A fly veil or fly mask is just that, a veil or mask to protect a horse’s face, eyes and sometimes nose/ ears from flies and other insects. Flies, mosquitoes, and other little annoying bugs often attack the delicate skin on a horse’s face. Insects are not just annoying to horses but can also irritate skin around the eyes and nose, leading to infections and wounds that can clearly be painful and are often difficult to clear up.
A secondary purpose of fly veils is protection from harsh sunlight. It is a common misconception that only light-coloured horses need protection from the sun due to a higher risk of sunburn. Any area of pink skin has a higher potential to get burnt, therefore horses with a pink skinned nose need some form of protection (with the use of sun cream, a fly veil or both). However even dark coloured horses, with predominantly dark skin, may require sun protection too at times.
Fly veils are semi-transparent and made from a mesh allowing the horse to see and hear while wearing it. Various materials are available such as Ballistic Mesh, Breathable Mesh, Rip-Shield, Lycra, and Citronella Scented Mesh, offering a range varied in strength, softness, and breathability. Different horse owners prefer different styles of fly veil, and sometimes different types and styles will suit a particular horse.
There are common features when it comes to fly veil designs that ensure a horse’s comfort such as: darts or pleats to keep the mesh away from your horse’s eyes, adjustable fastenings, nose flaps, covered ears, reinforced edging, fleece protection, and clips to attach a lead rope to when leading your horse from the paddock.
Whilst fly veils are available in a variety of colours, it is usually recommended to use black mesh fly veils, particularly when horses are out in the paddock. A light-coloured fly veil may reflect light back into the eyes and reduce vision. If you look through black mesh, you can see much more clearly with minimal glare. So effectively, if you put a light-coloured mesh fly veil on your horse in the paddock, on a sunny day, it may impair vision.
You can also ride in a fly veil, providing the one you use has black mesh (for clear vision), your horse is not bothered by it, and that it does not interfere with your bridle. Fly veils are typically worn while riding to stop horses getting distracted by flies and other insects. They are especially effective for sensitive horses or those who may excessively head shake when being worked. If you are considering riding with a fly veil on, be sure to test out your horse’s reactions first in an enclosed area before galloping across the countryside or flying over a jump.
When using a fly veil, it is important ensure that it fits well and is securely fastened to reduce the chance of it getting hooked on fences or trees, from coming off when the horse rubs its head and from ending up positioned badly. Fly veils should be checked daily if possible and some horse owners choose to remove them at night, but it comes down to personal preference and ability. You may also need to clean your fly veil once a week, as eye and nose discharge, plus dust, can build up and irritate.
It is also very important to note that in the event of higher fire danger rated days, it can be a good idea to remove fly veils if possible. Many fly veils can melt on to the horse if they get trapped in a fire, which can cause serious burns and injuries.