From a practical and safety point of view, boundary and internal fencing are the most obvious structures that require attention when laying out your property to meet the needs of your horses (and potentially other animals).
When you start exploring what type of fencing you should consider for your property you will find that fences are much like horse supplements... There are hundreds of different options you could choose from! And, just like supplements, some of those fences are totally not suited or required for your horses.
To determine which ones are appropriate for your property, you will have to assess each property on an individual basis, like you would do with the nutritional needs of your horses.
There are many factors that will determine which fence types are most suitable for your property and circumstances. Aspects such as climate, land shape, size of property, number of horses, horse types, new or existing layout, commercial or private purpose, maintenance and costs/budget will all have to be factored in.
Because each horse property is different, this article aims to assist you with your decision-making process, allowing you to evaluate the different aspects relevant to you and how to weigh these all up to make your final decision.
Let’s start by looking at some fencing requirements and common horse fence types to put it all into perspective!
Main fencing requirements
- Visibility. For horses, fence visibility is of paramount importance. They are prone to run into fences at considerable speed, especially if the ground is damp and slippery. The resulting damage to both the horse and the fence can be expensive. However, the level of visibility required will largely depends on factors such as horse temperament, herd behaviour and age of horses. The level of visibility should be greater when dealing with large groups of horses or younger (untrained) animals. However, as horses mature and get exposed to, for example, electric wire, you may find that only one or two strands of wire become sufficient.
- Height. All field fences should be between 4 ½ (1.4 m) and 5 (1.5 m) feet tall (at minimum) to safely contain horses. For larger horses, yards and smaller paddocks you should consider 5.4 (1.65 m) to 6 ft (1.8 m) height. The bottom part of the fence should be 6 (15 cm) to 8 inches (20 cm) off the ground, which will prevent foals from rolling out of the field (if you have them); it will also discourage horses from pushing their heads under the fence to graze. The fence height from the ground may vary, which is linked to how much visibility and containment you require (i.e. number of panels or wires).
- Materials. Fences should be made of materials that have durability and minimise damage to skin/body (although that cannot always be prevented). Review also fencing accessories; these can help with covering sharp edges, such as steel star-picket caps. If you are intending to use electric fences you will need to factor additional materials that deliver the electricity to the fence and isolators to prevent shorting out.
- Gates. Do not forget gates! They form part of your fence, as you will have to move horses, people and/or machinery in an out of fields and paddocks. Consider how wide a gate needs to be, where you locate it, how well you support it with heavy posts and well-constructed braces, how well it swings open and closed, and how secure and horse-proof its latch is - these are all variables that can affect its safety and cost, both upfront and long-term.
Post and rail: Wood
Wood is the most traditional fencing material and has long been a popular choice among horse owners. Your classic horse fence, wooden rail fence consists of wooden boards (typically 3 or 4 for horses), secured on wooden fence posts.
If properly cared for, wood fencing has a life expectancy of about 25 years. The planks used for horse fencing are typically made of soft wood (pine, popular) or hardwood (black locust, redwood, cedar, oak, or cypress). The wood type that is most available will depend on your geographical location.
Pine boards, which are softer and cheaper than hardwood, need to be treated with chemicals to be durable enough for horse fencing, but when treatment starts to wear off, horses may start nibbling on the tasty pinewood. Like pine, poplar is a softer and less expensive wood.
Wood fences are often painted with paint or a preservative, which is a fairly messy and time-consuming process. In addition, often anti crib biting properties are added to paints, to prevent wood chewing by horses.
Care should be taken when selecting chemicals for wood treatments, some are not recommended to be used in application where it will be direct contact with horses (licking/biting), feed, hay or drinking water. If you have competition horses, some of the chemicals used to treat wood are swabbable and could land you in trouble with the sport.
Advantages: Wooden rail fence is strong, creating a solid barrier between horse pastures and the surrounding area.
Disadvantages: Wooden rail fencing is expensive, and also requires regular ongoing maintenance and high chemical and/or paint input.
