Safe Pasture Fencing for Horse Pastures, Horse Fields & Horse Paddocks

When you buy a new property, or want to redo your fields and pastures fencing to safely accommodate horses, you want to do it right.
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When you buy a new property, or want to redo your fields and pastures fencing to safely accommodate horses, you want to do it right.
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Safe pasture fencing for your horse pasture involve careful planning and good pasture fencing options. Unsafe pasture fencing, like a couple of strands of barbed wire, can kill or permanently crippled your horse. Pasture fencing involves careful planning and safe pasture fencing materials that prevent injury to your horse.

So when you buy a new property, or want to redo your fields and pastures to safely accommodate horses, you want to do it right.

But, what kind of pasture fencing should you use? And where do you start?

The Big Picture: Making a Plan
Before investing hundreds or even thousands of dollars in fencing, invest a couple of dollars in some graph paper. Graph paper has a grid of blocks lightly marked on it and is used for planning the use of spaces. Each block could represent a foot, a yard-or a mile-depending on the size of your farm, ranch or suburban lot. Get a sheet and mark off the perimeter of your property. Carefully measure and outline all existing buildings. Include driveways and lanes around them. Try to be as accurate as you can. The truer your measurements, the better the end result will be.

Once you have the property outlined and the buildings drawn to scale, decide what you want-and need-to accommodate the horses you have now, or plan to have in the future. You might only have one or two quiet horses that can be turned out together. Or maybe you have both mares and geldings, and maybe even a stallion, that all should have separate lots.

The common question of how much land you need for each horse is not as simple as applying a mathematical formula. The generalization of 2-3 acres to sustain one horse on grass alone might work in lush regions of the country or on irrigated tracts, but it could take 10 acres or more in arid regions.

How much land you really need depends on where you live, the weather, and whether or not you are going to supplement grazing with hay and grain. A call to your county extension agent might provide some valuable insight about horse-to-acreage ratios in your area, but you'll still need to use your own best judgment. Even if you do feed hay, having too many horses for the pasture size will result in overgrazing and trampling of vegetation. It also means more work, as the heavier concentrations of manure require constant picking up.

Even if you have only one or two horses, you should have two separate grazing areas so one field can be given a "rest" to allow the grass to recoup. Also consider the sex, age and temperament of the horses. If you have the room, it's usually better to keep geldings and mares in separate pastures. If you're going to be raising babies, you need a safe place to separate them from their mothers at weaning. And don't plan your pastures for peacefully grazing horses. Plan them for playing, pushing or panicked horses.

Perimeter Primer

Begin by graphing your property with all buildings and features in place.
Consider barn location, living arrangements and how you'll move horses on your property.
Map out fencelines, estimate materials, and establish a budget.
Select the safest fencing materials possible within your budget.
Purchase sturdy, horse-friendly gates free of sharp edges.
Make sure your fences are tall enough and the rails are spaced appropriately for your horses.

When laying out your pastures, paddocks and turn-out pens, keep access to the barn in mind. Leading a horse to and from pasture can be a good way to have physical contact with your horse every day. But if you have to grab your coffee, feed in a hurry, and get off to work, simply opening a door to let the horse out might be easier and more efficient.

A common mistake is not making travel lanes between fences wide enough, or not allowing enough space to turn around a truck and horse trailer. While you might have only a two-horse, tow-behind trailer today, you might end up with a gooseneck with a living quarters in the future. Be sure you plan in a large cul-de-sac or have a drive that circles a building so a long rig can comfortably turn around. If you have a gate at the entrance to your property, set it back far enough to allow a truck and trailer to pull all the way in off the road so the driver can get out and open the gate.

Fencing Options: Old & New
Once you've outlined where your pens and pastures will be, figuring up the amount of fencing materials required for the job will be easier and more accurate. The standard is to have wood posts on 8-foot centers, but modern fencing materials allow that to be extended to 10- and even 12-foot centers.

If you have a large area to fence, you can save money by having a fancier fence at the front and less expensive fencing with wider-spaced posts in the back. Whatever material you choose, remember that fences for horses should be 48-54 inches high…higher if you have a big jumper or an escape artist. The posts need to be set deep in the ground to prevent frost from pushing them up or animals from pushing them over. Rounding the corners makes mowing easier and keeps horses that are low in the pecking order from being trapped by more dominant ones.

Budget permitting, a perimeter fence around the entire property is a great safety net. A perimeter fence can be constructed of less-costly materials, as long as it's safe and is visible to a loose horse. Double fencing along the road keeps curious passersby and your horses apart.

If there's a pond in your pasture, fence around it. You want to keep horses from eroding the banks or walking out on ice if you live in an area where it freezes. Fence around trees to keep horses from stripping the bark and killing or disfiguring them.

Once you've planned where the fences will go, it's time to think about what to get. There used to be a limited selection of fencing materials to pick from: wire, wood-maybe pipe if you lived in some areas of the West. New materials and new technology have given us additional choices.

The classic, wood "estate fence" is now available in vinyl, but be aware that not all vinyl fencing is horse safe or "horse proof." Some of these rails flex so easily that they can bend and pop right out of the posts when horses lean against it. Flat, 4-inch or 5-inch wide, flexible vinyl strips reinforced with cables gives a similar look for less money and is more forgiving if a horse runs into it. The flexible vinyl needs to be installed correctly and it will need occasional tightening.

The thin electric wire of yesterday has given way to thicker, braided wire and narrow, woven mesh tapes that are more visible and less likely to cut a horse that gets spooked and runs through it. One standard fence style you don't want to use is field fence, or "box wire." Box wire is dangerous for horses as the openings are large enough for a horse to put a foot through. Better are woven wire fences with small 2" x 4" openings or with the even smaller diamond mesh. The clue here is wire strands that are woven or wrapped-not welded-so if a horse runs into it, the mesh won't pop apart. Look for the words "horse fence" on the label.

Wood posts are still the standard. Treated round or square wood posts work best, are the safest, and last longest. (Treated landscape ties from the local home center won't last in the ground.) They can be installed in a drilled hole using a tractor-mounted or hand-held auger. But if you can find a contractor who will drive them into the ground, it will save you a lot of digging and tamping, and the fence will be sturdier from day one. Whichever way you have the posts set, if you live in an area where the ground freezes, be sure they are set down far enough to avoid "heaving" during the freeze and thaw of winter in your area.

While fences on 8-foot centers tend to look best, they are more expensive and you might not need to have them in every area. Smaller paddocks and pens need safer, sturdier, more secure fencing as horses that are playing hard-or get spooked-can run into a fence line before they realize it's there. In large fields, fences will likely receive less wear and tear and you can probably use less expensive materials, as long as you choose fencing that is safe and visible to the horses.

Metal T-posts, however, are not safe for horses. Many a frantic, scared horse has impaled itself on a T-post. If your budget only allows for T-posts, they need to be made safer by covering the tops with plastic caps. There are several cap styles available. You'll also need to provide some sort of "sight line" along the top of a wire fence so the horses can see it from a distance. A strand of electric wire can be run along the top of any fence to keep horses from visiting across the fence or trying to graze over it.

The Ins & Outs of Gates
Every field, pasture, lot or corral needs at least one gate. Be sure to give careful consideration to the type of gate you plan to install and where you locate it. Avoid the flat aluminum or metal farm gates as they have sharp edges and triangular openings that can trap a head or leg. Instead, choose tubular pipe gates or wire mesh gates with no sharp edges.

While a 4-foot gate might be wide enough to lead a horse through, it's not wide enough for most farm chores. Gates should be a minimum of 12-feet wide to allow a tractor towing a mower or manure spreader to get into a field easily. Sixteen-foot gates are best where a slight turn might be necessary.

Ideally, gates to pastures on opposite sides of the same lane should be set up directly across from each other. That way big equipment, like a lime or fertilizer truck, can get from one field to another without trying to negotiate a tight turn. A 16-foot gate can be cumbersome, but mounting a wheel on it makes it easier to handle and keeps it from dragging. If you won't use the gate often, bury a short piece of smooth wooden fence post under the free-hanging end to rest the gate on and keep it from sagging.

A 16-foot gate needs a lot of room to swing open and allow vehicles to pass by when it's open. If you don't have the room, or don't want to deal with a long gate, you can use two 8-foot gates.

The post a gate hangs on should be stouter and set deeper than the line posts. If you set the hinge pins to the front, the gate will swing all the way back and lay against the fence. If you decide to do it that way, find a simple way to hook the gate to the fence to keep it open when needed. Mounting some bridle hooks near the gate gives you a place to hang the halters and lead ropes of the turned-out horses.

It's best not to set your gates in a low spot as horses passing through it will quickly churn the area into mud. For the same reason, you might want to set the gate back a little from the watering trough. Gates work best in the middle of the fence for moving vehicles in and out-closer to a corner for gathering up horses to drive them through.

Final Fencing Notes
Building the paddocks and pastures for you and your horses depends on needs of your animals as well as your own aesthetic taste. You're not only investing in the needs of your animals, but you're also investing significant capital into your real estate, and you want to be happy with the results for years to come. No matter what style of fencing and gates suit your fancy, your goal is creating a fencing system that is safe, visible and sturdy.