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Problem with fly leg bands

From: Sue

Dear Jessica: I just joined your newsletter and already I've read some sound advice and have something to relate myself. This week I have a strange problem and wonder if anyone else has had this happen.

I bought some of those fly bands for my horses ankles at my farrier's urging. They seemed to work well for a few days. Then I noticed that my warmbloods hind ankles were all stocked up. I pulled the bands and it was like he was badly burned. I don't know if it was the heat, his sweating, or the chemicals in the things, but when he stocked up the things didn't give and got too tight. I am very worried that I may be dealing with more than the surface problem. I feel horribly guilty that I didn't check them sooner. I do know that they weren't tight when I put them on and it was only a couple of days before I noticed this. It was terribly hot and I wasn't riding, so I didn't look that close. But I've had horses for 45 years and should know better.

His front ankles were not as bad but also very irritated.. My other horse is way smaller boned and the same bands were very loose on him and he had slight rings too. At first I thought it might just be the gunk but after washing it was rough and scaley. I am talking in a matter of days. Something in those things is definately caustic.

It's only been two days since I noticed this. I don't feel alot of heat in the warmbloods ankles or hooves, but he is still very stocked up. He is reluctant to flex the joints normally, and open up the sores. He does tend to stock up if he is confined and he isn't willing to do much with this problem. I have been hosing (because he doesn't want to stand on either hind foot for long to soak and I am as concerned about the legs as the ankles) and putting a salve on. It is better than when I found it two days ago, but still very sensitive.

My question is this - has anyone else had such a problem with these fly bands? If so people should know that this can happen. The bands are solid with a wide velcro closure. They don't give in a case like this. It can be a dangerous product. I take full responsibility for not being as vigilant as I should have, and hopefully it didn't do permanent damage to my horse, but I can't help but think that it isn't all my fault. I will certainly never use anything like that again. Sue

Hi Sue! I certainly don't think that this is all your fault - I think that you were trying to do something kind and considerate for your horse, and just got a little bit careless and a LOT unlucky. You're quite right, even after 45 years with horses we can still make mistakes, and that's something that each and every one of us should keep in mind. It sounds to me as if your horse reacted to something, most likely a combination of the chemicals in the bands, heat, sweat under the bands, and/or dew in the grass. In cooler weather, he might not have reacted at all... and you have no way of controlling the sun's heat. Your point about this taking place over just a day or two is also very well-taken, and I hope that everyone who reads this will make a mental note: Not one of us is infallible, and all horses need to be checked at least once if not twice a day, by their owners or by barn staff, especially if the horses are wearing anything (leg bands, fly sheet, cribbing collar) that needs to be removed daily. You're also probably right about the combination of heat, sweat, and chemicals being the likely cause of the initial reaction. And your experience serves to point out a very real problem that people should be aware of: LEGS CAN SWELL, and a bandage or leg band that may be perfectly and comfortably adjusted initially can become too tight if the horse's leg swells under and around it. We have all - well, most of us who are over 30, anyway! - had the experience, or known someone else who had the experience, of having swollen hands that make rings painfully tight, or of ending the day with swollen feet that make our shoes seem to have shrunk to a painfully too-small size...

This is the first time I've heard of this particular problem with fly leg bands, but I've heard quite a lot of complaining this summer about horses (and humans!) reacting to various products, possibly because of the extreme summer heat, and possibly because that heat has been causing a lot of sweating, and most people tend to re-apply products regularly as they worry that sweat is washing the product away.

The "rough and scaly" description sounds like a chemical burn. I always warn riders NOT to put fly spray under their saddles, girths, breastcollars, etc., because the combination of heat buildup and some chemicals (particularly some insecticides) can create a strong local reaction and cause bumps of various sizes, swelling, and even blistering. I've seen nasty burns under the saddle and under the girth when a horse has been sprayed, tacked up, and taken out on the trail for several hours on a hot day. Sometimes this leads to hair loss. I've seen similar skin reactions when people have used flyspray at too high a concentration - sometimes a rider will think that a flyspray made to be diluted with water would work better undiluted... a VERY bad idea. Sometimes a rider will think that mixing two or three flysprays will create a super-flyspray... another very bad idea. It's always best to use ONE flyspray, diluted and applied according to the manufacturer's instructions (some riders go wrong when they don't read the new bottle and assume that all flysprays should be mixed and/or applied in the same way), and my personal preference is to tack up the horse FIRST and then apply the flyspray.

You didn't mention your horse's colour or whether his legs have white markings, but photosensitivity is another possibility, depending on where he is, what he's grazing, etc.

If you haven't had your vet out yet, please do set up an appointment. Your vet should be able to tell you whether any underlying structures are involved, or whether it's only your horses' skin that is damaged. I hope that there's nothing involved BUT skin, and that both of your horses will be well. I would be wary of using any such product for the rest of the season, though - I would recommend (check with your vet!) using - if anything at all - some sort of healing cream instead. Your vet can probably recommend a product that will coat the skin and help protect it from flies without irritating it.

I'm so sorry that you and your horses have had this experience, but I do thank you for bringing it to my attention and giving me the chance to inform other HORSE-SENSE subscribers. You may have saved quite a few horses from similar experiences.

Good luck, and please let me know what your vet says.


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