Most everyone knows at least one champion equine escape artist. Learn how to keep these clever horses in with the perfect fence.
We’ve all known at least one equine escape artist. The crafty pony that figures out the grass really is greener on the other side of the fence. The amorous gelding that would prefer to live with the mares. The way-too-smart mare that knows how to open gate latches and lead everyone on a merry romp. I remember watching to see how one particular mare was getting out of her field, only to see her kneel down and sneak under the electric fencing – she had learned that her winter blanket protected her from being shocked!
Obviously, our fences are there for a reason – to keep our horses safe. So what do you do when your equine doesn’t seem to understand this?
Why Does He Want To Leave?
One of the first things I always ask is why a particular horse is deciding to escape. For the most part, horses are pretty happy in their fields. If your horse is starting to wander, consider whether it’s for one of the following reasons:
• Loneliness – Does your horse have herd mates to socialize with? If an equine friend is not appropriate, would s/he get along with a donkey, goat or other companion? Can your horse see or interact with those in other pastures?
• Boredom – Is your horse’s pasture stimulating enough? While not always possible, a large area with varying terrain and obstacles, shelter, grazing and access to water is ideal. You can also introduce pasture toys.
• Grazing – Horses are meant to have access to forage 24/7. While certain breeds, health issues, and easy keepers can make this difficult, you can still make forage available to your horse.
• Anxiety – Some horses will choose to leave their enclosure if they do not feel comfortable there. Check to make sure your horse is not being chased by another horse in the herd.
• Inadequate fencing – Fencing that is not appropriate or has been allowed to fall into disrepair will make it easy for horses to wander.
Over, Under or Through
Horses will typically escape from a field one of three ways.
1. From whence they came …
There are too many stories about smart horses that have figured out latches on stall doors and gates for the issue to be ignored. The last thing you need is your entire herd of horses running loose, thanks to the intelligence of one equine. “We call them Houdini horses,” says Dwayne Job of System Fence (systemfence.com). “We have a number of different latches or chains that can be used to fasten gates – our Locktite latch is one of the more popular latches. It snaps over an eyehook and is hard for horses to open. I never say never with horses as some will surprise you, but most of the time open gates or stalls are human error and people blame it on the horse.” When possible, place gate latches out of reach of horses. Use something fairly horse-proof. Don’t be afraid to go overboard by including an extra latch, or a chain that runs around the gate/post and fastens together.
If you have a horse that tends to hang around the gate and/or lean on it, you can run a removable strand of electric fencing in front of it to discourage this activity.
2. Just jump!
Fence jumpers can be some of the most challenging escape artists to deal with. Once horses figure out they can make the jump, they are bound to try it again. Jumping a paddock fence can pose great danger to the horse in and of itself, let alone when it’s combined with the dangers of the horse running loose outside the pasture if he makes it over the fence in one piece. Finding a safe solution isn’t always easy, or inexpensive.
The most effective way to deal with this issue is to increase the height of your fencing – or, if you are still in the planning phase of doing your fencing, make it taller from the get-go. I doubt anyone has ever wished they’d made their fencing lower – rather the opposite. Standard fencing is typically around 4.5’ to 5’ high. Dwayne says, “90% of the fencing we build is 54” to 56” in height.” You may want to increase this to 5’. You can do this by using extenders. Whatever you choose to extend your fencing with needs to be safe and a little forgiving in case your horse does try to go over again. It must also be highly visible to the horse so that he realizes the fencing height has increased.
3. Going under
If your horse is sneaking underneath your fencing, you probably need to take a look at how your fencing is set up. How far from the ground is your lowest board/strand? Generally it should be about 8” from the ground. Also, if your fencing is electric, how far apart are your posts, how many strands of fencing do you have, and what is the tension like? If your posts are fairly far apart and you’ve only strung up two strands of electric, your fencing will have more “give” than is ideal. And if your tension is poor, that poses a significant safety hazard and should be modified as soon as possible.
Fencing Around Natural Obstacles
I have seen a few cases where people did not feel they needed to fence around or through natural obstacles, such as streams, ponds and thick forest. And on more than one occasion, I’ve heard about horses that figure these weak spots out. Though it may take a bit of extra work and creativity, these are typically not areas you want to leave out – you’ll sleep much better knowing your horses are safely enclosed.
“I am not as worried about horses crossing water in the summertime as horses going through ice in the winter,” says Dwayne. “Horses will cross streams or wooded areas if they feel they need to take flight. Wooded areas are especially of concern as horses can run into sharp branches. In the wintertime, the undergrowth is not as thick so horses may want to wander further into these areas if they are not appropriately fenced.”
Fencing is never an area you want to skimp on – our horses spend large portions of their time in these areas, which means they are going to test their boundaries. Good, appropriate fencing means you’ll be less likely to get that call at work in the middle of the day, saying your horses are in your neighbor’s flower garden (or worse, on the road). If you have a particularly crafty equine that’s outwitting your attempts at keeping him enclosed, contact your local fencing specialists – they can help!