The purpose of this series of articles is to help you locate sources of accurate horse fencing information and then select the fence that is best for you. If you haven’t read the first two parts they are available in the “More Online Resources” section. There is a handy grid also available in this section, to record the information as you gather it.
We recognize it is difficult to find clear, concise horse fencing information. There are a multitude of sources, with each potentially having a portion of the knowledge. Investigate several and develop your own comparison chart (available in “More Online Resources”).
Each type of fencing material and each fence design plus the multiple combinations that can be created, all have unique characteristics. The difficult part of designing a new fence is sorting out which combination of characteristics is most appropriate for your situation. Just because something works well for your neighbor does not mean it will be the best for you.
Likewise, the feed store sales person may have good information that is accurate but not appropriate to your needs. There are many sites on the Internet that have fencing information, some of which is biased to promote sales of their materials. Farriers and veterinarians may also have their own preferences. All of these sources can very credible and offer accurate information. What these sources cannot offer is insight into your particular situation, hence the suggestion for you to analyze and compare based on you, your horses and the unique requirements of your property.
Following is a discussion of factors to consider:
To some the initial cost of the fence is the most important consideration. To those individuals that have already built a fence or two the viewpoints and perspectives may change. While not spending a lot is certainly desirable and popular, it may not result in the best long term and safest horse fence.
People constructing their second, third or fourth fence tend to base their decisions on materials and designs that feature longevity and permanence over low initial cost. They have realized that constructing a fence is very labor intensive and they don’t want to repeat the experience any sooner than necessary. They realize that a small increase in initial expense results in longer fence life, less fence maintenance and less installation labor.
Ease of installation and long term cost become highly desirable after spending many days installing fence posts, running and installing fence wires or materials only to discover that the fence didn’t perform as hoped, was not horse friendly and safe, visually unattractive or required replacement long before you had planned.
Even if a fence costs twice as much initially but produces the right results, the higher expenditure of money usually becomes worthwhile. When you can double or triple the life of the fence by spending a little more it pencils out favorably. What does one visit to a veterinarian for an injured horse cost? What is the emotional cost of injuring one of your best friends?
An inexpensive fence may work fine for the inclusion of a few head of cattle while the same fence may be horrible for horses. Leg traps, sharp wires and wire ends are some of the things to avoid when building a horse fence but of little consequence to cattle. All animals are obviously not alike and therefore require fences that meet their needs. Cattle will not challenge a fence in the same manner as a horse. Body shape, chest height, movement patterns and curiosity vary. Ranches and farms may contain many diverse breeds of livestock, each requiring its own ideal fence. Horses with foal will require a different fence than mares separated from a stallion.
Type and Quality of Materials
Low Tensile Wire
Fence materials may look similar in construction but vary greatly in performance and long term appearance. Low tensile wire is easy to stretch and bend. Once it is bent the deformation is permanent. In other words when your horse leans on a low tensile fence material to obtain some of the “greener” pasture on the other side of the fence, the fence will bend and conform to the new shape. If appearance is not critical then perhaps a low tensile material is satisfactory.
High Tensile Wire with Galvanized Coating
Low tensile fence materials commonly do not feature Class III galvanizing. This classification refers to the amount of galvanized coating placed on the fence material. The stretch of low tensile wire does not combine well with the rigidity of the galvanized coating, causing the galvanizing to flake off and lost its protective properties. High tensile wire resists bending and demonstrates characteristics similar to the zinc coating hence keeping the wire protected. Class III galvanizing is the highest commonly available and has three times the amount of zinc as Class I. It is not unusual for Class III wire to resist rusting for thirty years however the cost difference is not triple. When you combine the fact that a high tensile fence will retain its initially constructed shape and appearance for many years the price difference becomes negligible.
Other fence materials show similar differences in performance, appearance and longevity. Wood fences are beautiful to view. Their distinct contrast with the natural world provides wonderful flowing lines and defines spaces quite well. Wood however can require a great deal of maintenance and painting to keep up the good looks.
Pressure treating of lumber for fence materials adds a great deal of life to a fence, however it costs more. Wood posts come in a variety of qualities, with some being straight and true with few deformities or faults. However, while you can also purchase untreated, cat-faced, twisted, checked posts that may be less expensive, they don’t build as visually appealing a fence. It is an unfortunate fact that some horses also like to chew or crib on wood fence materials. Depending on the severity of these afflictions it may be necessary to introduce a method to discourage such behaviors. Chemical treatments are available to discourage these behaviors. The addition of an electrical fence wire to the affected areas can also provide a distinct behavior modification. Without an effective means of discouraging pushing, leaning or testing fences some fence materials are subject to breakage. Adding an electrical fence wire to these materials can reduce or eliminate fence material breakage.
Synthetic fence materials such as tapes, braids and wires can effectively carry and transmit a shock to an animal. The amount of ultraviolet resistant material contained contributes greatly to the life of the materials. Also the more of the fiber exposed to the sun the shorter the life span. Tapes and wires have more surface area exposed while a braids sheath provides a covering for the internal components and a greater lifespan.
Also the greater surface area exposed to the wind the more the tendency for the tape to twist and move. Certain fence insulator designs control this movement and prevent the tape from sawing itself in two. There are wonderful applications for these materials, just be aware that the environment can harm these materials more quickly than others. They certainly are easy to install and require little infrastructure.
