Fencing your horse’s fields and your arena correctly is essential if you’re to keep your horse safe, preserve your valuable grazing, and save yourself some money too.
In this article, we take a look at how to fence your horse’s field and arena. And how NOT to fence it!
Most fencing that’s suitable for use around your fields can be used for your arena too. The exception to that rule is electric fencing, which should never be used on fence lines that are adjacent to where people are riding.
Safe horse fencing considerations
What’s safe for a cow, sheep, or goat may well be dangerous to horses.
So, what qualities should safe fencing have?
- Horse fencing should be strong enough to withstand the impact of a horse colliding with it or kicking it
- Fencing should be durable so that it doesn’t get damaged by the elements
- Horse fencing must be free from hazards, such as sharp corners or barbed wire
Ideally, the fencing you choose for your fields should appear to be a solid barrier to horses so that they will be less likely to run into it or challenge it.
In the event of an accident, the fencing should be constructed such that it does not cause injury.
You also want to choose a fencing material that’s affordable to buy and maintain and looks attractive. However, safety should never be compromised purely for aesthetic reasons.
So, let’s take a look at the most commonly used forms of fencing for fields and paddocks.
Post and rail
Post and rail is the traditional fencing material that’s been the favorite choice of many horse owners for hundreds of years.
Post and rail look smart, provides a solid-looking barrier, and is safe, as long as it’s installed and maintained correctly.
Ideally, post and rail should be constructed using two-by-six-inch wooden planks or four-inch round rails that are nailed or screwed onto wooden posts. It’s not advisable to use thinner planks or rails than that, as they will break or warp over time, weakening the fence.
Post and rail make safe, robust perimeter fencing adjacent to roadways. However, always make sure that the rails are fixed firmly to the inside of the fence posts to ensure that horses can’t dislodge the rails by leaning or rubbing against them.
Use screws, rather than nails to fix the rails to the posts. If the wood shrinks, screws are less likely to come loose than nails.
Although the initial purchase and construction price of post and rail is midrange, the cost of maintaining it can be very high, especially if you have horses in paddocks adjacent to each other, as they may rub or chew at the fencing.
Also, wood is vulnerable to the effects of the elements and pests. Damaged planks and rotten posts will need to be replaced to keep the fencing safe and secure.
If you’re lucky enough to have an established hedge, you may be able to rely on that to safely fence your fields. However, hedges can be susceptible to disease and are prone to be nibbled by livestock, so make sure that they do not contain any poisonous plants.
To be on the safe side, you should augment your hedges with some other form of fencing material to bolster the barrier. Horses tend to lean over and through hedges, potentially causing catastrophic damage and running the risk of your valuable equine escaping.
Also, if your horse is a jumper, there’s always the risk that he will simply hop over the fence to freedom!
If you have a hedge running down one or more sides of your arena, that’s fine. Just be aware that prickly hedges can inflict injury to you and damage to your clothing if you ride too close, and wildlife rustling around in the shrubbery could frighten your horse!
In some areas, fields are divided by drystone walls.
Stone walls make a very solid barrier that won’t blow down in high winds and create a very visible barrier to livestock.
However, stone walls are very expensive and time-consuming to construct and maintain, making this one of the least popular fencing materials for horses. Also, there’s always the risk that your horse could attempt to jump over the wall, potentially injuring himself.
Vinyl post and rail
Vinyl post and rail is a relatively new innovation in paddock fencing that combines the aesthetics and visibility of traditional wood but without many of a natural material’s drawbacks.
Cost and maintenance
Vinyl post and rail can be quite expensive to buy, but its low-maintenance requirements somewhat negate the initial outlay.
Once installed, vinyl post and rail requires no time-consuming painting, although you will need to occasionally wash the fencing if it’s located close to trees or dusty roads.
You may need to replace rails occasionally if a horse kicks them or a collision with farm equipment causes damage.
Very severe weather can inflict damage on vinyl too. However, vinyl doesn’t splinter or warp in the same way as wood. Also, horses are very unlikely to chew on vinyl.
One drawback of vinyl fencing is that it’s not as strong as wood, so it’s advisable to provide reinforcement with an electric tape around the inside or across the top of the uppermost rail to keep horses from leaning on it.
Flexible, tensioned vinyl
As well as hard vinyl post and rail, you can also use flexible polythene strips of vinyl that are fixed, under tension, between the fence posts.
Vinyl strips are made from multiple wires encased in vinyl to form one to six-inch strips in black, white, brown, or green. This is regarded as one of the safest forms of horse fencing, largely thanks to its ability to absorb impact and not become warped.
Cost and maintenance
Tensioned vinyl looks very smart and is easy to maintain, needing only to be retightened and washed occasionally.
Although cheaper than wood and solid vinyl fencing, tensioned vinyl can be tricky to install. If not fixed into place by an expert, tensioned vinyl can sag and become insecure.
White vinyl-coated wire fencing is strung under high tension, creating a visible barrier to horses.
This form of fencing is safer than plain wire because of its better visibility, although vinyl-coated wire is just as strong.
Vinyl-coated wire is very easy and quick to install, looks smart, and requires practically zero maintenance, although you will need to retighten it occasionally to keep the tension correct.
