This article is part of our Safe Property; Happy Horse Awareness Week brought to you by Bekaert Fencing.
Whether you have a fence in place that you’re looking to upgrade, or you’re in the midst of creating the perfect property for your four-legged friend, fencing choice is incredibly important. Chances are you’ll employ a variety of materials and fence designs on your property for paddocks, arenas, and pasture fences, or even mix fence materials for a single enclosure. Regardless of what materials you choose, there will be different considerations to keep in mind. Let’s jump in and discuss safe fencing construction.
Don’t Fence Me In (Without Doing it Safely)
Safety should be at the top of your list when choosing fencing materials. The fence should be tall enough to keep the horse contained, but also consider the distance between the bottom of the fence and the ground.
At the bottom, an opening of 8 to 12 inches will keep feet and legs from getting trapped, and prevent foals from rolling under the fence. Fence openings should be either large enough that a hoof, leg, or even the head can’t become trapped, or very small (no more than 3 inches by 3 inches). This will prevent a hoof from penetrating the fence. To maintain tension, most wire fences, both fabrics, and high-tensile smooth wire, require triangular-shaped bracing at the corners. Put these at intervals of about 1/8 mile. The acute angles formed by brace wires represent entrapment hazards if the horse can reach them; good design (such as boards used in corners to block access) can prevent injury, even death.
Visibility, especially with wire fencing, is too often overlooked. A white plank fence of wood or PVC is easily seen by horses, however, wire can be almost invisible when a horse panics and runs. Improve visibility to wire fences by adding a top rail of wood; PVC; or durable white vinyl fence ribbon, either standard or electrified. This addition not only makes a wire fence more visible, but it also deters horses from reaching over the fence to graze.
Pick a Post
Wood is traditional and commonly used for fence posts. Whether you’re making a plank fence or using wood posts, local availability and climate may determine your choices in woods. For instance, while hardwood fence materials tend to be readily available in the East, Southeast, and parts of the Midwest, softwoods predominate in the West. To deter decomposition, common softwoods that are resistant to rot and insect infestation include cedar, redwood, and cypress. Unfortunately, these woods are very expensive.
For this reason, horsemen often choose pressure-treated lumber. With pressure-treated lumber, the manufacturer impregnates the wood with chemicals that resist rot, fungi, and insects. Look for treated lumber posts that are certified for in-ground use. Paint won’t bond to the material, so PTL fences are invariably natural.
T-Posts are another option when it comes to posts. These are inexpensive to purchase and labor-saving to install. Regrettably, many don’t use the savings to make them as safe as can be. If you do use metal T-posts, top them with plastic mushroom-shaped caps, minimizing the possibility of a horse getting impaled.
Choosing a Barrier: PVC, Steel, or Wood?
Once you have your posts picked out, consider what type of barrier you’ll use to complete your fence. Will you go with wood, wire, PVC, or steel?
We’ve already touched on wood in our discussion of posts. Wood board fences are revered for their aesthetics, high visibility, and good strength. Disadvantages include high initial cost, and high maintenance due to horse chewing, weathering, etc. Horses can break through if spooked, and nails and splintering can present hazards.
PVC fencing is often desirable for its low maintenance and aesthetic aspects, but the cost can be extravagant. Internally ribbed PVC boards can resist breakage but are designed to break away when pressure is applied. Not the best barrier for a 1,000-pound animal. An electrical wire system is recommended to keep horses respectful of and contained within the PVC enclosure.
Pipe steel makes an exceptionally strong and long-lasting fence. There is, however, no give to these fences, and a horse can suffer damage if it runs into the fence. Fortunately, high visibility keeps such incidents minimal. Even in the Oil Patch, where pipe can be cheap and plentiful, transport and labor costs may be high. You’ll most likely have to hire a professional installer to cut and weld the pipes. Planning must be exact, as modifications will be difficult and expensive once the fence is completed. Upkeep tends to be minimal, though repainting may be required.
Wire vs. Mesh
When choosing wire fencing you have a couple options. You can opt for high-tensile wire, smooth wire, or less commonly used with horses, barbed wire.
The term “high-tensile wire” simply refers to wires under tension. This includes woven-wire fabrics, smooth-wire fences, and the majority of electric-fence designs. The key characteristic of all these is that the fence is pulled tight like a tuned instrument string (though not nearly as tight). Posts, corner assemblies, and braces placed intermittently provide the counter force to the pulling forces of the fence material.
Smooth-wire designs are the least expensive fences to construct. They’re basically barbed-wire fences without the barbs. Wide spacing of poles as much as 20 feet adds to the low cost of some designs.
Among the safest fence materials, V-mesh has horizontal and diagonal wires woven into a fabric to create a “V” or diamond pattern. This wire fencing can absorb the energy of a galloping horse while creating a nearly impenetrable barrier to varmints, wild predators, and roving dogs. These qualities make it a favorite for foaling operations and for small paddock enclosures. Its biggest downside is cost (around $4 a linear foot, almost equal to that of a traditional wood fence). It’s the most expensive of wire-fencing materials, but cost savings can be realized by using metal T-posts in pastures.
Many people use electric fencing in combination with other barriers. Good barriers work on two levels: They provide a physical presence that deters escape, and they provide a psychological force that makes horses think escape is either too arduous or impossible. We seldom think of psychological deterrents, but that’s the principle underlying electric-fence systems. Once shocked, a horse learns quickly not to touch the fence.
Check it Often
Regardless of which materials you use, be sure to maintain your fence and check it often for weak spots. If your horse is going to spend the majority of their time behind said fence, you’ll want to be sure it’s secure, safe, and sturdy.
Take time weekly to walk your fence line around your paddock and turnout areas, looking for areas that need repair. This also gives you an opportunity to pick up trash around your pasture, and survey the area where your horse spends time.
[READ ABOUT CHOOSING A SAFE SHELTER]