horse-fence

The following table summarises the advantages and disadvantages of different types of horse fencing.

Type Effectiveness Cost Safety Appearance Notes
Wooden Rail  Moderate  High Moderate  High   
Electrical Wire  High  Moderate  Good Moderate  
Electrical Tape  High  Moderate Good Moderate  
Wood & Electric  Very High  High Excellent High  
Pipe Fence  Very High  High Moderate Personal Preference  
Vinyl, PVC, Plastic Fence  Moderate  Very High  Good  Excellent  Expensive
Barbed Wire  Moderate  Low  Low  Moderate  Dangerous
Smooth Wire  Low  Low  Moderate  Moderate  Ineffective
High Tensile Wire  Moderate  Low  Low  Moderate  Dangerous
Chain Link  High  Very High  Good  Moderate  Not economic

Related Topics

Various topics related to fencing are discussed below: Colours, Fence Treatment, Fence Chewing, Inside versus Outside Rails, Nails and Screws. Following these general topics, each of the different types of fences are discussed.

Colours

Fencing is normally one of three colours: weathered, rustic brown, or white.

If one does not treat wood, it soon weathers to a neutral colour, typically a pale gray. The benefit of this colour is that it fades easily into the background, so one tends to see the fields rather than the fencing around it.

Many fences are painted a rustic brown, either as part of a wood treatment (see section below) or for esthetic reasons. Brown is more noticeable than weather gray, so the fencing tends to stand out a bit more. However, it gives a more 'well maintained' look than simply allowing the wood to weather, and is somewhat more formal than the weathered look.

White fencing stands out strongly. If one is travelling through the countryside, a white fence stands out and captures the eyes. It is by far the most formal and professional looking of the three colours. It is most popular with breeders and other horse businesses, who wish to stand out (easier for clients to find) and to give the impression of a serious horse business.

From the perspective of the horses, fence colour is of little importance. It is a question of what you find most pleasing; although if you are running a horse business you may wish to consider white (following is a sample photo).

WHITE WOOD HORSE FENCE
 

Treated and Untreated Wood

If you are using wooden posts or wooden rails, it is worth considering having the wood chemically treated or painted with a preservative so that it lasts longer. The advantages and disadvantages are:

  • Cost. Treated wood costs more (typically, about a third more expensive).
  • Savings. Treated wood lasts about 5 years longer than untreated wood. Consequently, over the long term one saves on the amount of replacment wood that needs to be purchased, as well as on the labour costs of such replacement.
  • Appearance. If the wood is treated at the sawmill, it may have a slightly green colour when it arrives. However, this soon fades with rain and sun. If you paint with a preservative, you can likely choose an attractive colour (e.g. brown or white, depending on your colour preferences).
  • Health. Some people are opposed to treating the wood, as this may result in horses ingesting the preservative, either through chewing on wood fencing or through it being washed into the soil (and subsequently absobed into grass eaten by horses). However, we are not aware of any indication that the small amount of preservative ingested in this way poses any health risk.

Fence Chewing

Some horses will chew wood, especially if they are confined to a paddock area for long periods of time. This can be unhealthy for the horses, in addition to the inconvienence of having to replace rails when they are chewed through. A number of treatments are available to give the wood an unpleasant taste, discouraging chewing. You may wish to consider such treatments (at least for the paddock area) if you have a problem with horses chewing on the wood, in which case first check that a treatment is safe (in case the horse eats the treated wood) before using it.

Horses are more likely to chew on softwoods than hardwoods. Even if you use softwood for pasture fencing (softwood is cheaper than hardwood), you may wish to use hardwood for the paddocks, which generally suffer far more from wood chewing than pasture areas.

Another option is to run electrical fencing wire over the top of affected rails, to discourage the horses. Although this sometimes works (even if the wire isn't under current), in other cases it merely diverts the horses from the protected rails to the unprotected rails.

Rail Position

Rails are normally attached to the outside of posts, as this is what people are accostomed to and also most visually appealing. However, if a horse should push against a rail, this means that the only support the rail has is the nails holding it to the post.

Attaching rails to the inside of posts, although less visually appealing, has the benefit that the rail is supported by the post as well. Consequently, there is less risk that the horse can simply push out the board by the nails. Of course, if the horses are prone to push hard enough on the boards that they physically break them, then placing the boards inside gives little benefit.

Nails and Screws
 

Rails can be either nailed or screwed to the wooden posts. Nailing is faster and cheaper, although if you have a hands-free electric screwdriver it is almost as fast. One advantage of screws is that it allows damaged boards to be replaced easier (provided your electric screwdriver has a reverse screw capability). Another advantage is that if a horse runs into a board and breaks it off, screws are more likely to remain in the post, while nails are likely to come out with the board and pose a risk in the unlikely event that a horse steps on them.

For wire fencing, the wire is normally attached using a curved nail (see photo below), with the wire inside of the curve of the nail so that it cannot move up or down. If you pound the nail all the way into the wood the wire will be held securely, but most people prefer to stop just before that so that the wire can move back and forth (allowing one to periodically pull through and tighten up wire which as stretched and is saging.

fence-nails.jpg

Following is a photo of wire secured by a curved nail.

Smooth wire secured by curved nail
 

Wooden Rail Fence

A wooden fence has wood posts and horizontal wood rails.

