We appreciate the traditional look of wood-board fences as much as the next person. They provide a solid barrier that most horses won’t challenge. Wood fences, however, cost plenty at the outset and require expensive maintenance for their lifetimes. That’s why mesh and vinyl fencing are becoming such popular choices. Both require far less care and, while costlier at the outset than budget fencing, are often cheaper over the long run.
If properly cared for, wood fence has a life expectancy of about 25 years. The planks used for horse fencing are typically oak, poplar, or pine. Oak has a rustic look and can be tough to come by. But it’s a hard, durable wood, and horses don’t always like its taste. Green oak may warp, though, so be sure it’s fully cured.
Pine boards, which are softer and cheaper than oak, need to be treated with chemicals to be hard enough for horse fencing, but when treatment starts to wear off, equine beavers will hit tasty pine hard. Like pine, poplar is a softer and less expensive wood. Wood fences are often painted with paint or a preservative, which are fairly messy, time-consuming processes.
If you’re considering a wood three- or four-board fence, your best bet is to consult your area Yellow Pages for local fence companies.
PVC and Vinyl Flexboard
PVC (polyvinyl chloride) planking looks like wood — from a distance. You can tell the difference once you’re close up, although the industry is working hard to have its products resemble wood. But the difference in maintenance and lifetime is huge — vinyl will pretty much last forever. You won’t need to repaint as you would with wood, although vinyl does need to be cleaned, usually with a bleach solution, as it’s prone to gathering dirt and gray mildew, especially in muggy climates.
We would only buy PVC fencing with a UV inhibitor, or protectant, which at this point are pretty standard. Without a protectant, vinyl will get brittle and worn.
Recent trends for PVC fencing include more colors, often chosen to match a barn or other outbuildings, and textured materials, which look even more like wood.
Be sure your vinyl is for horses. Hollow-plank PVC may be all right for the fencing around the house, but to keep horses in, it needs an internal structure, called ribs. We would skip the polymer-coated wood and just go straight for the PVC itself.
Flexible vinyl looks less like wood fencing than vinyl planking, but it’s even cheaper. The vinyl bands stretch between posts like planks. We like how flex boards are electrifiable, which adds an element of security.
A vinyl plank board will run approximage $5 to $6 per foot, which means $15 to $18 a foot for a three-board fence. You then need to add on costs of posts and installation.
Flex-board fencing at four- to five-inch widths is a little less expensive, ranging from $2 to $4.50 per foot. If you can get away with a thinner rail, your cost may be as low as 44?? per foot, however, you need to factor in visibility and the psychological element of a true barrier to the horses you’re going to keep enclosed in it.
The most crucial part of selecting a mesh fence is making sure that it is correct for horses. Equine mesh fencing usually has a vertical pattern so that the horses can’t step through the fence, called ”walking down.” Horses also do best with woven, not welded, wires, and a mesh fence should be galvanized, which most are. We like to see some kind of top rail or barrier with mesh fencing to help prevent sagging from horse’s leaning over it. This can be a board, to give a more finished look and stop horses from leaning, or an electric wire.
Any fence made for horses will also have openings too small for a horse to poke a hoof through. Have the smooth side face the horses, so they don’t tear their hides on poky wires.
Be sure that the fence is labeled ”horse” or ”equine,” not simply ”farm fence,” which will have overly large openings to house horses safely.
Look for openings no larger than 2” x 3” and try to get wire that is woven, not welded. Welded wire is cheaper, but the weld can come loose, weakening the fence. Woven wire is more durable.
Mesh fences are also available in a poly material. The most common trade name for these is Tensar. Like vinyl products, these need to have UV inhibitors to avoid weakening. Poly mesh can be used with basically any kind of post.
Traditional V-mesh fencing can run as low as $1.66 per foot up to $4 per foot for the braided/woven fence. And, again, you need to add the costs of posts, staples, and the other supplies needed for installation.
Posts provide foundations for fences. Wooden posts should be pressure-treated, which helps resist insect and soil damage. Standard sizes are usually 6 to 9 feet tall, and we prefer them to be 6 inches or more in diameter for strength, especially for corner posts. With a rail fence, all the posts need to be the same size, since they are carrying the same weight. For a mesh fence, though, you can get away with smaller ones along the lines as long as your corner posts are large and strong enough.
Obviously, PVC fencing comes with PVC posts. You can also use metal posts with mesh fencing — just be sure to have any rough tops covered with plastic sleeves to avoid injury — but the wood ones are more traditional.
As we noted in our article on economy fencing (see October 2007), there are many variables in fencing, from installation to shipping to appearance. You need to take into account the type of horses you have and your terrain. Fortunately, shopping for and installing fencing has become easier with all the available online help. Red Brand and Kencove, for example, have comprehensive installation guides online.
PVC fencing’s low maintenance and near-wood visual impact makes it an appealing choice. Properly installed, flexible rails also look tidy over a whole farm. However, it’s still expensive to put up.
For most horse owners, we think a mesh fence is the best way to go, due to its lower installation cost, easier maintenance and likely long life. Get a woven wire with small openings (traditionally called ”V-mesh” or ”diamond mesh”) that a hoof can’t go through.
In general, your fence should be at least five feet tall. The bottom of the fence should clear the ground by 6 inches or so, especially with mesh fencing, so horses don’t have room to paw. And it’s easier to weed-eat if you leave yourself some room down there.
Installing a fence is often a professional job, although do-it-yourselfers might save money. We say might, because by the time you rent or purchase the specialty equipment, like post-hole diggers and a tractor to drive posts down and pull mesh tight, you might have save yourself the trouble and costs and have it professionally installed. Also, corner posts and gate posts need to be set in concrete, another big job for the h orse owner.