A good fence makes good sense when you are trying to contain horses. As a general rule of thumb, field fences should stand 4½ to 5 feet above ground level and on the upper end of that height if located near a highway (6 feet, according to some experts, when used in stall runs and paddocks). In addition, an opening of 8 to 12 inches at the bottom will help prevent feet and legs from getting stuck and foals from rolling under the fence. In fact, it’s a good idea to keep potential entrapment of hooves, legs and heads in mind when planning all fence openings. The same goes for corners. These can be dangerous if bullying occurs among pasture mates, so it’s best to either round them or block them off. Beyond that, there are other important features to consider, such as aesthetics, cost, ease of installation and durability. Dressage Today looked at four popular types of equine fencing and parsed their individual advantages. Here is what we found:
Classic Post and Board
A green pasture surrounded by solid wood post and board offers a traditional look. When installed with the boards fastened on the inside, using screws rather than nails to keep the boards on tight when the wood contracts and expands, this tried-and-true fencing has a pretty good safety rating, according to Jason Bludd, of Total Equine Fencing, in Ontario, Canada. It has give, but “there is a breaking point to the oak,” he explains, unlike some of the synthetic fencing.
When it comes to the posts, it’s important to think longevity. If using a softwood, for example, you might want to choose cedar, redwood or cypress, all of which are resistant to rot and insect infestation. Or, for a less-costly option, go with pressure-treated lumber (usually pinewood or fir impregnated with chemicals that inhibit rot, fungi and insects). Look for treated lumber posts that are certified for in-ground use and remember that paint won’t bond to this kind of lumber, so it is usually left natural.
Quality board fencing, cured properly, can be expensive, in part because of the rising cost of wood and the fact that this option requires twice as many posts as other fencing. Retail pricing in Ontario is about $4.31 Canadian dollars a running foot for three rails and $5.12 Canadian dollars for four rails.
In 1889, inventor Peter Sommer created a steel wire fence-weaving machine that introduced a whole new option for containing horses. SafeGuard by Red Brand® fencing in Illinois, is the contemporary iteration of that product. A mesh fence with a V-shaped pattern, it is made of 12.5-gauge steel wire coated with extra-protective zinc. Covering the steel with .8 ounce per square foot rather than the industry standard of .28 ounce per square foot may cost a bit more, but will increase the life of the product 2½ times, according to Dain Rakestraw, marketing manager at Keystone Steel and Wire Company in Illinois. “We’ve found that the actual fence is about one-third of the entire cost of installation,” says Rakestraw. “We charge $2 per foot for the 48-inch-by-165-foot roll or $2.25 per foot for the 58-inch- by-165-foot roll.”
Bludd, who also sells mesh fencing, says that diamond mesh is a very safe option, particularly for broodmares with babies: “The mesh is small and tight enough to keep all of their body parts in the paddock, where they are supposed to be. And it’s got give to absorb the shock if they run into it.”
Because of potential damage from moisture, weeds and grasses should be kept away from the fence, so chemical or mechanical removal is key. Additionally, if the property is extremely hilly, diamond mesh might not be the best alternative. “You have to stop and start it,” says Bludd. “So you don’t get the rolling look like you can with wood.”
Electric fencing such as ElectroBraid® is easily visible and forgiving if the horse should choose to charge the fence in a panic. In fact, these are two of its strongest attributes. “There is a lot of give in this fencing. It’s almost like a boxing ring,” explains Steve Buffaloe at Woodstream Corporation in Pennsylvania. At the heart of the system, engineered in the last five years, is a solid-core, double helix of copper, which serves as the conductor, and an outer layer of nylon braiding. It’s what makes this electric fencing suitable not only for dividing spaces and providing a deterrent inside a traditional fence, but also for standing alone as a perimeter fence.
ElectroBraid® is installed with four or five strands spaced 12 to 18 inches apart horizontally. “It’s very difficult for a horse to become entangled in these strands,” says Buffaloe. “They won’t wrap around the animal like rigid, smooth high-tensile wire can.” Electric fence proponents also maintain that because a horse gets a correction when coming into contact with the fence, he is more likely to stay away from it altogether. Obviously, that’s the best way to keep him from hurting himself.
“The real cost of ElectroBraid® fencing is in the posts,” says Buffaloe. “With most fencing, posts have to be installed every 10 or 12 feet. Here, you can go to 30 feet apart.” Assuming posts are spread 30 feet apart, four strands of ElectroBraid® work out to approximately $1.65 per foot installed.
While the fencing material itself really requires no maintenance beyond regular inspection for frays, with all electrified fencing careful attention must be paid to the technical details. Regular checks should confirm that ground units have not been dislodged, that the insulators remain intact and that the charger remains free of debris.
One of the newest versions of continuous-rail enclosures is High Impact Flex Fence, made by RAMM Fencing in Ohio. A continuous roll of 4- or 5-inch flexible polymer, it has a 12½-gauge wired embedded within. At first glance, it looks like three- or four-rail wooden fencing in white, black or brown. But instead of splintering or breaking like wood, any impact will be absorbed by the entire length of the fence to minimize injury.
The benefit to this fencing, according to RAMM Fencing President Debbie Disbrow, is its strength to resist breaking. The widest size reportedly boasts a 4,860-pound break strength per rail. The panels, which come in a roll, will flex 6 to 8 inches before returning to their original shape, so they are more forgiving than most fence panels should a horse come in contact with them, she explains.
High Impact Flex Fencing varies in cost depending on the height. For instance, the 5-foot height, which is three rails, is $2.34 per foot and that doesn’t include posts, installation or shipping.
Exploring the Mix
In the end, your final fencing choice need not be limited to a single style but can incorporate a combination of materials even on the same property. The most attractive fencing might be used roadside, for example, with more economical fencing toward the back of your property. Mesh can be used for broodmare and foal paddocks while taller, “hot” fencing may be selected for the stallions. Continuous rail panels or wood panels can top a fence while wire takes the place of boards below.
Whichever style is selected, be aware that no fence is immune from problems. Walk your fenceline regularly, says Bludd, to make sure everything is as it should be.
Centaur HTP Horse Fencing.... centaurhtp.com
ElectroBraid® Fence.... electrobraid.com
RAMM Horse Fencing and Stalls.... rammfence.com
Red Brand®, Keystone Steel & Wire Company.... redbrand.com
Total Equine Fencing.... totalequinefencing.com