If you’ve ever driven past a field of horses in the summer at least half of them will probably be wearing some sort of strange mask over their eyes. Despite their rather strange appearance though, these masks do actually play a vital role in a horse’s comfort (and happiness) during the summer.
Why do horses wear masks? Nine out of ten horses wear them to keep biting insects such as flies, gnats, and mosquitoes out of their face, and eyes. These flies can be extremely irritating to horses but while a mask won’t get rid of them it will stop them pestering your horse. The other reason people use masks is to prevent facial cuts from getting infected.
When I was younger the only way to keep flies out of your horse’s face was to either move to an area that had a cold climate (and therefore no flies) or attach a band to your horse’s halter that had a shaggy fringe to it. The trouble with this was that it had a tendency to leave most of the horse’s face exposed. Thankfully these days masks are a great alternative and will do more than just keep the flies away!
Why use a mask on a horse?
Some horse owners will use a mask throughout the year but most owners will only use them during the spring and summer months when biting insects such as mosquitoes and gnats are at their most vicious and irritating.
The mask acts as a barrier between the fly and the horse, preventing the horse from being bitten and therefore reducing the risk of infection. There are other ways, of course, to get rid of the flies but while they can be effective they do also have drawbacks. For example, while fly spray may be very good, it can be harmful to horses if it gets in their eyes or is ingested. Likewise, if you add fish to your horse’s water trough they’ll eat the larvae and stop the young from maturing but this won’t stop them altogether. Whereas, if a mask is fitted properly, it’ll prevent almost all of the insects biting your horse’s face.
Can horses see when they’re wearing a mask?
You might think that because you can’t see a horse’s face clearly while he’s wearing a mask he can’t see you either but this isn’t the case at all. Most masks are made from a fine mesh (typically in black or white, although colored masks are becoming more popular as are those with printed designs and patterns) that have been developed specifically to keep flies away whilst not affecting a horse’s vision at all. Rather like how you can clearly see when you’re wearing shades but others can’t see you.
While horses don’t have any problems seeing through the thin mesh of a mask it is, in part, the bright sunlight that does help with this which is why, unless the mask has been specifically designed for it, you shouldn’t leave them on your horse 24/7.
What are the benefits of wearing a mask?
I don’t know about you but anything that stops my horses getting grumpy and irritable has got to be a good thing and well worth the price (within reason) but masks are far more useful than just keeping flies away. Of course, they’ll stop most biting insects from snacking on your horse but if your horse spends a lot of time grazing in long grass they can also prevent ticks. These spider-like critters tend to live in long grass and like to burrow into a horse’s mane before attaching themselves to the horse.
As well as preventing ticks, some masks can also offer a certain amount of UV protection. While not every horse will necessarily benefit from this, horses that have light colored skin (or a large amount of white on their faces) are at risk of sunburn or even skin cancer. These masks, which are made from a fine UV resistant mesh will cut out around 70% of the harmful UV rays. These days a lot of masks offer UV protection but I personally prefer Absorbine’s UltraShieldmask (which I always buy from Amazon) because it comes without ears (although you can buy them with ears) and has a detachable nose which is a must if your horse if you have Appaloosas!
While the vast majority of people put masks on their horse to prevent flies from bothering them they do also serve another purpose and can be very useful if your horse has a cut or injury to his face. The breathable mesh of the mask allows the air to get to the wound while also keeping bugs, flies, and other disease-carrying insects away from the area.
Is it okay to leave a mask on a horse at night?
Unless your horse is suffering from an eye condition (such as a corneal ulcer) and your veterinarian has advised that you do, you shouldn’t really leave a mask on your horse during the night. Generally, there aren’t as many flies at night (although somehow I do seem to wake up covered in mozzie bites in the morning) so your horse isn’t going to be bothered by them but you should also remove the mask regularly to avoid it rubbing.
Another reason for removing a mask at night time, and probably the most important one, is because they reduce your horse’s night vision. During the day there’s plenty of natural sunlight to help your horse clearly see through the mask but during the night there’s far less light so your horse’s vision will be somewhat restricted. This is why you also shouldn’t leave your horse in a stall with his mask on.
Is it okay for a horse to wear a mask while riding?
Your horse may not be bothered by flies while you’re out riding but that doesn’t mean to say that he won’t benefit from wearing a mask. If your horse is a headshaker, and there’s no underlying medical or physiological reason for this then wearing a mask while out riding may help to reduce this behavior or even stop it completely. In some horses, headshaking can be an automatic and involuntary reaction to irritating stimuli such as sunlight, flies, and even the movement of air around the face. In these circumstances wearing a mask can be extremely beneficial to the horse (as well as to the rider).
Does the color of a mask make a difference?
These days masks are available in practically any color you can think of (as well as some you probably haven’t thought of too) but that has more to do with our tastes rather than anything else. While it’s true that dark colors (especially black) can attract the heat and the opposite can also be said for white there is no real benefit or disadvantage to any particular color of mask.
The choice of color is purely a personal one with no scientific evidence to suggest that one is better than another. Some companies will also screen print different patterns or designs onto the mesh, making them almost as unique as your horse.
Why do some horses wear hoods?
Unlike fly masks, hoods aren’t designed to keep the flies away from your horse, despite the fact that they do cover most of the face. Normally made of Lycra, they’re designed to keep horses looking pristine and are often used before shows. Their stretchable nature means that they can easily be pulled into place and are ideal for keeping braids neat as well as for preventing a clean coat from getting dirty while the horse is in a stall.
Can you wash your horse’s mask?
You might not think that your horse’s mask needs to be washed but this couldn’t be further from the truth. While they are extremely breathable they can also pick up specks of dirt and dust that can easily get into your horse’s eyes. This can be very irritating to horses and can, in some cases, cause infection. This is why you should wash your horse’s mask regularly. You can easily wash them in a bucket of mild soapy wash to remove all of the dirt before rinsing then leaving to dry.
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