Fencing is an important and expensive component of any horse farm. Skimping on fencing costs can result in unsafe or insecure enclosures and, ultimately, injury to your horses. Horses' normal behaviors can make horse keeping and fencing a real challenge! Here are some tips and considerations for installing fencing on horse farms.
Materials and Installation
Regardless of which materials are chosen, fencing must be sturdy and highly visible. Fencing can be constructed of poles, pipe, boards, plastic or wire, or a combination of these materials. It is safest to install strong perimeter fencing around the property in case horses get loose.
Any wire fence should be smooth -- not barbed wire. Barbed wire injures horses. Electric fences should have smooth wire or it can be plastic coated. There are some great products on the market such as polywire and ribbons that can conduct electricity. Make sure you buy a strong enough system (charger) to power your fencing design. Then regularly check the fence charger to be sure it is working. Most electric charges have a light that shows when there is a break in the fence or if the circuit is incomplete. Remove overgrown weeds from fence lines. Check all fences regularly and keep wire fences tight. Most vets report wire cut from fences that were not on or loose wires that are in disrepair. Whatever your fence types make sure your fence is properly installed.
Regardless of the material used for the fence, be sure to fasten the fencing materials to the inside of the fence. When horses lean on your fence, the boards, pipes, or wire will be pushed against the posts rather than off them. Boards on the outsides of the posts might look nicer, but can be pushed off--and the horses can escape. Always be alert for loose boards, nails and any projections that could cause injuries.
If using a rotational grazing system, it is common to use wooden fencing around the system and electric tape or wire to subdivide the fields. Temporary electric fencing is cheaper and easy to move in case fields need to be resized.
Fence off trees, power line guy wires, wet areas, streams, ponds, or anything in which a horse can get in trouble. Avoid using metal T-posts (metal stake posts), as horses can impale themselves on a T-post. If you do use T-posts, cover them with plastic caps on the tops to help avoid any danger.
Is your fence visible? Color is not a key factor in visibility to the horse, but brightness and contrast are. Yellow tape and wire tends to blend into green backgrounds. Where you place your fence also has a lot to do with how visible it will be to your horses. Remember that horses tend to look to the horizon when galloping, as their binocular (using both eyes for greater acuity) field of vision is in front of the face. Placing a fence at the bottom of a hill, even if that's the end of your property line, might be an accident waiting to happen. The horse may fail to see the fence until he is through it. Placing the fence along the top of the visible ridge will help to keep horses safe.
The horse's eyes are attracted by movement, so you can make a wire fence more visible by attaching strips of cloth or plastic along the wire. This will help introduce a horse to a hot wire fence for the first time.
Install your fence at a height equal to the height of your horse's eyes with his head up, about five feet or better. It might be wise to make it taller if you have athletic jumper horses. Draft horses need something taller and miniatures or ponies can have shorter fencing. Plan your fencing to accommodate the tallest horse you own. Stallions should be enclosed in fencing no shorter than 6 feet.
Also consider the height of the bottom board or wire off the ground. A fence with high clearance allows horses to graze under the fence, could allow a foal or pony to slip out, and gives easy entry for dogs, wildlife, and children.
Your gates and placement of them are just as important as the type of fencing used. Place your gates so that horses don't get crowded when leading them in or out; avoid placing them in corners. Make gate opening large enough to get farm equipment through to work on the pastures. If you have your own equipment, find out how wide it is to get in the pasture. If you plan to hire outside help for pasture maintenance (mowing, liming, fertilizing, spraying, reseeding), then opt for wide gates (at least 12 feet) to ensure that most machinery can enter the field.
Consider no-climb gates if you have horses that paw at the gate or stand on the bottom bar when they are anxious to be fed or come inside. This damages the gate itself and the hinge.
Horse Behavior Considerations
Herd social pressures usually are to blame when horses challenge fences. Whether one horse is trying to escape another, or one is trying to get to another, horses may break or otherwise escape an enclosure.
If your horses are kept in a paddock with a loafing shed, it is important that the shelter and paddock have enough room for the number of horses living together. Horses are herd animals and they establish social orders. Dominant horses may bite and attack horses that are lower in the pecking order. Be sure to give horses enough room to get out of the way and hopefully prevent injuries.
If you have groups of horses sharing a fence line, then the best but most expensive fence is double fencing (horses cannot reach each other with a space between). If you have to use a shared fence line, then consider a strand of "hot wire" (electric fence) across the top of all shared fence lines.
Weanlings and yearlings tend to be playful and rambunctious and need to be housed in the safest, strongest fences.
Keep these tips in mind as you design fencing for your farm or examine your existing fencing. To be safe and reliable, fencing requires planning and proper installation and may require some professional help. For an in-depth guide to fencing on horse farms, read Fence Planning for Horses .