Flies have to be the most annoying part of summer, but they don't have to put a negative on what would otherwise be the best part of the year. Even if your horse suffers from sweet itch, a good specialist fly rug can ease the irritation enough to let summer be the horse's favourite time of year too.
When picking fly rugs you should go for something that's light weight and super airy so your horse doesn't sweat up underneath it, but one that suits your horse's specific needs. This might mean that you can't get away with a cheap basic one and really need to go all out and get an expensive one with more coverage.
You can pick any of the basic horse fly rugs up pretty cheaply to help protect your horse in the field. The majority of these are full neck and the same design as your average full neck turnout rug with cross surcingles and a tail flap. These are fine for basic fly protection on horses that don't have sweet itch and aren't too bothered by flies.
For the sensitive types who make more of a fuss over flies and owners who want to protect their horse a bit more, there are rugs with extra protection built in. You can get some with a full belly panel instead of cross surcingles, like on the Masta Mesh Fly Sheet which prevents flies from landing on the horse's underside and irritating them there. You can also get them with UV protection and even a waterproof top panel such as on the Performance Maxi Flow rug so if there's a summer shower your horse and his rug don't get soaked and left soggy.
Then there's the horse with sweet itch and other skin allergies affected by flies and the sun. These are the hardest to rug properly, they need extra protection from the flies and their itching, and tend to destroy rugs much faster than horses without sweet itch and allergies due to them rubbing against things and ripping the rugs. Horses who have super sensitive skin and burn easily also need a special design of rug.
Ideally you want to make horses with sweet itch comfortable so they're hardly itchy and don't feel the need to rub, so preserving your rug. For these cases you can get tightly fitting rugs with complete belly and chest wraps and a full wrap around tail flap such as the Anti Eczema Sheet. A rug like this helps stop any flies getting anywhere near skin that's easily irritated. This along with good fly spray and careful turnout management can help stop the itching and stop the horse rubbing the rug. The rugs that are most beneficial to these horses tend to cost a bit more too but it's worth it to keep your horse happy.
Horses that burn easily or have other sun and fly affected skin conditions also need a quality rug like the one mentioned above. This should have UV protection and would ideally be in a darker colour but with good ventilation and wicking properties to make sure he's comfortable.
Full fly masks are good for even more sensitive horses who want more fly protection as there's no way a fly can get near their eyes. You can also get these designed for riding in such as Net Relief with Ears which the horse has excellent vision through and also ear protection built in.
For the horse with sunburn, sweet itch and other conditions, a full fly mask with ears is the best way to go. The Field Relief mask comes with a removable muzzle protector too to protect further against sun burn and has UV protection to look after sensitive skin.
A combination of a good fly rug and mask should keep your horse happy and as irritation free as possible, especially if you think carefully about what he needs and tailor your horse rugs shopping to him.