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Safe Fencing for Your Horse

By: Marcia King

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Selecting appropriate fencing for a horse farm can be tricky. The type of fencing you purchase depends on factors such as cost, maintenance, safety, aesthetics, the size of the land that will be enclosed and how long you expect the fence to last. No single type of fence will meet all these needs, so you should identify your fencing goals, such as cost, looks and strength, before going shopping. Write them down, and construct a list of pros and cons.

Popular Types of Fencing

  • Wood. Classic, well-maintained wooden plank and post-and-rail fencing has long been admired for its sturdiness and aesthetics. Highly visible, wood appears intimidating to horses, discouraging them from crashing into it. Drawbacks include high cost and high maintenance. Wood can split, fall down, warp, swell and contract. Planks require frequent painting or sealing, and nails can work themselves out. Horses, termites, and other critters can chew on it. In addition, wood can splinter and injure a horse. To reduce risk and maintenance, if you choose wood, use only hard woods.

  • PVC Planks. This thermo-plastic resin fence offers the look of wood without the upkeep – no painting, no chew marks, no creeping nails. They are attractive and low maintenance, but they are expensive. The good news is that they last a long time if installed correctly. In addition, they can be installed without special equipment. Unlike wood, it is possible to clean and disinfect PVC fencing. However, in some cases, the boards slide into the post and if the post moves, the planks slide out. Some brands have keepers that lock in the planks. There is also the tendency for the PVC planks or posts to lean after repeated pressure (leaning) from certain horses, especially if the "grass is greener on the other side." Eventually the posts need to be reset, but most people find this easier than replacing wooden fencing, or dealing with chewed-up boards.

  • PVC Coated Lumber. Made of wood with a thermo-plastic resin coating around it, this fence offers most of the advantages and few of the disadvantages of PVC planks and wood. It is maintenance-free, looks elegant, is termite-proof and doesn't warp, decay, or splinter. It can be fairly expensive, however.

  • High Tensile Coat Wire. This fence consists of one or more high-tensile wires encased in vinyl or a solid polymer. The bands, which can be up to 5 inches wide, are highly visible, somewhat resembling narrow white-painted board. Designed specifically for horses, it has an elastic quality, so if the horse hits it, he'll bounce off or if he sticks his foot through, it won't cut him. It is durable, moderately priced, lasts a long time, and usually only requires an annual ratcheting to keep it tight. It should be installed in warm weather for maximum tightening.

  • High Tensile Smooth Wire. This is a very strong, economical, and maintenance-free fence. The 12.5-gauge smooth wire has a breaking strength of 1,300 to 1,800 pounds, which can only be exceeded by a horse that inadvertently charges or gets trapped, and flails within the fence. If properly tensioned, most horses can bounce off it without injury or fence damage. Since it's stretched so tight, fewer posts are required – up to 60 feet apart with spacers to keep the wires straight. Ten or 12 strands work best. On the downside, the wire lacks visibility, thus raising the risk of horses running into it and getting hurt. Streamers cut from old garbage bags, tied to each section help delineate the borders of the fence for the horse.

  • Barbed Wire. This probably is the most dangerous fence for keeping horses. It's the cheapest, but it makes for some very ragged wounds. Those who must keep their horses in barbed wire should replace or cover the top wire with a plank on the inside or string electric wire on the inside; remove the bottom strands up to 12 to 18 inches from the ground; and let weeds, vines, and small trees grow through the wire to provide a solid sight line and to discourage contact with the wires. Most veterinarians advise against barbed wire, having sutured up many barbed wire cuts in the past. These lacerations can result in loss of soundness, chronic infections, fractures and much aftercare.

  • Mesh. The best wire for horse fencing is a five-diamond V-mesh wire. Its close weave prevents a horse (even a foal) from catching a foot in it. Made of vinyl or wire, mesh is strong yet has some give and has been recommended even for stallion paddocks. If kept stretched at the appropriate tautness, mesh has a long life span and requires little maintenance. It's a little cheaper than wood and PVC. However, mesh wire has tendency to sag or get ridden down by the horses. Installing a top board could alleviate the problem. The woven joints also may catch and pull out mane and tail hairs.

  • Metal Pipe. This is fairly expensive, long-lived, and exceptionally strong, making it useful in situations where stocking rate is high, or confinement space is limited or more stringent, as with housing some stallions. While some pipe may rust, requiring wire brushing and/or painting, some pipe is made from non-rusting materials. Pipe that gets cut can have sharp edges and can produce injuries. Some horses get serious injuries if they fall or run into pipe.

    Materials Used Less Often

  • New Zealand Wire. This is a smooth, spring-loaded, tightly pulled wire useful in large pasture settings where posts can be placed far apart. It is moderately priced, lasts about 10 to 15 years and is easy to install.

  • Twisted Barbless Wire. This comes with many of the same pros and cons as high tensile smooth wire. Five strands should be stretched tight and attached with long staples. A sight line should be provided, either with a top board or streamers.

  • Monofilament. This looks like coated wire, but there's no wire inside, making it more elastic. But a nick or abrasion on its surface can cause the fence to fall apart.

  • Rubber Belting. Horses bounce off this fence without getting hurt, but it can be difficult to keep taut. Horses also can pull and chew on the rubber and the little cords that stick out of it, possibly causing obstruction of the intestines, which results in colic.

  • Chain Link. This is an expensive, long-lasting fence that offers excellent confinement, particularly in small areas. It requires a top and bottom pipe so horses cannot paw it down and should be high enough so horses can't get their heads over it. The downside: horses can get their shoes caught on it.

  • Electric. Nearly every type of fence benefits from placing electric wire along the top to discourage horses from leaning on it. Some favor electro-plastic tape, which is very visible and is coated to reduce risk of injury. However, some find that it can stretch to the breaking point in wind or snow. Others prefer a polyethylene-covered, high tensile electric wire infused with carbon to conduct electricity to the surface. Avoid thin cattle wire, which is difficult for the horse to see and, if not electrified, could cause serious injury.

    Choose Wisely

    When purchasing a fence, identify your needs and your budget, and seek advice from your local extension agent. Make sure your fencing and posts are installed correctly. Along with the choice of fence, make a careful choice of the place you're fencing in. By proceeding thoughtfully and carefully, you'll have a fence ideally suited for your horses' needs and your lifestyle.

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