By Chris Churchill, Five Star Ranch Staff Writer
Good fences make good neighbors. The proverb is from Robert Frost’s poem Mending Wall, but it is good advice for anyone keeping horses and other livestock. Good fences contain horses safely, keep stray dogs and other unwanted visitors out of your pasture, facilitate pasture rotation, reduce your liabilities, help maintain good neighbor relations by keeping your livestock from wandering into your neighbor’s garden and serves as a visible reminder of your property lines.
The options for horse fence have grown extensively over the years. In addition to new types of fences, there are hybrid versions of fences which further expand fencing choices.
How to Select Safe Horse Fence
With so many varieties and options in horse fencing, you have to do your homework before you embark on your fencing project. Foremost in your selection process is to pick one that is safe, fits your budget and maintenance level. Let’s look at a few considerations in selecting a fence.
Safe Horse Fencing “Gives” Upon Impact
A wise old horse person once told me the way to test the value of a fence is when a horse runs into it.
A fence that has some flexibility (“give” in horseman’s speech) can minimize injuries should a horse accidentally run into it. Using a fence that “gives” becomes more important if you have younger, playful horses or the area is small which increases the likelihood of horse-fence interaction.
Good Horse Fence is Highly Visible
A horse will usually avoid running into a fence if it sees it. If you have an existing fence that isn’t highly visible, you can do things to increase the visibility of the fence. For example, many people use smooth wire to cross fence their pastures or to put up temporary fence to section off a part of the pasture for rotation. Tying flagging tape to the smooth wire greatly increases the visibility of the fence.
Another thing that many horse owners do to increase the visibility of a wire mesh fence is to add a wood rail to the top.
Good Horse Fences Doesn’t Catch Up A Horse
Good fencing shouldn’t have anything that could snag a horse. If you’re using wire mesh fence, use one with small openings – say less than 3 inches across.
I’ll never forget the time my neighbor called me to tell me they had just had to cut my horse’s foot out of a wire mesh fence that had large openings that I had inherited from the previous owner. That fence separated my pasture from his garden that apparently contained tempting smells.
My horse was pawing at the fence trying to find a way to the alluring garden and accidentally slipped its leg through the hog wire fence. Fortunately my neighbor was fond of my horses (those pony rides for his grandkids paid off) and took immediate action to cut my horse free. My horse could have easily struggled and done serious damage to his leg.
Something else horses have been known to get caught in are triangular corner supports. Many folks make the squared corners so they can tighten wire fence more easily. The problem with the triangular supports is that horses may stick their heads through the supports and get stuck. A horse’s natural reaction when it feels resistance is to pull back. When the horse can’t, it panics and violently pull back hurting themselves or cutting themselves in the process.
For this reason, if you use the triangular supports in corners, it is a good idea to fence the corner off from the horse.
Avoid creating trap points when you’re designing your fence layout.
Remember that horses have a pecking order and like to reinforce their dominance. If you have more than one horse in an area, then you need to think your fence layout and where you place gates, water troughs and feeding areas.
Avoid putting water troughs in a corner where a bully could easily block other horses from access to water. Also don’t put the gate in a corner. Horses tend to gather around gates and a corner gate is dangerous for both you and your horses.
If you hay or feed in the pasture, make sure you spread your horses out so less dominant horses can have access to food.
Rounded Corners Make For Safer Pastures
Another trap point that is easy to miss is square corners. In an ideal world, you wouldn’t have square corners in your horse pasture. Why? Dominant aggressive horses can trap a horse in a corner and injure it.
Round corners are harder to install, but are safer if you have a mixed herd. If you have existing fence with square corners, you can “round” them with fence that cuts off the corner. This might waste a little space, but it might save a horse from getting trapped in a corner by a bully.
If you feel like your wasting grazing area by fencing off the corner, then put that corner to work for you. Plant a tree in the corner inside the blocked out area. The horses won’t be able to eat it down or “ring” the bark, and in a few years you’ll have a lovely shade tree.
Barbed Wire Is NOT Horse Fence
Despite what you’ve seen in movies, barbed wire is NOT safe horse fence. You don’t have to look very far to find permanently scarred or injured horses that had an encounter with barbed wire. It may be cheap initially, but you’ll pay for it in vet bills and in heart ache.
Cattle Guards are NOT Safe Horse Guards
A cattle guard is for containing cattle. It isn’t safe to use with horses. I know of more than one horse who is now buried due to a broken leg from trying to cross a cattle guard. If you don’t like getting out of the truck to open a gate, get an electric gate. Don’t put in a cattle guard.
A Few More Thoughts on Horse Fencing
There is no one perfect fence and it is common for different types of fence to be used in different places depending on what the area is used for and number of horses. The smaller the area enclose, the better a fence you need because the fence will be tested more often.
This means that fences next to gates, around the barn, or anywhere horses tend to gather, you might want to install extra safe and secure fence.
Make fencing tall and visible enough to deter a horse from crossing it. The rule of thumb here is that the fence should be “wither” high. I have seen cattle contained by a hot wire two feet off the ground. Most horses would jump over such a fence without too much effort.
Consider the activity level of the horse and the kind of horses you’ll be keeping. Young horses will frolic and test the fence more than retired brood mares. Large draft breeds can walk through a weak board fence. Consider your needs when you select a fence.
Consider the surrounding area around your facility. If you are on a busy road with lots of traffic – may want to consider double fencing. or combination fencing (something like wood and hot wire).
When you put your gate in from the road, make sure you set it back far enough to pull your truck and rig off the road while you open and close gates. You’ll keep you and your horses safer by planning ahead.
Here’s one parting piece of fence advice. Whatever fence selection you chose, plan to check it regularly. No fence is completely maintenance free and acts of God can happen to the best of fences. For your horse’s sake, check your fences regularly.
Horse Fence Books
Below are some great books to help you build your horse fence.