The poet Robert Frost said it best:  “Good fences make good neighbors”.  The truth behind that statement is known by any horse owner who has had their horse escape through the fence, around the fence or over the fence.  Without a doubt the most time-consuming aspect of keeping horses seems to be related to fences, or at least it does at the time of building or maintaining them.  In an ideal world the fence of the chosen type is built once and the horse never escapes.  But in the real world that is not the case.  Finding the right fence combination is the challenge.

Choosing the fence type depends on any number of factors for the horse owner, including how large of an area needs to be enclosed, whether its a permanent or temporary fencing requirement, electric vs. non-electric or combination, the terrain type, and of course how much time and labor are available and how much money the horse owner really wants to spend upfront.

The permanent fence option is best suited to horse owners who have both time and money.  The permanent fences can be made from many different types of materials including wood, metal mesh and PVC.  The PVC option in recent years has gain popularity due to the “you build it once, it looks great and then mostly forget about it”  mentality.  Unfortunately, the PVC option is the Rolls Royce approach financially for most horse owners.  Permanent wood rail or board fences are less costly while taking about the same amount of time to build as PVC.  However,  these wooden fences still require upkeep over time as they age.  Other options of permanent fencing include mesh fencing and coated wire fences.  The mesh fencing comes in big, heavy rolls and can be difficult to install by oneself.  The mesh rolls seem expensive to purchase but they can be effective for keeping horses in if installed properly by having enough strong secure posts to attach to at regular intervals of no more than 6-8 feet.  Greater spacing of the posts can make the mesh have undesirable give when a horse pushes on it over time and that can lead to the horse escaping finally.  Coated wire fences to protect the horse are easier to install by one person and cheaper to buy but may not be as effective as a mesh fence. Barb wire fences are great for cattle for low cost and relative ease of installment but are not recommended for horses.  Cattle have a thicker hide than horses and are not as easily injured from the barb wire as horses are.

Electric fences are usually considered more for temporary uses such as temporary pastures, due to the relative ease of putting them in place.  Electric fences have plastic insulators and consist of plain wire or a coated electric wire in a braided form, rope form, twine form or a tape form. The least expensive electric fence wire is the plain wire type.  The coated wires or electric tapes are more expensive but add a visual cue for the horse to see besides getting a shock.  Plain electric wire, while inexpensive, can become a problem for the horse if broken or loose strains of the plain wire get wrapped around the legs of the horse.  The coated electric wire or tape is a safer approach for the horse if stray strands are present in the enclosure since they won’t dig into the leg nearly as much.

Electric fences require maintenance to make sure the fence is not grounding out somewhere.  This can happen when the plastic insulators get brittle and break over winter or when grass or tree branches grow into the fence and start touching the electric wire.  However, the time for maintenance of electric fences is considerably less than for permanent fences.

The combination of electric fence and permanent fence is the most effective manner for keeping a horse in. While this approach does take more time, money and effort, it is going to best way for your horse to not meet the neighbors or the highway.  Good fences make good neighbors.

Dr. Dan DuBourdieu
BVPI