Knowing your horses are safely enclosed in their fields means educating yourself on the many fence options available.
Good fences make good neighbors. This couldn’t ring more true when it comes to having horses on your property. Whether you are a full scale boarding operation or just keeping your own horses at home, choosing the right fence option is vital for your peace of mind and the safety of your equine residents!
I often find it amusing, as I make my daily drive through the country to the barn, to see how a single strand of high tensile electric fence is capable of keeping an entire herd of cattle corralled – yet our horses can find a way through, under, over or out of anything less than the Berlin Wall. We have all heard stories of those crafty equines that figure out how to undo the gate and let their paddock pals out, or those like my own mare, who figured out how to pop the top fence boards off with her chest, reducing the height to something she and her friends could hop over. Then there are nightmare stories of frightened horses going through or over fencing in a panic, injuring themselves or getting cast at the fence and tangling their legs.
With everything that can go wrong, it’s wise to research the various different fence options, and invest in the best possible type of fencing for your facility, right from the start.
Post and rail fencing
Post and rail fencing is quite common, and looks very nice when done properly. In fact, the first image that usually comes to mind when most people think about fencing is miles of immaculate white post and rail enclosing the lush green grasses of Kentucky pastures. While fairly sturdy and inexpensive, it does require a fair bit of maintenance – painting and checking regularly for exposed nails, broken boards or large splinters of wood. Without the addition of a strand of hot wire at the top, cribbers and wood chewers will make quick work of the wood, and pushier horses will lean on the top boards because “the grass is always greener”!
PVC/vinyl is fashioned to look similar to traditional post and rail. While more costly, it does not require nearly as much maintenance. It should be combined with some form of electric – whether by alternating PVC “boards” with electric, or by using a vinyl option that has hot wire run through it. PVC/vinyl is typically not strong enough on its own to contain horses well.
Pipe fence is quite sturdy, low maintenance, highly visible and fairly attractive. While initially expensive, it will last a long time. Cribbers and chewers will not be tempted by it, and it will withstand much leaning and rubbing by itchy horses. The only downside is that if a horse becomes cast or caught up in the fence, it will be a fair job to get him out.
Panels and portable fencing
Panels and portable fencing are quite common in various areas of the country to house horses in smaller “sacrifice” paddocks. They’re made out of tubular panels similar to those that make up round pens. Like pipe fencing, these enclosures are very visible, attractive and low maintenance. However, because they aren’t set into the ground, they are not the strongest. Care should be taken to only use panels that do not have a gap between them once assembled, as horses’ legs can get caught.
Buck and rail fence
Buck and rail fence options are common in areas where it is difficult to set fences into the ground (i.e. rocky terrain). They look somewhat like a triangular version of post and rail fencing, and have many of the same attributes.
Electric fence options are available in many types, including hot wire/high tensile, braided electric strands, electric tape/ mesh, and vinyl fence with hot wire through the middle. Electric fencing is very effective for keeping horses enclosed and encouraging them to respect their boundaries. Horses will not chew, lean or rub on electric fencing. It can be combined with other fence types, and can look very attractive and be fairly inexpensive and low maintenance. Care should be taken to ensure the wire, strands or tape are always well tensioned, so horses cannot get caught up in it.
Wire fencing for horses includes V-mesh, rectangular mesh and chain link. Regardless of which type you choose, ensure that mesh openings are not so big that a horse, pony or foal can put a foot through. Do not use chain link with sharp top edges, and be aware that any mesh fence is easy for a horse to stretch if he leans on it. Mesh fences are not very visible, so plan on marking them with flags, or using a top board.
Natural barriers are not uncommon in certain areas and include rock walls and/or thick brush. While obviously strong, cost effective and low maintenance, they should be carefully inspected on a regular basis for any sharp edges or branches that could harm your horse, or for weak areas your horse could sneak through/over.
• The height of your fencing, as well as the distances between the ground and the first rail/hot wire, and the supports and number of rails/hot wires, will all vary depending on the fence options and the horses you’re housing. Generally, bottom boards or wires should be 10” to 12” from the ground so horses cannot get their legs stuck. Minimum fence height is typically 4.5’, the general rule being that the top of the fence should be at your horse’s eye level.
• It seems there is always at least one horse that finds a way to get stuck in fencing, but you can minimize the risk by always keeping hot wire, etc., well tensioned and having a plan and tools on hand should a horse become trapped.
• Make sure your fencing is visible to the horses. Wire fencing, especially against dense brush, is difficult to see. Where practical, mark fencing with flags or a top board for visibility.
• Check your fences regularly for anything your horse could hurt himself on. Immediately replace broken or loose boards and fasteners.
• Before building a fence, try to visit farms where the fence options you are considering are already in place. Observe how the materials have weathered, and ask questions about the maintenance involved. If you have never put up your own fencing before, do not hesitate to ask for help or hire someone. It’s important to get it right the first time!
A good fence brings peace of mind and is vital to keeping horses out of trouble. Knowing your horses are safely enclosed in their fields means one less thing to worry about!
Kelly Howling is a writer, equestrian, and former editor of Equine Wellness Magazine. She manages a large boarding facility and starts young horses for the hunter/jumper divisions. Kelly has completed courses in equine nutrition and acupressure, and has received certification in equine bioenergy work.