Bugs crawl, bugs creep, bugs buzz, bugs bite. A flying intrusion into the personal space of you and your horse is irritating and a threat to well-being.

Horse Bugs Make Us Bug-Eyed Crazy: How to Retaliate
Macro photography of black and brown flying bug
Image from Unsplash

I was first plonked onto a horse at age 2. So I have 50 and a half years of suffering from flying horsey bugs.

Here flies the little bugging darlings in size order.

Culicoides/Midges

Horse Bugs Make Us Bug-Eyed Crazy: How to Retaliate
Culicoides- tiny, bloodsucking, flying bugs that bite horses
From Alan R. Walker on Wikimedia Commons

Culicoides are tiny blood-sucking bugs that fly in swarms at twilight. They cause horses hypersensitivity with their bug saliva. These bugs cause Sweet Itch, an allergic reaction that can cause self-induced trauma if left untreated. Shetland ponies and other native ponies/horses are very susceptible to their buggy mouth goo.

Simulium

Horse Bugs Make Us Bug-Eyed Crazy: How to Retaliate
Simulium – Swarming flies that bug horses
From Alan R. Walker on Wikimedia Commons

These bugs fly in swarms close to the ground. Apart from when you are galloping on your horse, they swarm at face height. So you get to enjoy flying bugs in your eyes and mouth.

All the Flies! Bug Off!

Flies drive horses mad. These bugs alone have inspired more horse products than all the other flying bugs combined. The product that causes the most confusion for non-horse people is the fly mask. They report horse owners to animal protection agencies the world over every year for putting bags on their horses’ heads. They think these bags suffocate and blind horses.

Every year a neighbor would ask me if my horses could see. She told me she would cut eye-holes in them. That negates the point of the fly mask, one feels. After explaining several times, I called her over one day when my horses had new fly masks. I put one to my face, then told her to do the same. The penny dropped! “Oh! The horses CAN see!” The fact my horses would play and fly about without crashing into the trees and each other should have tipped her off.

Ticks

Horse Bugs Make Us Bug-Eyed Crazy: How to Retaliate
Ticks: these bugs creep and crawl and burrow in places you can’t show your friends!
From Wolfmann on Wikimedia Commons

These mini monster bugs have attached themselves to most parts of my anatomy over the years. My face is the only part they have not burrowed into and sucked blood!

When I groom the horses, I find a variety of species up to their front legs in their skin. If not the bugs themselves, then the crusty lymph secretions that prove the bug was there. Or, even worse, little bug “forests.” All eating from the same bit of horse.

Horse Flies: Haematopota Pluvialis

Horse Bugs Make Us Bug-Eyed Crazy: How to Retaliate
An example of the Horse Fly.
From Danny Steaven on Wikimedia Commons

There are two dominant types of horse flies in Europe, the one pictured here is the small version. They are pretty when not stabbing your horse and drinking their blood!

You definitely know when this flying bug has landed on your horse. The poor horse will shake their head, snake their neck, or bite at their flanks. You get deft at locating the bugs and squashing them with one finger.

There is a horse bug-squashing camaraderie when hacking in groups. It’s common to snap off leafy twigs to swat flies off your and other riders’ horses.

Crab Fly/Flat Fly

Horse Bugs Make Us Bug-Eyed Crazy: How to Retaliate
The most hideous bug in the world!
From Janswart on Wikimedia Commons

This gross, poorly flying horse bug spends most of its time crawling around your horse’s nether bits. They scurry sideways between the back legs and love to live under the horse’s tail.

These bugs are a nightmare to trap! They scuttle in all directions. The sensation of these bugs drive some horses to rear, run, and roll! I did not understand the severity of the horse’s reaction until I had one bug fly into my hair. I also reared, ran and rolled. I flew about, slapping at my head and shuddering. Running and shuddering at the same time is difficult. That was one crab fly!

Horses can be host to tens of them. When you catch one of these flies they are almost impossible to kill. If you try to pop a crab fly between your thumb and forefinger, use quite a lot of force. It’s not flying bubble-wrap.

There’s an ingenious method of trapping up to 10 or 12 flat flies in one go. Use Gaffa tape. And predatory patience. Locate a sizeable group of flat flies. Rip off 4-6″ of Gaffa tape. Carefully and firmly push the sticky side onto the group of unsuspecting bugs and pull the tape off your horse. Curiously regard what you have caught. I like to count them too. Then fold the tape over because these bugs will peel themselves off the tape and fly to the horse if you aren’t quick enough. I recommend letting the bugs re-group before going back to the horse for a second-inning if you want to maximize your catch.

Horse Bot Fly

Horse Bot Fly bug
Horse Bot Fly – Gasterophilus intestinalis. A very noisy bug!
From Jerry Butler, University of Florida

Proving middle-aged horse women still have good hand-eye coordination, I can catch these hairy, horsey, buzzy flying bugs with my hand. Although it helps if the horse cooperates by standing still.

The noise bot flies make is enough to make some horses scatty, while other horses are more pragmatic about the bee-like bug who is merrily gluing eggs to their legs.

The horse community seems divided about the severity of the effect these flying horse bugs have upon their horses’ health. Constant irritation is not good for the mental well-being of a horse. The physical aspects are hotly debated. Some say the horse bot fly larvae cause massive destruction as they eat their way through the horse’s mouth lining. Others say it is a harmless bug merely using the horse as an incubator.

I say that since there are more than one species of horse bot fly, they are both correct.

Horse Flies: (Tabanidae)

Horse Horse Bugs Make Us Bug-Eyed Crazy: How to RetaliateFly Bug
These huge flying bugs bite horses!
From gailhampshire on Wikimedia Commons

This is the big bug version! Powerful and sturdy, this bug does not need all her buggy flying mates to hunt horses. No, this flying insect bugs horses all on her own.

And your horse knows this bug bite hurts.

Many horses panic when they know this bug is flying about. It has serrated bug mandibles that saw open the horse’s skin, and drink from the wound they create on your horse. The ideal tool for removing this bug without hitting the horse is a riding crop with a wide, flat leather flap at the end.

Butterflies: The Most Deadly Flying Bug of All- According to Some Horses

Horse Bugs Make Us Bug-Eyed Crazy: How to Retaliate
Butterflies are beautiful bugs that can scare your horse!
Image from Pexels

Butterflies – the most deadly flying bugs of all… if you ask your horse. These flying flower petals are a very scary flying bug for some horses!


This is not an extensive horse bug list. Do you have favorite bugs that bug your horse? Do you have any horse related bug stories? Please post them in the comments section below.