Depending on the materials you choose, fencing can cost a whole lot or relatively little. Regardless of price, however, any highly visible fence can be a good fence. In an upcoming issue, Horse Journal will detail and compare the higher-end alternatives, such as wood or wood-look rails and non-climb wire mesh. In this issue, however, our fencing focus is on the more-affordable options available.
Although cost, durability and maintenance are important, the most critical factor in any fencing is safety. A fence must pose a substantial barrier to convince horses not to challenge it. Here, contrast is key, not color. A white fence can seemingly disappear against a background of snow, while a dark fence can blend into shadows or a background of green pasture.
To keep horses from escaping from your property, you’ll need a more-substantial barrier than one for subdividing horses within your fields - with the exception of keeping stallions confined, of course. Also, the smaller the enclosure, the stronger and more visible the fence must be. The less room a horse has for moving around, the more likely he’ll contact his barriers, and the more likely he’ll think about getting out.
Finally, factor in the horses themselves. Younger, livelier horses will need a more imposing barrier than sedate, mature horses. An established herd won’t mandate as strong a fence as a herd whose members change frequently. And a fence that’s safe for adult horses may pose dangers to foals, who may roll under widely spaced materials.
Stuff To Avoid
Based on these considerations, we can eliminate several fences that are commonly used for containing cattle but can cause serious, even life-threatening, injuries with horses.
We never recommend single-strand, bare-wire fencing - not barbed wire nor bare high-tensile wire. Not only are these fences difficult to see, but both pose major hazards when a horse gets tangled in them. Barbed wire, purposely designed to penetrate and puncture, can leave jagged wounds, and its strength virtually guarantees that an entangled horse will only rip himself to shreds rather than break loose. Bare high-tensile wire, on the other hand, can slice through flesh down to the bone if a horse gets himself caught between the strands.
We’re not as opposed to thicker polymer-coated high-tensile wire, which is more visible and less likely to cut a horse. It’s also strong, so a horse who hits it at speed may bounce off of it, rather than break through it. However, we suggest you use a strand or two of an electrified fence product in conjunction with the polymer cords; otherwise horses may try to lean over the fence or reach between the strands to graze.
Finally, standard stock fencing - with widely spaced mesh wiring - is great for containing cattle. However, even with a strand or two of electrified wire to keep stock away from it, we don’t think it’s a good choice for horses. A horse who paws or kicks at a standard stock-type mesh, or falls into it, can easily put a hoof through an opening, which can then tighten around the leg when the horse tries to pull away. Hung-up in a mesh-wire fence, a struggling horse can seriously injure himself trying to escape.
Non-climb fencing, which looks like stock fence but with smaller spaces, is designed specifically for horses to reduce the potential for injury posed by stock-type mesh. However, it doesn’t fall under ”more-affordable” for us, so it goes in our next article.
The safest - and the longest-lasting - fence is the one that your horses will avoid touching. That’s why it makes sense to consider electrifiable fencing products, or ”hot wires.” By giving a horse a memorable jolt on initial contact, an electrified fence serves as a physical and psychological barrier. A horse won’t lean over, scratch against or gnaw on a fence that ”bites” him back.
Again, we won’t use electrified strands of bare wire, and we’re uncomfortable recommending even polywire - strands of electric wire twisted with or encased in strands of a poly-based product - under 1/4” in diameter. Both wires are simply too hard for a horse to see. Instead, the newer poly-enhanced tapes, ropes, braids and cords are safer choices.
Most poly tapes are woven with strands of polyethylene into mesh. Twisted-rope products are also usually made with polyethylene, while the braided products are often made with smoother-feeling polyester. In general, more strands of poly make any product wider, i.e., more visible. Whichever poly-based material you select, be sure it has UV inhibitors, as untreated plastic materials deteriorate in sunlight.
Manufacturers debate the best kind of wire'copper, aluminum or stainless steel'for conducting electricity in a poly-based material. Each kind of wire has its pros and cons.
Pure copper is the best metal conductor of electricity, reportedly 70 times more conductive than stainless steel. When electrified copper comes in contact with flammable materials, however, the resulting ”hot spots” can melt or ignite their surroundings. Bare copper also oxidizes in wet weather and corrodes if it contacts galvanized metal, such as metal T-posts or fence staples.
