Summertime and the living is … itchy.
One of the great advantages of living in Cyprus is havinga near-perfect climate for walking dogs and riding horses.
While there are sticky weeks in August, when the heat andhumidity come close to unbearable, and it’s a little-known fact that thewinters can be wet with temperatures hitting zero occasionally, for the mostpart, the Sunshine Island does what it says on the tourism leaflet.
Still, before you get too jealous, paradise comes at a price and lurking in the long grass – not to mention the pathways, if they fancy it – are blunt-nosed vipers, the kind of snake that can bring a pretty swift end to your dog walk. And, of course, we also have the scourge of all equestrians, flies.
Now, Cyprus doesn’t have any old flies, though to theuntrained eye they might look like every other flying insect. No, Cyprus fliesbite you. Properly. Even through breeches. And they can drive a horse mad.
Needless to say, each year we face a six-month battle hereto keep the flies of our horses and ensure they remain comfortable in the heat,but one of the biggest problems we face is sweet itch.
Anyone who has ever been around horses will understand the curse of sweet itch and the misery it causes – and once it appears it’s a very real struggle to deal with it until the weather turns, which is why the best measures are preventative measures.
For those who don’t know much about this issue, sweetitch is the common name for a skin disease caused by an allergic reaction tothe bites of midges. As this is hardly a new phenomenon and sufferers are farfrom isolated cases, most riders will know of a dozen or more homemade remediesfor sweet itch.
In Cyprus, the old farriers swear by old engine oil,liberally applied to horses’ legs. Others suggest a paste of water and garlicpowder rubbed into trouble spots or anything menthol. Cider vinegar in the feedas well as garlic is also common advice (and something that’s also supposed tokeep mosquitoes away from humans).
Along with corticosteroid creams or inflammatory injections,some believe a teaspoon of aspirin powder will tone down irritation levels, andbaby oil is often a favourite way to keep gnats from getting a grip on manesand tails. Oh, and let’s not forget neem oil, an old favourite that can act asa repellent as well as an anti-inflammatory agent.
As we all know, there are also a huge number of flysheets available to buy; light rugs that usually extend at least halfway down ahorse's tail, thereby covering areas that midges like to attack. Many areimpregnated with repellent while others offer designs scientifically proven tokeep flies away. Last season it was all about the zebra print, this year colouris king, and aqua and orange seem to be the favoured combination to keep horsesprotected.
But of course, the best treatment for sweet itch isavoidance, if possible– and fans of Aqueos should be one step ahead of the gamein this regard thanks to Tracy’s Anti-bacterial Horse Shampoo. As well as beinganti-bacterial & anti-fungal, the shampoo combats itchinessand soothes minor skin irritations. It’s also safe to use on minor skin wounds,which has been a godsend when it comes to my mare Mina.
Mina attracts flies like only a grey mare with a dubious attitude can, and once the heat turns up she gets so itchy she will literally bite holes in her fetlocks. It’s not a pretty sight and everything I do to keep her from cannibalising herself – from mesh leg guards to vet tape to socks and t-shirts – get ripped away within minutes.
Needless to say, this year I have started early because spring has just about sprung here meaning now is the time that I need to go into Turbo Prevention. This largely involves keeping Mina feeling comfortable by using the Aqueos anti-bacterial shampoo after every schooling session to keep her clean, sweat-free, germ-free and irritation-free. Now, if Aqueos could also work out a way to keep her livery-fee-free, I’d be very much obliged.