Electric fence can be a quick and inexpensive way to contain horses or make existing fences safer and longer-lasting. It works best in conjunction with other types of fencing (which keep horses away from the electric fence and help prevent chewing or leaning on it). But it’s not foolproof. Electric fences require fairly constant repair and maintenance. And both wire and tape have limitations.
Electric fence, especially if only 1 or 2 strands, is more a psychological deterrent than a physical barrier. It won’t stop a determined horse, nor one that is being chased by a herdmate and seeking an easy way out. Traditional electric fence has low visibility unless flagged with bright pieces of cloth, and a horse may run into it before he sees it. (Wire fence of any kind, should have flagging on it unless it has a visible top pole or some other solid portion.) Brightly colored fence tapes, “ropes” or web strips, being an inch or two wide, are more visible, and some of the newer types of fencing—electrified metal boards, wide webbing “tapes,” etc.—create more of a true barrier and are not as readily breached.
Some horses become smart about electric fences and can tell when the electricity is off or otherwise not working, taking advantage of the situation to walk through or over it or to graze under it. Therefore, electric fencing is best used in conjunction with a solid barrier. A sturdy fence presents a physical barrier that protects the electric wire. The hot wire teaches the horse to respect the fence boundary and can also prevent chewing of the barrier fence. Even a bold horse won’t try to jump it, lean over or go through it after being shocked by the hot wire. This can save a lot of wear and tear on fences, keeping maintenance costs of the primary fence very low, especially in situations where there are large numbers of horses in small areas, or horses across the fence from one another.
Understand that electric tape and even wire can stretch over time. Some tapes break when badly stretched, and electric tapes tend to sag. The wind can stretch them, and a heavy snow will put them clear down on the ground. Even regular electric fence wire will sag under the weight of a heavy, wet snow.
The electric fence must be strong enough to withstand being hit by a horse (as when one is pushed into it by a herdmate, or slides into it), yet not so strong that it cuts into a horse before it breaks. Most electric fence will break if a horse hits it at full speed or tries to jump it.
What if if doesn’t break? A small diameter wire that doesn’t break can cause serious injury. Plastic tapes that don’t break can be a hazard if a horse paws or gets a loop around a leg, causing injury. Horses have also been known to strangle themselves by getting their heads through and not being able to get out—constantly fighting because of the electric shock.