Visibility plays a large part in a horse safe fence. Over the last decade an alternative to bare wire has been developed. High tensile wire has been combined with a visible polymer sheath. This coating is normally ¼” to 5/16” in diameter. This increased size over bare wire decreases the possibility of cutting or injuring a horse that comes in contact with the fence.
These new fence materials may also have carbon based stripes running parallel to the covered wire. They are able to conduct electricity and therefore are able to contribute to training the horse to avoid the fence. Since horses must move their entire heads to change their focal point it can be difficult for a scared running horse to avoid dangers that are hard to see. The potential benefits of a highly visible fence that has already been identified by horses are high. Since high tensile wire is used the post spacing can also be greater. The more distant the posts the more spring-like the fence.
Electricity travels on the surface area of a wire. This characteristic is very important in the design and function of a power fence. Larger wires obviously have greater surface area and lower resistance as well as more metal. Lower resistance directly contributes to the fences ability to conduct electricity and hence deliver a sufficient shock over a longer distance.
More metal means more expense. However the expenses of buying a larger diameter wire is not directly proportionate to the reduction of resistance. In other words, for a bit more money you get much less resistance. It is very common for larger diameter wires to be available in a high tensile, Class III galvanized form. Now you get three favorable characteristics without paying three times as much. The bottom line is you can improve the function, form, lifespan and appearance of the fence for a relatively small increase in expense.
The number and type of wires in a synthetic wire, braid or tape also has a huge impact on the performance of these fence conductors. The greater the number of wires in the fence material, the greater the surface area that is available, consequently the lower the resistance. Different metals conduct electricity at different rates. If people could afford gold fence wires they would have a fence with almost no resistance. Copper and gold are reasonably close in their ability to conduct electricity but they are obviously not the same price. Hence copper wires are added to the common stainless steel wires that make up the synthetic fence materials we are discussing. When the copper wires are tinned, or coated with another metal they resist corrosion and life is added to the conductor.
So a small amount of research here can provide great dividends in fence longevity, conductance and the overall ability of the fence to work effectively. Look on the packaging to determine the resistance of the wires and check out manufacturer’s information for recommendations as to suggested fence lengths.
Mesh Wire Designs
Mesh fence design, materials and construction can greatly vary. High tensile fence materials combined with appropriate design contributes to the ability of the fence to conform to terrain shapes without distasteful sagging and bagging. Low tensile fence is made of metals that are not treated to resist bending making them easy to work with. High tensile mesh fence materials can act as a spring hence resisting the pressures of livestock and adding to the safety of your horse.
Joints in the mesh material also vary considerably. The ability of a mesh fence to retain its original shape contributes to animal safety and to fence appearance. If the junctions where horizontal wires meet vertical wires can easily move, the chance the fence material will deform unfavorably is greater, often resulting in inappropriate spaces and gaps in the fence that might allow a horse to trap a hoof and become injured. If the connections can unravel or move the result can be sharp wire ends increasing the possibility of injury to your horse. If these connections cannot move and are originally formed to prevent any loosening or movement the chance for injury are reduced.
Perhaps the most time consuming and labor intensive portion of building a fence is the installation of the fence posts. Accurate placement of fence posts is one of the greatest contributors to the final appearance of the fence. Initial impressions of a fence are often based on the alignment of the fence post tops.
When a well constructed fence is appraised, a view down the fence line should reveal only one post width, not several. Accuracy in construction is not difficult, however it does require a strict attention to detail. The result of this craftsmanship is both rewarding and pleasing. Fence lines commonly either follow the terrain or are built to follow a set height or level.
Fence post spacing controls the number of posts that must be installed. Psychological barrier fences require fewer fence posts than rigid barrier fences. Psychological barrier fences have two major requirements, first of all they must carry the fence conductors at the appropriate heights to provide adequate control of the animals and they must have sufficient strength to support the fence conductors should the fence fail.
If high tensile wire is used on an electric fence considerable strength is already inherent. High tensile mesh fences can also have the fence posts spaced further apart than a low tensile material. Spacings of 20 to 30 feet are possible for high tensile materials. Manufacturer’s suggestions should be followed for best results. The bottom line is, the fewer fence posts installed the less the labor, time and cost for this portion of the job.
Depending on the strength and tensioning of the materials used in a fence the end assemblies or braces installed in the fence become the foundation for the fence. High tensile wire or mesh requires strong bracing at the ends to prevent deformation and pulling out of the ground.
Proper design of a brace results in a pre-tensioned structure of superlative strength. A common H-brace design features a brace post of six to eight inches in diameter. The secondary post would be five to six inches in diameter. To obtain the best geometry for this design the ideal horizontal brace post will be two times the exposed total height of the fence post plus one foot. Since many vertical brace posts are approximately four feet tall the horizontal brace post should be nine feet long, however nine foot long, four to five inch posts are commonly available ten foot rails are usually selected. A minimum depth for this braces installation is 40% of the post in the ground and 60% above ground. When a strong twitch wire is installed in a diagonal from the outside base of the brace post to a point halfway between the two top fence wires and tightened a strong pre-tensioned structure is built.
Contributed By: Rick Newman and Mike Maggitti