Buy a few acres and a fence, and you’ve got a place to keep your horses. Sort of. Fencing, unlike many aspects of horsekeeping, doesn’t have to cost a fortune to be effective for most situations. (We’ll look at premium fencing in a future issue.) What fencing does have to do, though, is provide your horses with visible or psychological containment.
We all know barbed wire is unsuitable for horses, but it’s worth repeating. Cattle-mesh fence doesn’t work well for horses either, since a horse can easily get hung up in the wire four-inch squares (other mesh fences work well, but they’re costly and therefore in our premium-fence article). The same not-for-horses warning goes for plain high-tensile wire, which can cut a horse, even if it’s electrified. We’d avoid using these fences.
Safe economy horse fencing today means braids, ropes and tapes made of poly material. These materials are flexible enough that a running horse probably won’t be cut or entangled in it but strong enough to keep the horses in place. And, properly installed, they can be highly visible.
You’ll want to run a minimum of three to four strands of rope or tape for most situations, especially if you’re trying to get a minimal height of four feet. Any fewer and you risk your horse trying to go under or over the fence. Plus, the thinner the width of tape or rope you choose, the more strands of it you’re going to have to use. So just forget about saving tons of money using a thinner (read less visible) product.
Fence dealers claim that their products are strong enough to contain reasonably calm horses. True enough. However, if you choose to use a tape or braid fence, consider including at least one strand of electric wire (not our favorite choice, but for safety’s sake this may work as the topmost strand) or electrified tape/rope/encased wire. This is especially important if you’re confining the horses to small areas. The smaller the area and the more active the horses turned out in that area, the more likely that fence is going to be tested. Fencing is no place to take chances. The rule of thumb is: The smaller your field, the more important the strength and visibility of your fence.
Fencing needs to make horses believe that they are enclosed. Contrast against the environment is more important than the actual color choice, which is why we like our braid, rope or tape to be white or a blend with white in it. If you live in an area often coated with snow, consider alternating strands of dark — some dealers offer brown and green — and white tape.
The width of the product is extremely important. Thinner tape — sometimes as thin as half an inch — is not as visible as those that reach up to 1 ??”, although it tends to be cheaper. If you must save a few pennies, alternate strands of thick and thin tape.
Any tape, rope, or braid fence you purchase should be UV-resistant. The sun wears poly materials down. If you live in a very windy area, you may want to use braid or rope instead of tape, which can sag if it’s pummeled by wind. Deep, drifting snow will test whatever fence you have installed.
To prevent sagging over time, you’re going to need to start with installation, with posts installed plumb. Install tension springs and stretchers where needed. Remember to retension semiannually — that means twice a year — especially after the winter, when cold weather can cause wire in the poly material to contract. When wire changes, your horse’s containment does, too, so it pays to check your fences frequently.
It’s important to emphasize that these economy fences are not the ones we’d recommend if you’re housing foals or stallions. Foals can skitter under a fence that a fully grown horse never would consider (a sensible one anyway), and stallions need to be confined with a fence that has virtually no chance of failing. Still, as you’re well aware, any horse — even the quietest retiree — can test boundaries.
If you decide to add electfified strands to your fence (which can be plain wire but we prefer wires within the poly), choose stainless wire over copper. Copper tends to degrade more easily, which can lead to stops in electricity and reduce the effectiveness of your fence.
Note: Poly fencing is available with or without wires. Wire can help make the fence stronger but its primary purpose is to carry electricity if you so choose. By planning ahead, you can electrify selected strands of your fencing as you may desire.
Using five strands allows you an easy way to electrify alternate strands of wire — one, three, and five can all be hot, and two and four grounded. Then electricity can return to the source without relying on the ground. Wire tension stays in through the use of in line stretchers, which are permanent, and tension springs.
A grounding system — which you will need whether you have one or two strands of electric on a poly fence — typically has grounding rods, which are placed in the ground and bound to each other with copper wire. If you follow the alternating-strands plan for an electric fence, the fence will still work, even if the ground is so dry it can’t conduct electricity. (If you have heavy weeds, you may want to use the second-from-bottom wire as your ground, rather than your bottom wire, because the plants can ground out hot wires if they get high and thick.)
Fencing products are widely available, which means that you will can shop around and get a competitive price. If you’re having fencing professionally installed (recommended), be sure you get three estimates and call references from other horse owners who have used the fencer’s services. Remember that if your land is particularly steep or rolling, you may be facing higher installation charges.
A complete instructional on how to fence your property is beyond the scope of a magazine article. There are too many considerations, including your terrain and your horses themselves, that can influence your decision on fencing.
And, while we’re usually big do-it-yourselfers, we’re going to discourage you from installing these fences yourself. Very few people have the equipment and ability to properly install a sturdy fence. It’s a lot of work, and you had better have somewhat of a perfectionist streak to your makeup if you decide to tackle the job. Many tape fences start out looking good but quickly sag because the installation was not done properly. And sagging is dangerous, weakening the containment capability of your fences.
As it has everything else, the Internet has changed fence shopping. Many fencing companies have features that ask owners questions such as how many dips occur in the planned area to be fenced, how heavy the weeds are, and so on before recommending how many yards of fencing materials and how many posts you should buy.
HorseGuard and Kencove post manuals on their websites, so you can see what you’re in for before you order (we think everyone should do this) and Centaur has a helpful ”Centaur Calculator” that allows you to enter your variables and receive a materials list. Finish Line includes a table showing how much product you need per acre.
Overall, we’d start our fence search with a white or white-color blend UV-resistant poly tape that’s over an inch wide, like IntelliTape SW fro m Premier I. If you live somewhere windy, you might decide to opt for rope or braid, as it will better withstand the wind and still provide the visibility you want. With electrified tape, rope, or braid, electrify at least two strands of fencing for control.
Note: Pricingvaries widely by region so be sure that the average costs that you find are correct for your area.