Post and rail: Plastic
The plastic used for fencing should be weather resistant and sunlight stabilized. Polyethylene (PE), polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and fiberglass are the most common materials.
Plastic tends to become brittle as it gets cold and may soften if it gets extremely hot. Plastic used for fencing should be formulated to resist these extremes. Some plastic fencing is intended for residential application only. This type of fencing uses thinner material, which is often hollow and is not suitable to contain horses.
Be sure to select fencing designed for farm or horse fencing. If in doubt, request test data from the manufacturer for fence materials that you are considering.
PVC (polyvinyl chloride) planking looks like wood from a distance. You can tell the difference once you’re close up, although the industry is working hard to have its products resemble wood.
The difference in maintenance and lifetime, however, is huge; vinyl will pretty much last forever. You won’t need to repaint as you would with wood, although vinyl does need to be cleaned, usually with a bleach solution, as it’s prone to gathering dirt and gray mildew, especially in muggy climates.
Only buy PVC fencing with a UV inhibitor or protectant, which is pretty standard nowadays. Without a protectant, vinyl will get brittle and worn.
Recent trends for PVC fencing include more colors, often chosen to match a shed or other outbuildings, and textured materials, which look even more like wood.
Advantages: Vinyl is almost maintenance-free and is highly durable. It is also very safe, since it is both visible and will give way under a strong impact.
Disadvantages: Vinyl fences are more expensive than their wooden counterparts regarding upfront cost. Vinyl rail is not indestructible, and rails can pop out of their fence posts.
Flexible Vinyl Rail or High Tensile Polymer Rail
Flexible vinyl or also called High Tensile Polymer (HTP) Rail looks less like wood fencing than vinyl planking. The vinyl bands stretch between posts like planks.
Often, the flex boards are electrifiable, which adds an element of security. HTP fencing features high tensile steel wires that are coated in polymer that is UV stabilised. The wires lend the fence great strength and durability, while the polymer coating means that the fence has a flexible finish that will absorb the horse’s impact, rather than shattering or breaking.
HTP fencing is available in a variety of styles, including HTP coated rail and HTP wire (see next paragraph). The HTP coated rails come in both electrifiable rail and non-conductive rail and is available in a variety of colours.
The rail size (width) ranges from 10 cm to 15 cm and depends on the number of wires. You can get them in 2, 3 and 4 wires. The top and bottom wire can conduct the electricity to provide the shock. Keep in mind that HTP fencing cannot be tensioned around corners, so you will have to factor additional materials such as steel or wood to maintain tension.
Advantages: HTP fencing provides a very visible and more forgiving barrier than wood or PVC, and requires little maintenance. It withstands weather-prompted expansions without splintering.
Disadvantages: If you choose the electrified option, the initial set up is more expensive than PVC. Because HTP incorporates electricity, its setup takes more time and materials than installing a more basic fence like HTP non-conductive rail or PVC. Powering HTP also results in a (slight) increase to your monthly electric bills or you may want to run it off your solar power grid.
High tensile wire fence
High-tensile wire is stretched tight between posts and comes in different forms. Smooth wire is bare metal that is galvanized (coated in zinc) to protect against rusting. The thicker the zinc coating, the longer the wire will last before rusting.
The official standards for zinc coatings rank from Class 1, the thinnest, to Class 3, which is the thickest and will last the longest. The wire is also measured in gauges, which refers to its thickness. The lower the gauge number, the stronger (and more unforgiving) the wire fence will be. High-tensile wire may also be coated in white or coloured polymers (HTP) that make the fencing more visible to the animals and also less likely to cause injuries to them.
A full fence of smooth or polymer-coated wire contains four to seven strands; some types have 10 to 12 stands. It can be difficult to see the wires from a distance, so many horse people add a top rail or pole for better visibility. You can also add one or more electrified wires to increase the horses’ respect for the fence.
(High) tensile fences can also be set up with solely polymer lines. Polymer line consists of only polymer (compared to HTP line, which is wire covered with polymer), creating a safe, lightweight fence that does not rust.
