Driving around the countryside, a person will see all kinds of things used for fencing to keep horses enclosed in a pasture or paddock. Those things range from pristine wood rail or wood plank fences to old pallets turned on end tied together with hay string. Another common sight is horses in the same pasture as cattle or other livestock where the pasture is fenced with steel "T" posts and barbed wire. While the main job of a fence is to keep the horses in the pasture and off the road, there are a few things to consider about fencing when dealing with horses.
A "perfect" fence for horses is one that is highly visible, secure enough to contain a horse that runs into it without causing injury or fence damage, have some "give" to minimize injury on impact, is high enough to discourage jumping, and solid enough to discourage testing its strength. There should be no openings that could trap a head or hoof, and would have no sharp edges or projections to cause injury when a horse leans, scratches, or falls onto the fence. The "perfect" fence should be inexpensive to build, easy to maintain, and should last at least 20 or more years. The "perfect" fence has all these qualities and ............… it should look good!
How many people have the perfect fence? I don't know of any that meet all these criteria, so most fences contain some degree of compromise. A couple of publications do a really good job of explaining what to consider when building a fence for horses. Those are “Fences for Horses” from NC State University and "" from Penn State University.
The first item to consider when building a horse fence is safety of the horses and the people that are working with them. The main problem with the pallet fence and the barbed wire is the potential for injury. Pallets have many places where a horse could get a hoof stuck and barbed wire has all these pointy things that can cause injury, especially if the wire breaks and wraps around the horse. Rounded corners are nice, and we need to consider where to put water troughs and tanks.
The next big question is how much fence is affordable. Not only do we need to consider the cost of construction, we have to consider maintenance costs. Skimping on construction to save money can lead to even more money being spent on maintaining the fence and on vet bills if the lesser fence leads to an injured horse.
A fence should be durable. How long a fence lasts depends on the type of material is is built with, maintenance, weather, and the horses it contains. A fence also has to be functional. It should centralize access to barns, working areas, and feed storage. Walking and vehicle gates have to be carefully located, with these considerations improving efficiency while reducing labor and operating expenses.
The last thing to consider is appearance. Horse owners should want their fences to look good, and rightly so. Often, the first impression of a person coming onto the farm is the appearance of the fences and the barns. That first impression can make a big difference in whether or not someone buys a horse for a good price for the seller, or if that potential buyer pays a lower price or just walks away. Good, functional fences show pride in ownership, increased value, and indicate professionalism.
Consider using different types of fencing in different locations around the farm. While real horsemen appreciate utilitarian, functional fences, many people like driving up and seeing attractive fences and paddocks along the road and driveway. Place the eye-appealing, yet safe, functional fences in those areas more accessible to the public even though that type of fence might be a bit more expensive, and put the more functional, good, safe, and not quite so expensive fences on the rest of the farm.
The most critical and time consuming part of constructing fences is the time spent planning - before the first post is purchased and driven into the ground. Plan the fencing to help make chores and routines more efficient. Consider making rounded corners where feasible, and avoid corners with sharp angles where a horse may become trapped by a more dominant horse. Those considerations can help reduce injuries. Remember that horses will lean on fences, reach over fences, chew on fences, run into fences, and generally do a lot of things to test them, especially if the grass really is greener on the other side. A well planned fencing system that is carefully laid out, is made of good materials, and has something that makes it highly visible (strips of cloth tied to high tensile wire really does help) to the horse will provide years of service and will enhance the value of the horse farm.
For more of the details on the information presented in this article on planning and constructing horse fences, download the two publications listed above by clicking on these links: