Posting The Guard

With more land owners deciding to use their acres to house a horse or pony comes the inevitable question, "Which fence should I use?" Because you are trying to contain living creatures who are nomadic by nature, and accident prone by design, you should first understand that no fence is horse-proof. You need to decide which fencing product suits your land, horses, management ability, and pocketbook. That takes some research.

To help you in your quest, we asked numerous fencing manufacturers about their products. Mainly, our questions to them focused around the best use of fencing products, and common problems they have answered, most of which were due to improper construction or maintenance.

While we chose a few people to expand on fencing in general, this does not imply that these companies, or their products, are better than any others. Again, you need to do your homework and decide which fencing suits your needs. You might end up with two or more types of fencing on your property depending on what you are trying to keep in, or out, of your fields. A sidebar on page 102 lists several companies who supply fencing and their comments on containing horses. It would be a wise move to contact several, get information, then make a decision that you will have to live with for the next decade or so.

The Bottom Line

First, you don't want a horse crashing into your fence, so he must be able to see it. Second, if a horse does hit the fence, you want it constructed so that he does not get hurt.

The company Premier 1 suggests asking the following questions on choosing the correct electric fence system. Most questions can be adapted to ask about any fence type.

1) What animal(s) does the fence need to keep in or out? Choose a design that will repel the most difficult. "Stallions are always harder to fence than mares or geldings. This is most true during breeding season when the sex drive distorts normal pain response reactions."

2) How keen will the animals be to breach the fence? Buy and build for the worst-case situations. Will you be weaning? "Young animals and their mothers are desperate to rejoin during weaning." Will your horses have other temptations, i.e., grass? "Bored animals in corrals will challenge fences more than those on pasture." Finally, nothing is foolproof. "Animals spooked by dogs, bears, or loud noises may panic and run straight at any fence, no matter what its design."

3) How much will it cost (in time and money) if the fence fails? The higher the potential cost, the more reliable the fence design should be. For example, "Along public highways in some states the livestock owner is fully liable for damages to both vehicles and humans." What is the worst-case scenario if this fence failed? Do you need to protect the horses from potentially poisonous ornamental plants or from a busy road? Finally, what could happen if the fence broke and your animals got mixed up? Are you in a quarantine situation where disease is a possibility? How about accidental breedings on a stallion station?

4) How visible is the fence?

5) How long will the fence be in place? Temporary fencing is in place less than a month, used for subdividing a pasture, night camps on the trail, or small temporary holding pens. Semi-permanent fencing is in place five to seven years. Premier recommends this for fencing on rented land. Also, semi-permanent fencing allows you to shift locations of fences and gates until you identify the best layout for your permanent fencing. Permanent fencing is more expensive than the other two, but cheaper to maintain.

6) What is the terrain of the fenceline? Does it go through brush, over hills, across ditches, and around curves or corners? The more variety, the more expensive to install.

7) Is snow or ice likely? Rough weather is hard on all barn equipment, fencing included.

8) Will animals be forced against the fence by other animals (e.g., laneways and holding corrals)? Higher visibility is needed in crowded conditions.

9) Will the fence need to contain animals not used to this barrier? This is particularly true of electric fencing, but could apply to any type. Will you be continually introducing new horses into the fields, such as at a sales barn, or will you be fencing in an established herd?

Oh, Say Can You See

Each company, no matter the product they sell, emphasizes the need for visibility in horse fencing. Remember, a fence that we see is not automatically one that our horses see. We need to consider how horses view the world and how they react when excited or scared. Will your horse see your fence when he's at a dead run? Will it deter him if he does see it?

More Rules To Fence By

Cameo offers their Golden Rules of Safe Horsekeeping.

Rule #1: No barbed wire! "Barbed wire is never okay for horses. I've had people look me square in the eye and tell me they've never had a horse get cut on the stuff, but I've seen too many victims of this fencing to not believe these folks should add a 'yet' to that statement. Do yourself a favor, if you have even one strand of barbed wire on your property, get rid of it now."

Rule #2: Don't let the lack of barbs fool you. "Smooth wire, in individual strands, is unsafe, too. High-tensile wire (often called "New Zealand" fencing) isn't exempt. Some of the worst cuts I've seen resulted from high-tensile wire."

Rule #3: Electrify! "The safest fence is one your horse never touches, and electricity is one of the best insurance policies around--anytime your horse comes in contact with the electrified portion of a fence, he receives a harmless jolt. You can bet he'll do his best to avoid touching the fence again." (Although they recommend electrification, Cameo does not sell electric wire or other electric fence products.)

Primier advised that if an owner already has high tensile fences installed he/she should "install offset scare wires of tape or rope to enable the horses to better see the fence as well as discourage them from playing too close to the fence."

A Final Thought

Whatever fencing you choose, make sure it is designed for horses. "Until recently, most electric fence products in U.S. farm stores were designed for cattle and priced to sell," noted Premier. "To get to the horse industry, manufacturers just switched to a horse label." Although Premier only claims expertise on electric and close-mesh wire fences, this advice applies to all materials.

About the Author

Katherine Walcott

Katherine Walcott is a freelance writer living in the countryside near Birmingham, Al. She writes for anyone she can talk into paying her and rides whatever disciplines she can talk her horses into doing.

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