Pests: Insect and Otherwise

Ah, summer! The weather is blissfully hot in the day, and gently warm at night. Our horses lay in the sunshine, baking away aches and slowing into summertime mode. The insects whiz by our heads anytime we are outdoors. The infrequent rains seem to wash the air clear and leave small puddles in unexpected places, like that old, cracked flower pot by the back porch.

Summer also means insect season. And while in the past that might have been seen as an annoyance, today it can mean much more, and much worse. Today, it can mean life-threatening illness, and even death.

Those insects can carry a growing host of problems for us and our horses if they stop in for a meal. Those summer showers replenish breeding grounds--including that old flower pot--for some pests.

Because we are transporting our horses all over the country, and the world, we must expect to transport some of the problems that go along with them. Have you ever seen a trailer without flies? Can we really believe they all "blow out" as we are driving down the road? Do we think there aren't any "new" flies to be picked up at our destination and brought home?

In the past few months, The Horse has focused several articles and news items on the topic of pests and the diseases they carry, including West Nile and other encephalitides (yes, that's a real word; it's the plural of encephalitis). Other articles have focused on insect repellents, active ingredients of those repellents, and how to apply them safely to protect your horses.

Last year, West Nile was discovered for the first time in this country. It killed horses and people. A New York winter couldn't even do it in. It was found this spring to have survived in birds and mosquitoes. Many states, including Florida and others along the Eastern Shore, are conducting pre-emptive strikes on this problem by treating standing water that could be a breeding grounds for mosquitoes, checking sentinel birds for the disease, and educating the public.

There also have been reports of Eastern encephalitis in a horse on the West Coast, and in a human in the far north of the country. Both are areas that seldom, if ever, see that particular disease.

All of this isn't meant to frighten you--at least not too much. It should, however, serve as a warning that if you live in an area where there are mosquitoes--and if your area has had cases of any type of encephalitis in the past--then you should take precautions to protect your horses, and yourself, from insect bites this summer. In other words, use good management and fly spray.

Read the labels and compare products. Some might work better in your situation than others. You even can spray/spritz/wipe/rub one product on one side of your horse, and another product on the other side to see how they compare. There are residues, so be careful of over-applying fly sprays. Remember that insecticides are poisons and treat them with respect.

Remove that old, broken flower pot and anything else lying around that could collect standing water and act as a breeding grounds for mosquitoes. If you have a stagnant pond or standing water that you've been meaning to get around to filling in, this is the time.

Build bird houses around your home and barn as a means of natural insect extermination. (Yes, the birds might come in and "mess" your barn, but there are trade-offs to every situation.)

Keep human insect repellents in your tack trunk, by your back door, and in your vehicle. That way, when you forget it one place, you'll have it in another. No excuses for not smelling worse than your horse this summer!

The drought last year was horrible here in Kentucky, but we didn't have nearly as much in the way of insect problems as in a normal summer. We already are behind in our rainfall for this year, and as bad as that is, it also might at least have one good consequence--fewer mosquitoes!

Pest Control

While we're on the topic of pests, let's discuss another kind--electronic.

Have you noticed how much more "spam" you get these days every time you turn on your computer? It's great to seek opinions of top professionals in the horse industry, but some of these people you hear from (often and in length) in chat rooms have less experience than my 10-year-old daughter!

It truly is a sign of the times when encephalitis rears its head at unexpected places across the country, and horses develop clinical signs of EPM where owners have never seen an opossum. We now know that just about any competitive horse is likely to have ulcers, which can affect performance.

What's an owner to do? Well, don't be Chicken Little. The sky isn't falling; we're just starting to look up at more of that "stuff" being dumped on our heads and to ask more questions.

If you have a problem, or a concern, talk to your veterinarian. He or she is your first line of defense from anything that can trouble your horse.

Read articles from respected journals to learn more about what is out there that might be a problem to your horse, to more fully comprehend what your vet has diagnosed, or to give yourself a better understanding about how to manage your horses for better health.

Seek out reliable information, not just information that is sent to you or obtained easily or freely.

Avoid the "chats" where people who've hardly mucked out a stall are giving advice.

Beware of people who have an agenda, be it for a "good" cause or because they are selling a product.

Information comes our way daily; much of it without our asking. In many cases it fits the old saying: You get what you pay for.

Please don't misunderstand, information gathering on the web is fabulous from respected sites.

A word to the wise--know your sources, and don't believe everything you see or read on the electronic superhighway! We don't yet have a filter for hooey.

About the Author

Kimberly S. Brown

Kimberly S. Brown was the Publisher/Editor of The Horse: Your Guide To Equine Health Care from June 2008 to March 2010, and she served in various positions at Blood-Horse Publications since 1980.

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