Advantages: It is a cheaper fence option compared to the post and rail systems. The fence doesn’t rust, stretch, or fade, and is highly durable, even in harsh climates. HTP line is strong, and will work to keep horses in.
Disadvantages: Because HT line is thin, its visibility isn’t as great as that of a wider board fence.
Electric is undoubtedly the most important form of fencing. Electric fencing provides a psychological barrier, giving horses an electric shock when they touch it. It comes in rope, braided wire and tape forms. These products incorporate conductive wire weaved in other materials - plastics, polyesters, nylon, etc. - to create electrified fencing that is also more visible.
Tapes come in different widths, most between 2 cm and 12.5 cm wide, to create a look that mimics wood rails. Ropes are rounded and generally less than 2 cm in diameter. Clearly the wider the strands of the tape or rope, the better the physical barrier and the more visible.
Tapes can be used for perimeter fencing in larger pastures or for temporary fencing. The number of strands used ranges from 1 to 4 wires depending on its purpose. Even a single or double wire design may be sufficient if it is energised. An existing fence can be upgraded to help reduce damage by reducing the pressure on it and can be electrified simply and effectively with the use of an insulated outrigger wire.
You’ll find products in different colors, from white, to stand out, to browns and blacks that blend in with the terrain. All of these products can be mounted on all matter of permanent or temporary posts, including wood, metal or fiberglass. Insulators are needed on steel posts; the strongest are porcelain and the easiest are plastic pin -lock types, but are susceptible when fires occur.
Advantages: Electric fencing is often the cheapest form of fencing and can be used with solar energizers. Electric tape is more visible than traditional electric wire, which is a major advantage when you are using it to contain horses. Installation of electric fencing is relatively easy and can be done by you.
Disadvantages: Over time wire can weather or get damaged. The vegetation under the fence needs to be controlled, and it’s important to check the electricity flow regularly.
There are two types of wire mesh suited for use with horses: no-climb and v-mesh. No-climb is made of steel wire knotted together into 5-by-10 cm openings.
V-mesh or diamond mesh uses two wires that are twisted together in a 5-by-10 cm diamond formation to create smaller openings than no-climb. The diamond mesh fences are more popular with horse owners especially that breed horses.
Both fences provide strength and a springy texture to protect horses from injury. However V-mesh is typically more expensive than no-climb.
Both types are strong, durable, and very safe when installed correctly. Due to the small wire spacing they can be used as a property perimeter fence as it is not only very secure for keeping horses and other livestock inside the property, but it keeps out small predators, unwanted neighbourhood dogs, and other unwelcome visitors. Choose the best class three galvanizing product for longevity.
You should use a top barrier to help prevent sagging from horses leaning over it. This can be a board, to give a more finished look, or an electric wire.
Mesh fences are also available in a poly material. Like vinyl products, these need to have UV inhibitors to avoid weakening. Poly mesh can be used with basically any kind of post.
Advantages: Creates a solid barrier between your horse and the outside area. One major advantage of no-climb fencing is the fact that other animals, like dogs cannot easily access the pasture.
Disadvantages: Requires regular maintenance and must be tightened seasonally to prevent gaps from forming. Additionally, you need to check the fence’s perimeter on a regular basis to make sure that trees are not growing into and warping the fence. Installing no-climb fencing over uneven terrain can be a challenge, and no-climb fencing is best for straight lines on flat land.
Which aspects matter to you when it comes to fencing?
There are a few aspects that you will have to consider when determining the most appropriate fence for your horses and those relevant sections of the property. And it is not only costs and looks!
In the table below, I have highlighted some key aspects you should consider, however, not all of these features may be relevant to you and the weight of importance may differ.
This is why it is very useful to work through these aspects using a scoring system that allows you to prioritise and weigh up what features are most important to you.
The table on these pages provides a list in order of assessment and how you could score these.
To do this, rate each of the following aspects on a scale from 1 to 5, with one being very low priority and 5 being very high priority. After you score the distinctive aspects that are relevant or important to you, review them to see which received the highest score. These are your top priorities.
You may score differently for different sections of the property, such as for house yards/paddocks, mare and foal paddocks or large paddocks at the back of the property.
