Keeping Them In

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Your facility is located on a highway; your fields are surrounded by heavily wooded areas; there are places where there is constant traffic; you are thinking of introducing additional horses or stallions to the paddocks or pasture—it’s a good thing that today’s fencing systems enable you to accommodate all these scenarios while providing far safer and more efficient protection then ever before. However, there are several basics that have not changed over the years, and need to be addressed whether you are designing a whole new system, upgrading, or modifying what is already in place.

First and foremost: you need to plan ahead. If you are going the new fencing route, for instance, choose a system that will address your needs now and into the future. And, do your homework. The more you know about the available options, the easier it will be for you to determine what will hold up best in your area.

It is also worth the effort to get a diagram of the area you are planning to fence so that you can plan a system to work in conjunction with your ideas. It is much easier and far more cost effective to design a layout on paper before installing expensive fencing than to find out later that it doesn’t accomplish what you need. As an example, take a facility where there is a lot of activity: in this case you may want to create a wide transit aisle between the barn and paddocks, and create walkways to avoid congestion between the paddocks.

Another consideration will be financial, If you are in a situation where there is ample grazing space—the ideal is estimated at one acre per horse if that horse is pastured 24/7—you will clearly need many more feet, if not miles, of fencing than a barn with limited turn-out areas.


Wood is considered to be a conventional choice for fencing. Readily available, it can be installed quickly, either personally or professionally, and is aesthetically pleasing. Wherever you are located, there is a specific type of wood best suited to your area, but make sure it is intended specifically for fencing purposes, which means that it will be mature and dry—green or young wood is wet inside, which can cause twisting and/or splitting as it dries. Also, you may want to weigh the benefits and risks of installing pressure treated posts to extend the life of the fence. Despite the fact that it is chemically treated and considered toxic, a horse would have to consume three times his weight for these to be harmful.

Installing wood fencing varies in price depending on region and ground conditions. For instance, in rocky areas or where the soil is more acidic, special machinery is needed for proper installation, and will add to your expenses, so make sure to allow for this in your budget.

And, while wood fences traditionally have an aesthetic appeal, they are also expensive to maintain. Between the weather, horses that either chew on the wood or run down the fence line, loose nails, broken boards from having been kicked, etc., you really need to stay on top of it, which can be a strain on your time and pocket book. One way to minimize the equine damage is to add corresponding strands of electric tape, wire or rope alongside each rail or board. Although time consuming to set up, one good zap on the nose and they are usually left alone, which makes it worthwhile in the long run.

There are three standard styles of wood fences from which to choose, and while there are variations between them, often it is personal preference that becomes the determining factor.

The rustic rail fence, which is sold either as “whole rail” or “split rail,” is most commonly used for the perimeter of a pasture. It generally consists of posts placed eight to ten feet apart with three rails. Rail fences are usually not recommended for horses in small paddock areas; they are not strong enough to withstand constant abuse, and can contribute to entanglement problems.

The slip board fence works on a similar principle to the rustic rail, but combines boards that are slotted into the posts instead. It is the least expensive of the three in terms of material and replacement costs, since the boards are readily available and easy to install.

The third choice is nail on board. Consisting of either three or four boards, depending on your preference or safety needs (more for a stallion, for instance) this fence is ideal for horses in small paddocks. The posts are positioned closer together for maximum strength and durability, in addition to providing a highly visible barrier.


With the high cost of maintaining wood fences, electric wire is considered a less expensive option. Ideal for creating portable paddocks and for dividing the pasture for rotation purposes, it is available in several forms: electric tape, polymer coated low and high tensile wire, high tensile smooth wire, and ropes that are coated with high grade polyester.

Electric tape incorporates an electrically charged wire with another material such as mesh, or polymer, which is available in several widths with varying degrees of shock value. Polymer coated low tensile or high tensile wires, which are electric wires enclosed within the polymer, are also frequently used. Electric ropes are constructed with interwoven or braided poly fibers that are designed for maximum durability as they provide resilience in the case of impact or pressure, like in a boxing ring.

Tapes, wires and ropes are visible, as well as alarming, which proves to be a strong deterrent from leaning or chewing. But the most important characteristic is that in most cases, they will not bind a horse that runs through them. Plus, tape, wire or rope installation is relatively easy, an added bonus. There are a variety of options, such as using them as sight lines or “scare wires” in combination with another fencing system, securing two or three strands of tape, rope or wire to wood posts, or by attaching them to specifically designed metal pipe frames.

Note: uncoated, welded or barbed wires, all of which are used primarily for cattle or other livestock, should never be used for horses.

Mesh wires are also an effective choice, although they are best used in specific situations. For example, they are excellent for a relatively level pasture surrounded by dense woods. Consisting of non-welded wire strands knotted tightly together, they create a protective barrier that keeps horses in and predators out.

Considered durable and resistant to abuse or entanglement, mesh wire fencing is also suitable in tight quarters, i.e. for foals that are being weaned or for stallions.

It is usually a simple procedure to staple the mesh wire in place, and by combining a wooden top rail with wooden posts or a piping frame to ensure stability, it will remain secure and visible. On this type of fencing, correct installation from the start will go a long way in preventing future problems, like sagging fencelines.


Originally intended as decorative or privacy fencing, rigid PVC was introduced into the equine market as a source for safe, aesthetically pleasing and maintenance-free fencing. The good news is that it virtually eliminates chewing, and because it ­doesn’t fragment when broken, horses won’t end up with splinters as they might from an encounter with wood. Designed with a locking system that allows for the rail to become dislodged from the post as opposed to its breaking upon impact, ultra-violet (UV) inhibitors to prevent discoloration, and impact emulsifiers that enhance strength to prevent cracking in cold weather, rigid PVC fencing has come a long way. Although material and labor costs can set you back initially, installation is a fairly simple process: the posts are fitted into a cement base and then the rails are slipped into the locking system.

Considered to be safer than wood while offering a similar appearance, the benefits are also the drawbacks. The locking system, while designed to afford protection in case of a break out situation, can also contribute to such a possibility. The fence provides a certain amount of flexibility if a horse should lean or bump into it, but in tight quarters, it might not be able to withstand constant pressure or sudden impact.

The flexible polyethylene rail, also known as the continuous run fence, is another viable source of vinyl fencing. Constructed of wire bonded to the polymer to create a rail with a ton of break strength, it is so resilient that it will bounce back to its original shape after impact. While other fencing systems are connected from one post to the next, with the continuous run fence, the rail is fed through the specially designed brackets in one length, making it easy to install. It can be used in combination with wood, solid plastic or metal T posts. Similar to rigid PVC, the flexible polyethylene rail can withstand extreme climate conditions, and is touted as maintenance free.


Featuring polyurethane as the cornerstone of construction, composite fencing combines the strength, flexibility and weather resistance of synthetic plastics with the look and feel of wood without the hassle of keeping up with it. Whether the filler material is composed of recycled lumber, which may also include a mixture of saw dust and vinyls or fly ash—a by-product of coal—the end results are non-toxic. And they are considered unappetizing to the most willful cribber or chewer, and maintenance free thanks to the poly content.

Are there any downsides? Very few. Composite wood fencing is heavier than other materials, which might make for higher shipping costs, and cold weather can cause the wood to become rigid, making it difficult to work with during the winter months.

The take-home message is that the fencing choices you make today will be a defining feature of your facility for a long time. Not only are they in place to ensure a safe environment, they also make a statement about the surroundings they enclose, so choose carefully.

For More Information

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• USA?Vinyl: