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Fencing Basics

Fencing is the most fundamental part of horse keeping. If you're starting with a blank slate then read this article about the pros and cons of different styles of paddock design.


Also this article about designing horse shelters.




In our ongoing campaign to help you stop spending money on unnecessary vet visits and unwanted pain for your horses -see one and two:


These are the most common injuries arising from fencing:


Heel bulb laceration: This happens when a horse paws, catches the leg in a low strand of wire, and pulls back.


Front cannon laceration or hindleg laceration: Sometimes a horse kicks at another horse across the fence, causing wounds in the front cannon area or, less commonly, the front of the hock.


Flank lacerations: These occur when horses are led or run through gateways and swinging gates or latches catch the horse’s flank.


Staking Injuries: Horses coming down on the unprotected end of a steel star post can suffer severe or fatal injuries.


Entanglement: Horse legs can be trapped in mesh fencing with bigger holes or strands of a fence.


Trapped in a fencing corner: Acute corners (less than 90 degrees) can lead to dominant horses cornering others. As the horse tries to escape, it is prone to injure itself on the fencing.


These injuries can be mostly prevented by thoughtful design and maintenance of fences, and by understanding horse behaviour.


1. Choose the Right Material for Your Circumstance


Here are some typical fencing options for horses.


Wooden fences are traditional and provide a natural look, but they can be expensive and require regular maintenance. Our fencing is majority white mahogany posts with a top rail and two/three wires underneath (pictured below).


We use white mahogany for its resistance to white ants. Our fencer Wolf Rural Fencing has repeatedly told us to paint our fences for longevity, and we still haven't done it! (Sorry Wolf).


 


Vinyl/PVC fencing is durable and low-maintenance, but it will be much more costly at the outset. If we had no budget constraints we would do vinyl fencing with electric standoffs on the top section of our property. The lower parts of our property are subject to inundation in heavy rain and it would cost a lot to replace/repair if it became damaged, so we choose to use easier fencing that we can repair ourselves for those sections. It might make sense for you to have different styles of fencing in separate parts of the property depending on the lay of the land and how much stock it generally holds.


Star pickets and plain wire is probably the most common type of horse fencing. It is relatively cheap and easy to install. You can do it yourself with the right equipment, which is readily available from your local farmers' warehouse. It's more permanent than electric, and you don't need a tractor to set it up. It does require frequent maintenance, as horses can easily push star pickets over reaching through fences. If a wire breaks it will generally loosen across the whole fenceline and needs prompt fixing (see above list of injuries).


Electric fencing can be a cost-effective solution, and you can install it by yourself quickly, but it requires careful installation to ensure safety and that it will not short out. You can't let grass grow underneath the wires. You need to either whipper snip or poison on a regular basis. We have spent thousands over the years on solar chargers, of differing sizes and brands, and across the board we find they don't last very long.


The bonus for electric fencing is that you can fix it by yourself. You don't need to book a fencing contractor. If it breaks, you simply tie a knot. 


We have found that some horses are happy to take the zap to move around the property. It's not a perfect solution, but they are also unlikely to injure themselves breaking through electric as opposed to other materials.


Electric fencing is also great because you can move it, particularly if you are using strip grazing, or it's not your own property. You can take it with you when you leave.


Of course, fences can be combination of the above.


If you choose to use any mesh rather than wires, make sure it's too small for a hoof to go through. Hinged joint wire (hog fencing), for example, has large holes and a horse is likely to injure themselves and/or bring the fence down should they get caught in it. Chicken wire is a good option if you have small ponies, minis or foals which generally don't respect plain wire.


 





This gate has wire closer together at the bottom to prevent horses putting their hoof through. We have put the latch for the chain outside the entrance so horses are less like to cut themselves should they rush through.



2. Consider the Height, Depth and Width


The height of your fence is crucial. It should be high enough to prevent your horses from attempting jumping over it, or reaching across the fence to graze in the adjoining paddock, which will stretch your wires and eventually tip the posts outward, particularly if your soil is wet. A height of 1.2m to 1.5m is generally recommended for horse fencing. 


Depth is also worth consideration. We have sections of fence that are prone to flooding. We have sunk them extra depth and they remain intact despite a number of above average wet years where water has passed through and debris has caught on the posts and wires.


Keep in mind the width of your gateways. You will need to plan for the future should you need to bring in a truck or a trailer. The gateway will need to be wide enough, and an adequate turning circle on the far side for any vehicles that might need to pass through.


3. Ensure Visibility


Horses should be able to clearly see the fence especially when they are moving at speed. This can prevent accidents and injuries. Consider using a high-visibility fence wire or adding a top rail that contrasts with the surroundings, or alternatively, 'site wire'  which is white in colour and easier to see. In some sections of our property we have strung electric fence tape (that is not energised) along the top wire to make it more visible.


Ideally you want to avoid using barbed wire. Sometimes you might need to use barbed wire if you have a neighbour running cattle, but in that case, run four or more wires, and make sure the wire is always taut. We love fence tighteners like the ones pictured below.


We have put in corridors throughout the property so that we can move horses from one part of the property to another without passing through a paddock that already has stock in it. If you have sections with barbed wire, you could make that the boundary of the corridor rather than the paddock itself. 




White mahogany split posts and top rail. Two or three strands of plain wire fitted with ratchet tighteners. This paddock serves as a holding yard, a corridor to other paddocks and currently holds our pony prone to laminitis to limit her grazing.


 


4. Regular Maintenance


Regular maintenance is key to keeping your fence in good condition. Check for any damage or wear and tear regularly and repair it promptly. This can help prolong the life of your fence and keep your horses safe. By placing tighteners along the fence line you can keep the wires tight yourself just with an adjustable spanner. 


If you have places that are repeatedly prone to pressure (corners, for example) consider upgrading just that section - replace with a timber top rail, even if the whole paddock doesn't have a top rail.


The smaller the enclosure, the more solid the fence needs to be. A round yard, for example will need to be taller and more solid with posts closer together. 




You don't have to run electric on a stand-off. You can run electric along a plain wire if you insulate the posts with ordinary garden hose and use ceramic insulators on the ends.


 


5. Provide Enough Space


Ensure that your fenced area provides enough space for your horses to move around freely. Overcrowding can lead to stress and behavioural issues among horses. If there is not enough pasture, or you do not provide enough extra feeding, your horses will stretch your fences by reaching through or over. 


Be aware of herd dynamics. It doesn't matter how much space you have if you have horses that don't get along.


 


Remember, fixing a fence is often cheaper than paying a vet to attend to your horse should they injure themselves on sub-standard fencing. 


 


Finally, find a fencing contractor who is happy to tell you when your ideas are dumb. On one of our first visits with our fencing contractor, Wolf, - after we advised him what we wanted to do and our budget, he advised that we change our priorities and use part of that budget to improve the aesthetic of our front entrance - particularly as we offer agistment. He said that first impression for our clients was more important than a corner we were looking to fix that rarely had horses in it, and he was right about that.


 If you find a great fencing contractor, keep a hold of them with two hands, because a good one will include little extra touches you didn't think of and their expertise is valuable in real dollars long term. 


Happy fencing!


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