To really narrow down your selection, you will have to weigh up those priorities. But before you do this you will need to do some research, as you will have to find out, for example, the costs of different fence types and fencing contractor hire.
The cost of rural or horse fences per metre including posts and accessories varies largely depending on the type, post spacing and complexity.
Costs can start at $2.50 per metre for electric fence to over $200 per metre for galvanized steel fences. If you cannot install the fence yourself, you will have to add installation as an extra cost.
A single installer might cost around $66.00 per hour or two installers might cost $99.00 per hour. Two installers can work faster than one and may be more appropriate for bigger jobs. Two installers can be less expensive than one because of the price difference. Check if the hourly rates include travel time.
The number of work-hours will depend on the size of the fence and the topography of the area. Fences on flat land will be easier to install than on land that has hills and gullies. Other factors will also have an affect on installation times. If concrete needs to be poured, it will add expense and time as it has to dry before the fence can be completed.
The best way to estimate how much a fence will cost is to get quotes for fences from rural fencing suppliers. Describe the length of the fence, the type of fence you need and any topographical features the fence builder would need to know about. These initial quotes may be estimates, but helps you narrow down the options until the fence installer will come to your property and inspect the area that needs to be fenced. They can then give you a firm quote.
Let’s weigh up your requirements
Now that you have an idea of the costs, lets go back to your list of top priorities and check which trade-offs make sense for your situation.
The trade-off should be considered for each section of the property as many fencing dilemmas can be solved with a combination of products. For example yards and paddocks at the front of the property could be set up with more of an aesthetic/ low maintenance focus, whereas the paddocks in the back could be set up on a lower budget such a electric fencing or high-tensile wire.
Clearly, there is a lot of choice out there when it comes to fencing for horse properties! Do your homework and make sure you go through your key features list so that you narrow down your options.
Keep in mind additional environmental factors such as climate, land shape and soil conditions as this may impact your selection. And remember to include gates.
When you have a clear picture of the type of fences that will work for you and the different areas of the property, do your due diligence as a shopper. Ask distributors to refer you to previous customers in your area, so you can see how well the fence is working for them (if this is possible). And check product warranties because they range from one to 20 years.
If you’re buying a metal product, find out how rustproof it is. If the product contains synthetic materials, ask if they include mould and UV inhibitors and won’t get brittle and crack, chip or shatter in cold and hot weather. Some synthetic products’ colours fade over time; so if aesthetics are a top priority for you, ask about color guarantees, too.
If you are not able to install the fences yourself, carefully select your installers. Some product types such as HTP fences come often with a package and include installation costs. Whereas with other more common fence types you may have to source your own skilled labour. Ask for references and go to see some of the fences they’ve put up if you can.
No matter what type of fence you end up with you will need to maintain it. Make sure you check your fencing regularly, not only for maintenance but also for damage by vegetation, fallen branches or simply to check that your horses are safe and the fence is doing everything it should do - that is keep your horses safe and in!
Fencing safety vs. strength
Horses will have encounters with fences! A safe fence is not always the strongest fence. Steel or wooden post and rail are strong, but are less forgiving than flexible materials, such as HTP rails. On the other hand horses may escape if fences are too flexible and stretch too much. Therefore you will have to review your horse dynamics, horse requirements and the type of paddock you are setting up. Steel post and rail could be an excellent choice for smaller enclosed spaces such as smaller yards, whereas electric tape or HTP rail could be used for the larger paddocks.
Costs of materials and installation vs. maintenance input
Many of the low maintenance fences are also the priciest. However if you are in a position to frequently check your fences and repairing damages immediately, a more affordable initial investment such as electric fences might better serve your needs.
Aesthetics vs. maintenance expenses
The look of the fence will be a personal choice such as colours and type of material. It will also depend if you are running a commercial facility and have many visitors /clients coming and going. However it is important that you weight up the looks against the maintenance costs. For example traditionally looking post and rail white wooden fences require more maintenance then other products such as high-tensile electric fences or PVC rails with UV inhibitors.