20 Jan Why Do Horses Wear Masks? Horse Mask Explanation
A Complete Guide to Why Horses Wear Masks
There are many types of tack and equipment that your horse may need depending on the environment in which you ride. It can be challenging to understand the purpose behind each of these items. However, it is important to understand the purpose of each piece of equipment so that you are able to care for and train your horse more effectively. One such item is horse masks.
Why do horses wear masks? While horses wear masks for a variety of reasons, the primary reason is to protect their eyes and face from pesky flies and other biting insects. Horses are especially sensitive to these critters and can be plagued by incessant biting during the warm, summer months. Other types of horse masks, called blinders, serve a much different purpose in helping the horse focus on what is in front of them. Blinder masks are most frequently used for racehorses and are not nearly as common as fly masks for horses.
So, does your horse really need a fly mask? How does this piece of equipment benefit your equine companion? In this post, we will share a complete guide to the various types of horse masks. We will provide the many benefits of fly masks for horses as well as answer some of the most commonly asked questions regarding this piece of tack.
Various Types of Horse Masks
There are many areas of the equine community. For each area, there are also unique pieces of tack and certain equipment requirements. However, one of the most versatile items is a horse mask. Yet, even with horse masks, there are several different types of purposes that are served.
Fly Masks for Horses
By far the most common type of horse mask is a fly mask. If you have had any level of interaction with horses, you have likely seen a fly mask in use. Fly masks offer incredible protection for a horse’s face, ears, and eyes. While they are used throughout the year in some regions, fly masks are most frequently used in the spring and summer months.
Fly masks are easy to identify, made from a semi-transparent mesh material that allows for some visibility and airflow. While some fly masks are designed to allow your horse regular visibility, most fly masks do impair the horse’s vision while it is in use. For this reason, you must use a fly mask with caution and concern for your horse’s overall safety.
To learn more about keeping flies off your horses, check out my article Keeping Flies Off Your Horse: The Ultimate Guide.
Blinder Masks for Horses
Another type of horse mask that is far less common in the equestrian community is horse blinders. Most frequently used for racehorses, blinders may appear to the untrained eye to be some sort of mask. However, horse blinders are more accurately described as cups that are attached to the bridle. These blinders reduce a horse’s field of vision, allowing them to focus on the track or path directly ahead of them.
Blinders eliminate the potential for spooking and are often used to help a horse remain calm in a stressful or overwhelming situation. Although blinders may appear to be a type of horse mask, they actually serve a much different purpose. For this reason, we will focus solely on fly masks for the remainder of this post.
We have a whole article dedicated to why horses use blinders. You can check it out here.
Benefits of Using a Fly Mask for Your Horse
There are many benefits to using a fly mask for your horse that exceed protection from biting insects. Here are a few of the most common benefits to outfitting your horse with a fly mask:
Fly Masks Help to Eliminate Stress
We have all been in a situation where it seemed as if pesky critters and insects would not leave us alone. This can be not only frustrating but can quickly become stressful. Now imagine that you are not able to leave the situation of your own free will. When a horse is in a situation where they are exposed to flies or other biting insects, they can quickly become stressed or overwhelmed due to the discomfort.
By providing your horse with a fly mask, you can eliminate this unnecessary source of stress.
Fly Masks Offer UV Protection
Similar to humans, light-colored horses are susceptible to sunburn and even skin cancer if they are exposed to the sun’s rays. Fortunately, many fly masks are made to include UV protection that protects the delicate skin on a horse’s face from the damaging rays of the sun. Of course, it is also important to make sure your horse can escape the sun during its peak hours either under the shade of a tree or structure or by letting them inside the stable.
Fly Masks Protect Against Infection & Disease
Even the most well-cared-for horses occasionally get a cut or small wound on their face. Unfortunately, flies and other insects are attracted to these cuts and wounds. Without proper protection, flies can introduce infection or disease into the delicate areas surrounding your horse’s face. Regardless of the season, it is wise to cover your horse’s face with a fly mask as they heal from an injury to prevent further infection or disease.
Fly Masks Are More Reliable Than Repellants
In addition to fly masks, there are a variety of other tools to keep flies away from your horse’s face. However, fly masks are, by far, the most reliable solution. Depending on the area in which you live, you may wish to pair a fly mask with a spray repellant or other deterrent. However, you must use these sprays with caution so as not to cause your horse pain or discomfort.
Types of Fly Masks for Horses
There are, of course, many types of fly masks for horses. It is important to find a fly mask that not only fits your horse properly but also serves them well. From see-through masks to ones with UV protection, you can find almost any additional feature.
In addition to the various features available, there are also several different fly mask designs. Full head masks provide the most protection for your horse. Full head fly masks cover your horse’s face from nose to ears. If you live in an area that is plagued with flies, this may be the best solution for you.
Partial head fly masks, the most common option, offers great protection against insects as well as sunburn and even dust. A partial head fly mask often begins above the nose but does offer protection for your horse’s ears. If you are introducing a fly mask for the first time, this is likely your best bet.
The third and least popular, type of fly mask is a partial head fly mask without ear coverings. There are some horses who do not like the feeling of having their ears confined. For these horses, a fly mask without ear coverings provides much of the benefit of a fly mask while also allowing them to remain comfortable.
Common Questions About Fly Masks for Horses
Many equestrians have equations regarding the proper way to use fly masks for their horses. Here are just a few of the most commonly asked questions on this topic:
Can Horses See Through Fly Masks?
While horses can see well enough through a fly mask, the mask does limit their vision and depth perception. For this reason, fly masks are only to be used when your horse is turned out to graze or in situations where your horse is not required to remain entirely alert or engaged.
Should Horses Wear a Fly Mask at Night?
As we have discussed previously, fly masks do prevent your horse from seeing as well as they would without the mask. For this reason, it is important to remove the fly mask each evening. Additionally, flies and other biting insects are far less active at night, making the mask less important than during sunlight hours.
In addition to removing the fly mask each night, you should also remove your horse’s fly mask anytime they are indoors or in an area where flies are not a concern.
Do Your Ride Your Horse With a Fly Mask?
It is recommended that you do not ride or drive your horse while they are wearing a fly mask. Most fly masks alter your horse’s vision and depth perception, making them a danger to both yourself and your equine companion. If you find that flies are plaguing your horse while you are riding, consider a mask that is made for this purpose. While they are not as sturdy or protective as traditional fly masks, they do offer an added layer of protection.
Fly masks are becoming one of the most popular pieces of equipment and can be found in tack rooms around the world. While they are more necessary in certain regions, almost every area has some type of fly or biting insect that can cause stress, discomfort, or injury to your horse. As a horse owner and equestrian, it is your responsibility to make sure that your horse has the equipment and tools they need to live a healthy, happy life.
A fly mask is one of the many things you’ll have to get if you’re a new horse owner. To see my complete horse owner checklist, click here.
P.S. Save this to your “Horse Care” board!
I’m a lifelong horse trainer and horseback rider who’s passionate about teaching others about the things I’ve learned. I grew up competing in numerous English horseback riding disciplines and am now a certified equine massage therapist. I currently own three horses.