Round Wood Rail Fence
 

Softwood rails are cheaper and easier to work with (they nail and screw easier). Hardwood rails are more expensive, but last longer and are more secure (less likely to break than softwood if a horse pushes against them).

Electric Wire

An electrical wire is a wire with an electrical current. Typically the wire is of relatively low strength and relies on the electrical current to discourage horses from pushing against or hiting the wire.

The wire can be a single wire of moderate thickness, but is usually a very thin rope consisting of plastic fibers interwoven with a number of thin metal wires.

 

Electric Tape

Electrical tape is similiar in principle to electrical wire, but is larger and flater than electrical wire. It's increased size makes it much more visible to horses. Due to the increased size, strong winds can exert a moderate amount of force on the tape, which can cause pooly anchored fence posts to be partly blown over. 

Wooden Rail & Electrical Wire Fence

One can build a wooden rail fence, then add electrical wire on the top of the fence or the inside of the fence. Although this solution means that one pays twice (once for a wooden fence and once for an electrical fence), it has the benefit that one can combine the benefits of both types of fences:

  • Appearance. One can put the electrical wires behind the wooden rails, so that they are largely invisible, leaving one with the more pleasing appearance of wooden rails
  • Effectiveness. Horses are much less likely to attempt to break through a combination fence, as the wooden rails provide physical strength while the electrical wire provides a discouraging shock.
  • Safety. By discouraging horses from attempting to break through, one avoids potential associated injuries.

Pipe Fence

Pipe fence uses metal pipes for the posts and rails (see photo below). It usually consists of sections which are attached together.

horse pipe fence
 

Due to the amount of metal and welding required to make a section of pipe fence, it is quite expensive. However, it can last for a long time, although subject to rust (especially the portion of the posts in or on the ground).

Pipe fence is extremely strong, so there is almost no possibility of a horse breaking through it, unless it is very old and rusted. Due to its strength, horses will seldom try to break through, although if they do the fact that it has little give means they can injure themselves.

The use of pipe fence for stalls is somewhat risky, as horses sometimes get their legs trapped under it when they lay down and may be unable to get back up again. If this is not detected and corrected promptly, the horse can get colic or leg injuries. Pipe fencing can also be unsuitable for separating stallions from mares, as the breeding instinct may drive the stallion to try and climb over it, with the risk of legs slipping between the pipes, resulting in very serious injuries. 

Vinyl, PVC, Plastic Fence

These types of fence have posts and rails made out of plastic, vinyl or PVC. Although expensive, they offer a number of advantages: very attractive, low maintenance, very resistant to chewing by horses. A compromise solution is to use such fencing in the paddocks near the stables, where appearance and resistance to chewing are most important, with the fields farther away using a less expensive form of fencing.

Aside from cost, the main disadvantage of this type of fencing is that (depending on manufacturer) the rails can pop out if a horse leans against them. To avoid this, one should run an electrical wire. If the wire is directly behind the rails (on the inside) it will be effective for restraining the horse but the rail will hide the wire from human view and thereby preserve the attractive appearance of the fencing.

Barbed Wire

Barbed wire consists of 2 strands of wire twisted together, with wire barbs attached (see following photo). The wire is normally attached to wooden fence posts using a curved nail. 

Barbed Wire Fencing

Barbed wire is relatively cheap and moderately effective. The barbs are painful if pushed against, thereby discouraging the horses from pushing against the fence. 

If a horse is itchy, it will sometimes scratch itself against barbed wire, potentially injuring itself or damaging the wire. Although uncommon, if a horse should run against a barbed wire fence (e.g. if it is startled or frightened), the barbs can cause serious injuries. Although rare, should a barb puncture a vein or artery, it is possible for a horse to bleed to death. 

Smooth Wire

Smooth wire is the same as barbed wire, but without the barbs. The absence of barbs reduces the risk of injury, but also removes the disincentive for pushing against the wire. Consequently, horses are likely to push against the wire and supporting posts, damaging or even breaking the fence. If the brooken wire becomes tangeled around a leg of a horse, it can cause serious injuries to the leg. Following is a sample photo.

Smooth wire secured by curved nail

High Tensile (High Tension) Wire

High tensile wire (also known as high tension wire) is made of a stronger steel than the 'mild steel' used for barbed wire and smooth wire. In particular, it is much more resistant to stretching or breaking. Although more expensive than ordinary wire, the increased cost is offset by requiring fewer posts, resulting in a similiar cost overall.

It is normally pulled much tighter than other types of wire. This high tension, combined with its greater strength, means that it is much more difficult for horses to break it. However, if a horse hits it at speed (e.g. if running in fright or in the dark) this high tension and strength (combined with a relatively small cross-section) means that it can seriously cut the horse. If the wire should become brooken and tangled around the leg of a horse, for the same reason it can cause serious injuries, cutting through skin and muscle down to the bone. 

Chain Link Fence

Chain link fencing is normally used for small animals (e.g. dogs). Although it can be used for fencing in horses, it is quite expensive when compared to other types of fencing in terms of material costs and labour. Furthermore, large amounts of chain link is far less attractive than other types of fencing (e.g. wood rail). Consequently, it is rarely used for horse fencing, with the exception being when an area has already been fenced in with chain link for other purposes (e.g. dogs, deer) and is converted to use for horses. Following is a close-up of a chain link fence.

Chain Link Fence