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Safer Fencing: Quick Guide

November 2018 by Jane and Stuart Myers
Jane and Stuart Myers are the dynamic duo behind www.equiculture.net - an educational movement informing on responsible, sustainable and ethical horse-keeping. Together, they have co-authored several books and recently launched an online course bringing Horse Management into the 21st Century.
Jane and Stuart Myers image by Linda Zupanc

Good safe fences are essential on a horse property. As well as helping to keep horses secured within its boundaries, fences protect certain areas and maintain boundaries between a property and neighbours or a property and public roads.

Good fences also reduce the chance of accidents. They help you sleep at night knowing that your animals are safely confined on the property. Good fences are also aesthetically pleasing and increase the value of the property.

Fence types

There is no one type of fence that is ideal for all situations, climate, type of horse or budget. Traditionally fences have evolved to make the best use of local and easily available materials. Stone, hedgerows, wattle, pine etc. have all been used in various regions throughout the world to good effect.

Within reason it is now possible to buy almost any type of fencing material wherever you live, therefore, modern horse property owners have many choices and options.

Horse properties may have several different kinds of fencing throughout the property as different areas often require different types of fencing.

The fencing used in each particular area depends on many factors, including;

  • the paddock or yard size,
  • the size and type of horses,
  • whether other types of livestock will be using the area and off course,
  • the budget.

Safety and management

The management of the property also has a bearing on what type of fence can be used. Good pasture management goes a long way to helping to avoid fencing issues. If grazing on the property is good, the horses will spend time grazing rather than looking for ways to get into the next paddock or trying to eat the grass on the other side of the fence (the grass is always greener there!).

Horses that have their heads down grazing do not come into contact with fences as much as lonely, hungry and bored horses do.

If horses are kept in groups, they are not as likely to spend time at the fence looking for or at the other horses, or even worse, playing with other horses over a fence. Good grazing and groups vastly reduce the potential for fence injuries and land degradation issues, such as tracking lines along fence lines.

The amount of fencing required on a property also varies depending on how the property is managed.
A balance must be struck between having enough paddocks to rotate the horses and other grazing animals around the property (so that grass gets a chance to rest, recover and grow), and not having too many small paddocks which are difficult to manage and costly to set up.

Safety is an important consideration when designing fences for horses. Fences are a considerable expense on a horse property but the most expensive options are not necessarily the safest or the best. Horses can and will injure themselves on any type of fence, just ask any horse vet!

Fences and horses do not mix, and the aim of good horse and property management should be to keep horses and fences away from each other.

Best practice recommendations

There are certain things you can do to reduce the risks:

  • Turn horses out together to reduce the incidence of horses walking fence lines and even challenging fences in an attempt to get to the other horses. Remember that they are herd animals and need companionship. By grazing horses in groups you can also utilise your grazing better by rotating paddocks.
  • Use electric fencing to keep horses away from less than desirable fences and to protect expensive fences. Use electric internal fences and add electric fencing to existing and boundary fences to keep horses away from the fence and therefore away from danger.

Whatever fencing material is used, it must be smooth and strong and have no projections. Gateways in particular, are potentially very dangerous places for horses (and people) so have a good look at your existing fences and gateways and ‘risk assess’ them.

It is possible to train your horses to stay calm when their legs are caught up in something. This is a very important but often overlooked point. If a horse stands still rather than panics when caught up in a fence the damage will be minimal or even nil compared to what happens when the horse panics. If you do not know how to do this, contact a professional horse person who specialises in handling and particularly desensitising/habituating horses to accept scary situations.

Double boundaries

The boundary fence, in many ways, is the most important fence on a property because it keeps horses (and any other animals) in the property, and can also help to keep intruders out (depending on the construction).
For this reason, the boundary fence should be a priority and the strongest fence on the property.

Internal fencing

The internal fences are there to keep horses in the correct areas but do not need to be as physically strong as the perimeter fence. Still, they require good planning if the land is to be managed well.

The shape of the paddocks will be dictated by the available space and the topography (contours, features and shape of the landscapet). There are many things to take into consideration such as changes in land type, hills (undulations), waterways, vegetation (trees, bushes and plantations) and how you plan to manage your land and horses.

Poor subdivision of your land can be the start of problems such as soil erosion. Whenever possible aim to fence along the contour lines to reduce erosion.

The fence doesn’t stop the water travelling down the hillside, but it does prevent horses tracking up and down creating channels which water will use, quickly speeding the erosion process. By fencing along the contours, any tracking will be across the contour and help slow the flow of water.

Never have acute angles and even avoid right angle corners in paddocs where horses are kept in groups. Horses can be cornered in them while playing. Paddocks with rounded corners are safer for horses and easier to maintain.

Acute and right angle corners in paddocks that are already fenced can be eliminated easily by fencing across the corner with electric tape, braid or wire. This area can then be planted with bushes or trees.

There are many options when it comes to choosing fencing. Each type has its pros and cons, but whatever type you choose, build good fences and gateways and they will pay dividends by giving you years of safe usage. Remember, your perimeter fence is most important, make this a priority and build the best you can afford.

Learn more

At www.equiculture.net you will find this and many other resources for responsible horse keeping and property managament designed to save time, money and vastly improve your and your horses’ lifestyle.