There are a couple of old adages that ring true when it comes to horse farming: “good fences make good neighbors” and “you can always tell a farmer by his fences.” Both statements are generally true, as most horse keepers can attest.
The former saying brings to mind memories of my first horse (a gift I’d received for my 14th birthday) and an angry neighbor who called soon after to say that my ‘birthday present’ was up on his lawn, eating all the grass and marking it up, and I had better go up right away and get him out of there! It took some time and careful observation to discover that, although I couldn’t find any missing or broken lines of fencing, my horse had become an ‘escape artist!’ He would actually get a running start, stretch his front legs out close to the ground and slide under the lowest line of the fence, leaving only a few strands of tail hair behind as evidence, in order to feast upon that enticingly tender, new grass.
Whether you are just starting out in a brand-new horse venture or taking stock of your existing pastures and turnout areas, it is important to be sure your fencing is in good repair, to keep your horse safe and secure — and to keep your neighbors happy!
Investing in new fencing can be daunting — and expensive — and you’ll want your experience to be a good one. What’s the best way to start? We found that by measuring the perimeter of the area you need to fence, and using a ruler and graph paper to make a drawing, the task was easier than we first had imagined. You’ll want to add a sketch of your barn and any buildings that may have fencing attached to them, as well as gates, watering areas, trees and the like. This will be very helpful in figuring out how much fencing to purchase, how many gates, posts, corners and hardware. Once you have an idea in mind of the area you’ll be containing, you can figure how much fencing to order. Remember that the perimeter you’re measuring is linear feet of fence — if you’re using boards, wire, or electric fencing, you’ll have to multiply the linear feet by as many rows of boards or strands you’ll use — from three to six, or whatever the type of fencing requires.
Next, you’ll have to determine what is the ‘best’ type of fencing for your horse. How to choose which is the best “fit” for your property involves knowing what type of land you will be fencing (including soil type, evenness of ground, trees, water/swampy area); how much your fencing budget is; and what may be the most suitable for your horse. There is no fence that is 100 percent foolproof or totally safe. In choosing what’s most compatible you’ll want to consider your horse’s temperament and habits — for example, whether the horse you are containing is a stallion, or perhaps an aged “lawn ornament” — the ability of the fence to safely contain your horse; and how much maintenance is involved in keeping the fence in good repair.
This October, we were faced with the chore of replacing our post and board/woven wire mesh fencing that enclosed a portion of the horses’ winter paddock as well as the area used by our two goats.
We realized that we needed to find a fence that would be strong enough to keep the horses in, close enough to keep the goats out, and yet visible enough to prevent the horses from running into it. After much research, we found what we believe to be the ideal solution for our needs — a combination of electric braid (rope) and a section of post-and-rail fence.
Anyone who has kept goats knows that a post-and-rail fence will not contain them, especially when their desire is to be closer to the horses; and the electric fencing was a good option in keeping the goats totally away from the fence. We opted for a solar charger; the initial outlay was higher than that of a traditional plug-in charger, but we felt that over time the unit would pay for itself. It can be plugged in to an electric outlet during periods of low sunshine or cloudy days, but we’ve not yet had to do so in the months we’ve installed it. The rustic post-and-rail fencing that separates goats from horses was an attractive alternative to our (unpainted) post-and-board; and we ran five lines of the electric braid along and inbetween rails to keep the goats far enough away; the top line proved effective for the horses and the lower, just 5 inches off the ground, deters dogs, foxes, skunks, raccoons and other predators.
On the market today are many more choices than horse owners were given years ago. The most traditional type of horse fencing is made of wood; either post and board or post and rail. With post and board, square posts are set in the ground, generally from 8 to 10 feet apart, with 4 to 6 boards nailed to the posts. Rail fencing usually involves locust or cedar-type round posts with pre-made openings into which the rails or logs slip in. As posts should be dug at least two to three feet into the ground, this may not be the best alternative for rocky ground; and areas that tend to be swampy and wet will accelerate rotting of the posts unless cement footings are used. While a painted post-and-board fence is certainly attractive, there is a good deal of maintenance involved; wood can break and splinter when weathered, and may not be a good choice for horses that tend to crib or chew. Often when using wood fencing, a line of electric wire is run along the top rail to keep horses away from the fence.