There are various types of steel wire fencing that can be used for containing livestock.
Never use square wire fencing for horses! The wire is not clearly visible to horses, the squares are large enough to allow a stray hoof or curious muzzle to fit through, and many serious injuries occur when horses become trapped in the wire squares.
Always use diamond mesh fencing for your horse’s paddocks. The mesh is very small and tight, preventing the horse’s body parts from becoming trapped. Also, the mesh provides sufficient tension so that the fence won’t sag or give if the horse runs into it.
Diamond mesh fencing is also very efficient at preventing small predators (and your neighbor’s dogs) from getting into your fields where they could cause damage or bother your horses.
Steel wire fencing can be damaged by moisture, so you’ll need to keep it clear of weeds and grass. Also, if your land is very hilly, diamond mesh fencing can be problematic to install.
When choosing steel wire fencing, always look for grade 3 galvanized steel. When installing the fencing, if you are not using a top rail, do make sure that you fit bracing to the gateways, corners, and the beginnings and ends of fence lines.
Electric fencing is only suitable for fields and paddocks, never for use around or bordering riding arenas!
Electric fencing works by giving the horse an electric shock when they touch it. This quickly teaches the horse to stay away from the fencing.
Electric fencing comes in the form of wire or tape and makes a great reinforcement for traditional wooden or vinyl post and rail. You can contact the fencing to the mains or use a battery as a power source.
Electric fencing is also extremely handy for creating temporary small paddocks and segregating horses in a larger field.
Installation and maintenance
When installing electric fencing, you must ensure that the proper fencing materials and controller unit are used. Also, you must be sure to install the fencing, ground rods, and controller correctly.
Electric fencing doesn’t need any maintenance beyond regular inspection to make sure that there are no frays and to confirm that the ground units have not been knocked over. Also, you must check the charging unit and insulators for damage and debris.
Galvanized Steel Tubing
Galvanized steel tubing is generally used to make gates, but it can also be used to construct a whole fence.
Steel fencing is very strong, durable, and highly visible. Also, steel fencing comes in panels, making it very portable.
It is usually used for round pens, or as a temporary measure, as it’s very expensive.
Steel fencing should be powder-coated to prevent it from corroding.
From a safety perspective, steel fencing can be hazardous to horses, as it can cause injury if the horse’s legs come into contact with any sharp edges.
Polymer panels are relatively new on the market.
This high-impact, flexible fencing comes in continuous rolls of four or five-inch flexible polymer material that has 12.5-gauge wire embedded within it.
The fencing looks just like traditional wooden post and rail and comes in brown, black, or white. However, unlike wooden fencing, polymer doesn’t break or splinter on impact, boasting a 4,860-pound break strength per rail for the widest size panel available.
On impact, the fencing flexes, returning to its original shape once the pressure has been released.
Cost and maintenance
Polymer panel fencing varies in price, depending on the size of the panels. However, it’s still cheaper than wood and requires very little maintenance or repair.
A combination of fencing materials often provides the best option for many horse owners.
Usually, electric tape or wire is used to bolster the strength of any form of fencing. Once horses have experienced electric fencing, they will avoid field boundaries. That prevents damage to your fences from chewing or rubbing and can save you a fortune in maintenance and repair costs.
Many people use electric tape to reinforce field gates. That’s great for preventing a quagmire from forming in gateways. However, once horses learn to expect a shock from touching the gate, you may have problems persuading them that it’s safe to exit the field without rushing through the gateway and trampling their handler!
Fencing to Avoid
Now that we’ve looked at the best forms of safe fencing that you can use to fence your horse’s field and arena, we’re going to take a look at fencing that should never be used for horses.
Barbed wire is commonly used for other livestock, such as cattle and sheep. However, it is NOT suitable to be used as fencing for horse fields and paddocks.
Barbed wire is not very visible to a galloping horse and can cause horrific injuries when it comes into contact with a horse’s delicate skin and flesh.
Plain, high tensile steel wire
High tensile steel wire can cut right through flesh like a cheese cutter if a horse gets caught in it.
Thin strands of wire are not visible to horses and should never be used to fence a field or arena.
Sheet wire mesh
Page or sheet wire mesh is not clearly visible to horses, and it has large holes that are the perfect size to trap a horse’s hoof. Once trapped, the horse will panic and try to wrench his foot free, resulting in catastrophic, sometimes fatal, injuries.
The notion that horses will stay away from fences if they plenty of space to roam and lots of grazing is an urban myth!
Wild horses are trickle feeders, wandering across huge tracts of land in search of forage. So, your horse will try to do the same, regardless of how much grass he has available to him in his home field.
Also, the “grass is always greener on the other side!” And most horses will try to investigate what’s on offer on the other side of the fence.
Remember that horses are “flight” animals and will blindly run when spooked or chased by a herd-mate, sometimes colliding with fencing that’s not clearly visible.
So, always choose a type of field or arena fencing that’s safe, keep it well-maintained, and replace any existing unsafe fencing with something more suitable. Walk your fence lines regularly, and repair any damage as soon as you find it.
What kind of fencing do you use for your paddocks and arena? Share with us in the comments box below.