.

The most secure blanket front is a closed front, one that’s sewn together or made of one piece of material. The strongest closure is a grommet front that fastens by threading small nylon straps through metal grommets—but it’s difficult and time-consuming to use. It’s easier just to leave it fastened and slip the sheet over the horse's head to put it on and off, like you would a closed front. But this requires the horse to stand still untied and a stiff mesh sheet can be tricky to take over a horse’s head. A buckle front blanket (surcingles, tongue, side-release) is more convenient to take on and off, especially if you’ll be removing the sheet daily, which is a good idea.

Fly fabric: Polyester Mesh

If the mesh fabric of your turnout fly gear looks familiar it’s probably because it’s been used in lawn and marine furniture since the 1960’s. The fabric is woven of polyester yarns that are covered with vinyl or PVC (polyvinyl chloride is the same type of plastic used for horse fencing). The two brands most commonly used for fly gear are Textilene®, the original product developed by the Twichell company, and Phifertex® made by Phifer Wire Company. Textilene®, a trade name, has become a proprietary eponym, the word commonly used to describe all open weave polyester/vinyl fabrics.

Woven polyvinyl is resistant to UV rays and its open weave makes it ideal for flysheets. It comes in a wide range of patterns and colors, including blaze orange. Unlike a solid sheet, it keeps a horse cooler by allowing body heat out and cool air in. And if a horse gets wet from rain or sweat, the sheet and the horse dry quickly. The durability, toughness, and tear-resistance of woven polyvinyl make flysheets especially good for turnout, and for a young horse’s first blanket. They can also be used over other sheets or blankets to protect them from damage.

The larger the yarn and the tighter a fabric’s mesh (more yarns per square inch), the stronger it is and the more UV rays it will block—better sun protection. Mesh with finer yarns and a looser mesh, on the other hand, is lighter and cooler and when used for a fly mask will allow the horse to see better.

A turnout flysheet will keep your horse clean to some extent and minimize grooming before tacking up. But don't expect him to stay as clean as with a solid blanket or sheet—an open weave flysheet allows dirt and dust to come right through to the horse's coat when he rolls.

Washing polyester mesh

Even though woven polyvinyl fabrics are stain and mildew resistant, they will get dirty from a horse rolling in manure and from normal skin secretions. If a sheet is dirty but not stained, hosing it off may be all that’s needed. A more thorough cleaning can be done in a washing machine on regular cycle with warm to hot wash water using detergent. Hot water softens the material so it can be agitated better and also helps dissolve body oils from the horse. Adding 1/2 cup of bleach won’t harm the mesh, but it might affect the trim. Check the care tag on each item.

For tough dirt and stains, lay the sheet on a concrete surface and scrub it with a stiff brush or broom and hot sudsy water. Be sure to rinse out every bit of detergent to prevent irritation to your horse’s skin. Woven polyvinyl will air dry very quickly and a flysheet can go back on a horse usually within 30 minutes after washing.


2006  Cherry Hill   Copyright Information

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