Still, though, one widely advertised electric product, ElectroBraid, firmly promotes its pure copper wires. When we questioned a manufacturer representative about corrosion, we were told that copper forms a protective oxidized surface layer - a green patina - that supposedly does not affect the wire’s conductivity. However, that patina may leach off onto adjoining poly strands, turning them greenish, which reduces the whiteness of the product.So, instead, other makers prefer to use copper plated with a nickel alloy. Also called ”tinned copper,” such wires are more resistant to oxidization and corrosion, and while they’re less conductive than pure copper, they’re still better than steel.
Aluminum is a rust-resistant wire that is four times more conductive and one-third the weight of steel. A soft metal, aluminum breaks easily. Baygard, which uses aluminum wires for conductivity, strengthens their products with a base material of PVC-coated fiberglass, instead of the less-expensive polyethylene. Fiberglass doesn’t contract and expand as much with temperature fluctuations, so it’s less likely than plastic materials to sag between seasons.
Due to their inherent strength, however, stainless-steel conductor wires are the predominant choice among most electric-fence manufacturers. Some makers combine a few copper wires with their steel wires to improve their products’ conductivity. Steel wire is gauged in strength, with a lower gauge indicating a thicker wire and more durability. The standard gauge of steel in electrified fence products is 12.5.
Picking An Electric Product
Electrifiable fence products are easier to install across uneven terrain than less flexible materials such as wood or wire mesh. They are, however, prone to shorting or grounding out when branches fall on them or when grass/weeds grow up against them. You’ll need to regularly walk your fields to check for shorts (a broken or shorted-out wire is a dead wire), and you’ll need to keep areas underneath fences regularly mowed.
When choosing among electric tapes, we believe wider is better. While makers of 1/2”-wide tape claim that its lightweight size makes it flutter in the wind, looking ”wider” to a horse, we still wouldn’t rely solely on 1/2” tape (which costs 4?? to 6?? per foot), even for rotational grazing.
Instead, we’d use as many strands of 1 1/2” wide (or wider) tape as we could afford, particularly on perimeter fencing. The wider tape, though, is more vulnerable to stretching due to wind and snow/ice, so it will require more diligent maintenance.
You’ll also want to consider the ”breaking strength” of any product you select. For perimeter fencing, you’ll want a product that is less likely to break if a horse runs into it. A lower breaking strength, however, is less likely to cause injuries, so it’s more suitable for cross-fencing and rotational grazing. Keep in mind that a horse hitting a fence is unlikely to hit only one strand. Breaking strengths listed in our charts are for single strands. Three or four strands of the same material will naturally be stronger than one strand alone.
Solid white is most often offered by makers of all product categories, since it’s easy for us to easily see and quickly check for breaks or sags. On the other hand, dark colors won’t show soiling - or dips in a fence on uneven terrain - as clearly as white. For your horse’s safety, we recommend choosing a product that’s bi-colored, one with light and dark stripes. Contrasting colors make any product more visible in various situations - in both daylight and night, in shadows and against snow.
On its own, each material has its strengths and weaknesses. You may have to compromise and prioritize, putting the more expensive fencing options in the areas of highest use or where escape is most dangerous, like along a busy road. Then you can put the less expensive fencing in the far backfields for rotational grazing.
The most cost-effective way to fence may be to use a combination of materials, such as two strands of wide electric tape with narrower strands in between, or three strands of non-electric cord with a couple of strands of electrified rope.
We’d start our shopping with wide electric-tape fencing, as we like its visibility and relative close look to traditional horse fencing.
Your choice of brand must be based on the features that suit your horses and your facility best - as well as the availability of materials and the person who is going to install it. Definitely shop around for the same brand at several dealers. In fact, two manufacturers wouldn’t give us their suggested retail prices, stating there was too big of a variance among dealers. Finally, don’t try to cut corners with cheap supportive materials.
Also With This Article
Click here to view ”Electric Fences.”
Click here to view ”Wire Can Cut.”
Click here to view ”Poly Tapes (Electrifiable).”
Click here to view ”Polymer-Coated Cord Fences.”
Click here to view ”Poly Ropes and Wires (Electrifiable).”
Click here to view ”Electrical Fence Components.”
Click here to view ”Fence Posts Are Critical.”