Ground an Electrical Fence Properly in Horse Pastures, Paddocks, and Arenas

Learn how to properly ground an eletrical fence so it's safe for you and your horse.
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Learn how to properly ground an eletrical fence so it's safe for you and your horse.
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Poor electric fence grounding is the leading cause of electric fence failure in horse paddocks, horse fields, and horse arenas, which can lead to horses escaping from their electric fence enclosures and endangering people, property and themselves. While your top priority should be to build safe, horse-proof fences, an electric fence current offers an extra measure of security and will dissuade horses from putting pressure on their boundaries. But it won't help if the electric fence current is too weak or keeps going down.

When you "ground" a fence, you're completing the electrical circuit. When your horse (or you, or your dogs or anyone else) touches the fence, he gets zapped, because he, in effect, becomes the conduit for taking the current to ground. Many horses seem keenly aware when an electric fence is turned on and when it is not. The electricity pulsing through the wire is what keeps many horses from testing the fence, while an unpleasant shock serves as a potent reminder to stay off the fence if they get too close.

Although it is possible to complete the circuit by attaching a grounding wire to a water or utility line, the most trustworthy and safe fence is grounded using at least three 8-foot-long grounding rods. In areas of rocky soil, another option is to drive several shorter rods into the ground. For example, you can use six 3-foot-long rods or four 4-foot-long rods. The more conductive the metal utilized, the better the ground for the fence will be, and the better the charge.

Grounding a fence correctly is a pretty easy project, but if you run into trouble, contact your fence manufacturer.

What You Need for this Project

• A properly enclosed paddock using horse-safe electrical fencing (no amount of grounding will help a poorly constructed fence that "shorts out.")

• 3 copper-coated grounding rods, each 8 feet long

• Fence t-post driver

• High-voltage grounding wire or insulated wire (long enough to daisy chain the rods together and still reach the charger)

• 3 (or more) ground rod clamps, sized to fit grounding rod

• Wire cutters

• Wrench

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1. Choose a location for your fence charger close to an electrical outlet (or invest in a solar unit). Make sure the charger is out of the reach of your horses. You'll want to drive the grounding rods near the charger, but out of the way of any path of travel.

2. Caution! Before you drive the grounding rods into the earth, make sure you're clear of any utility lines. Just as if you were digging, it's best to have all lines located by a professional service. Once you've located a safe place, use the t-post driver to ram each grounding rod deep into the soil. Space the rods about a foot apart. Leave several inches of the rod above ground. If you hit a rock, find a new location, or try driving the post into the ground at an angle. In areas with extremely rocky soil, you may have to opt for several shorter grounding rods to complete your project.

3. Once the rods are most of the way in the ground, slip a rod clamp on top of each one.

4. Use the clamps to connect the grounding wire to each rod, and using a wrench, clamp each one in place. The rods will be daisy-chained together, using the same wire. If you're using an insulated wire, you'll need wire cutters to remove sections of the plastic insulation, so the grounding rods and wire make a complete connection.

5. Now that the rods are clamped and wired together, finish pounding them into the ground. It is okay to bury the rods so none of the rod or wire is exposed to cause a tripping hazard.

6. Making sure the charger is unplugged, connect the ground wire to the charger where specified on the unit.

7. Plug the charger back in. You can use a fence tester to check the fence. With the fence properly grounded, you've now put the "hot" in hotwire. With proper fence maintenance, you're horses are more likely to stay safely in their paddocks.

For information on electrical fence supplies, check out: