Covering Up

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With spring, rising temperatures mean flies will soon bother your horses. A good way to fight them is to screen the horses against insects.

Advances in plastic mesh fabric have improved protective masks, sheets, and leg wraps. And the latest designs can outfit horses in clothing that also shields sensitive skin from the sun. At the 2007 Denver Western and English Market, we compared the latest styles for this summer.

MASKS THAT WORK

When it comes to fly masks, you can choose the extent of protection: face only, face and nose, face and ears, or ears only.

Over the face, most designs use sewn darts to position the mask so the mesh fabric does not fall on the eyes. “The dart is designed to push the mask out and away from the eyes,” explains Tony Lang of Cashel Products Inc. Pet Sense makes the Horse Sense Fly Mask, which features double-stitched seams. Typically, the mesh used in fly masks has enough stiffness to retain its form and enough flexibility to bend around the bones of the face.

The Bug Eye design from Kensington Protective Products takes a different approach: this molded mask has bulges over the eyes. “The bubble on the eye is heat-molded,” says Kensington’s Anthony Gatto.

Kensington’s masks (and all its horse clothing) are made of 2002 Textilene. This trademarked fabric for solar screening is a woven PVC-coated polyester, of strong 1000-denier polyester yarns. You’ll see another unusual eye design on masks from Classic Cover-Ups. The new Big Kahuna and Club Dry Ultra-Fly masks both feature the brand’s signature sunglasses, first introduced in the Horses in Black product line. The glasses give double eye protection on the mesh fabric. The fabric in these fly masks also adds ultraviolet (UV) protection for horses with white faces or ears. By screening the rays of the sun, the fabric also reduces coat fading. Some horses need more shielding, so choose a mask with earpieces or one with extended coverage down the nose.

Look for the long nose shape in the Cashel Crusader, Horse Sense, and Bug Eye. A removable nose piece is an option with the Bug Eye mask.

Soft edges increase comfort, so the Horse Sense has cotton binding and soft cotton mesh earpieces. Farnam’s SuperMask II has a fleece-lined crownpiece and fleece binding at the noseband. One new coverup is made specifically for use when riding. The Cavallo Ride-Free mask fastens directly to the bridle’s cheekpieces and crown, using hook and loop fasteners. The black mesh fabric includes UV protection. This mask does not shield the jaw or nose areas.

As with most things, fly masks are only as good as you fit them. Adjust the closure for a snug fit, to prevent any flies from crawling in. The SuperMask II has a double-latched fastener to secure the mask. Some masks have elastic on the throat to fit closely behind the jaws; the Horse Sense strap includes a stretch insert.

BODY PROTECTION

A fly sheet must guard against insects, yet not rub against hair or increase heat on the horse’s skin. New designs that employ performance fabrics, of nylon or polyester mesh with UV protection, are answering the call.

The Kensington Protective Sheet incorporates 70-percent UV protection. The mesh will protect coats from bleaching and sunburn. For spring, Turtle Neck has introduced a new fly sheet with neck protector. Like the other Turtle Neck blankets and sheets, it features stretchy neck and leg straps.

Jeff Sullivan of Paint Rock Designs describes the fabric: “It is a monofilament nylon, heatset so the threads will not separate. It’s very durable and lightweight—a smooth material that will not break the hair." The sheet has a detachable fleece collar that you can wash separately. A spare parts kit with the sheet includes a collar, belly strap, and leg strap for replacement if necessary.

Saratoga Horseworks offers its Oasis and Oasis Plus sheets in a 100-percent polyester mesh fabric. Similar to the material used in sports jerseys, the mesh is soft and breathable. The white fabric is strong for both insect and UV protection, and it’s treated with Scotchguard. You will find fly sheets in standard sheet sizes, typically 68-86 inches. Classic Cover-Ups makes its styles as small as 58 inches. For more protection, equip a fly sheet with a matching neck wrap. The neck wrap on the Oasis Plus connects with elastic straps, one on each side of the withers. On the Turtle Neck, you attach the neck protector to the sheet with hook and loop fasteners.

Some fly sheets include a built-in neck wrap. Weaver Leather’s Micro Mesh Fly Sheet has a high neck shield added to the sheet. As in other blanket and sheet designs, some fly sheets add shoulder gussets. Cashel has added pleats to its Bug Armor fly sheet. The sheet has a belly wrap for extra protection, with three straps to keep clothing secure. The Oasis Plus has hidden gussets and a belly wrap, secured by the surcingle and hook and loop fasteners. Look for gussets and a belly wrap on Weaver Leather’s Micro-Mesh and new Heavy-Duty fly sheets, and also on Weatherbeeta’s Turnout Fly Sheet and Stretch Fly Sheet.

Mesh leg wraps shield the lower legs from biting flies. Styles fit from below the knee over the coronet, and help the horse that stomps continuously when bothered by flies. Cashel offers the Cool Leg Guard in five sizes. It has four hook and loop fasteners and is stiff to keep the wrap from sliding down the leg. Kensington’s fly boots are fleece lined, each with a plastic stay to keep boots upright. A nylon overlay at the pastern increases protection above the hoof, and a fleece cushion at the knee increases comfort. Using protective apparel not only protects the horses against insects, but has the added benefit of UV protection, which makes this a great solution for summer horse care.