Those who prefer the pleasing aesthetic of wood fencing without the maintenance may choose all-vinyl fencing, which withstands weathering for a longer period of time and does not require painting. It can be ordered in different colors, although most vinyl fencing is white, which has the benefit of keeping horses from colliding with the fencing at night. Horses are less likely to crib on vinyl fencing.
Plastic-coated wood fencing offers the strength of wood fencing as well as the maintenance-free benefits of vinyl. Another benefit is that the plastic coating on the wood contains the splintering effects of wood if the fence is broken. In addition, horses do not chew plastic. However, this type of fencing is quite expensive and, as with wood fencing, is easiest to install on ground that is not rocky and is fairly level.
Another popular choice is electric fencing, which uses electric chargers to keep horses away from the fence. In addition to the traditional plug-in chargers, there are solar chargers on the market that work well and can be plugged in if necessary. Electric fencing is often chosen as an alternative to other fencing to prevent injuries; in some cases a top strand of electric fencing with board or rail fencing is used as a deterrent, as horses easily learn that they will receive a shock if they come in contact with the fence. Electric fencing does not contain horses by its strength; rather by the fear of the shock the horse experiences when he touches the fence; many horses are ‘trained’ after their first encounter. Electric fencing may provide a good option for large and uneven or rocky pastures where traditional wood or vinyl fencing cannot easily be erected, or where temporary fencing is needed. In addition to the traditional wire strand fence, there is PVC-coated wire, polyester braid and nylon webbing; electrified mesh and electric braid fencing. Posts can be as simple as metal “T” bars or in the case of electric tape or roping, plastic or vinyl posts that are sold with the fencing.
There are a couple of downsides to electric fencing, however; some horses learn to run through the wire, and injuries can occur if your horse becomes entangled in the fencing. In addition, some areas do not allow electric fencing, so be sure to check with your municipality before purchasing electric fencing.
A relatively inexpensive and often-used choice is plastic coated High-Tensile wire. There are many choices available, from 5-inch rail made of three wires encased in polymer to single polymer-coated strands to electric coated wire. High tensile wire requires little maintenance; as if a horse steps on the wire (or a deer passes through) it snaps back into place. However, if a tree falls on the wire, it may need to be restretched. High-tensile wires are usually attached to pressure-treated posts and are usually between 52 to 54 inches tall. It may be used on uneven ground.
Wire mesh, or “horse fencing,” is a wire mesh fencing with openings no larger than 2 inches by 4 inches — small enough that horses’ hooves cannot step through the fence. It is made of galvanized wire (which is rust-resistant) and is highly visible. It requires a minimum of maintenance, and not only contains horses, but keeps other unwanted animals (such as opossums or loose dogs) out. The mesh is rectangular and has a smooth edge that protects horses if they rub on it. It springs back if stepped on, preventing animals from injury and minimizing repairs. However, it is not a good choice for ground that is very uneven or rocky or, in our case, separating horse from goats, which will climb and eventually break down the mesh.
Probably the least expensive alternative for fencing is wire fencing. In addition to the price, this type of fencing does not require even ground. Some horse keepers utilize barbless wire, usually 3-5 strands per post, as an inexpensive alternative to other forms of fencing. However, unless specifically designed for horses, wire fencing is a poor choice (and barbed wire is not ever recommended for horses) as horses can stick their heads through the fence and attempt to follow with their bodies; a horse or pony can become entangled and seriously cut by wire.
Take the necessary time to consider your needs and your budget before making a decision on which type of fencing you will choose; horse fencing will last for many years, and is a valuable investment for your horse’s safety and for the aesthetics of your property.