Minimizing hazards for horses behind electric fences

Our farm is primarily stocked with cattle, but my wife and daughter have long had the equine bug and we have a “retirement village” for two of my daughter’s old show horses. These retirees, aged 17 and 26, both have physical limitations that require some special handling. Bandit, a 26 year old former western pleasure gelding, has arthritis that is eased by plenty of light movement. Kitty, a 17 year old former dressage mare, has a degenerative eye condition and has been steadily losing her eyesight for nearly a decade.

We feel it is really important for horses to have adequate turnout, and because of our horses’ physical conditions, it was really important to us to have turnout areas for them that would allow both to get plenty of exercise and that was as safe as we could make it, especially for Kitty.

So, back in 2004, we installed some of the first PasturePro posts ever made for our horse paddocks. We combined HorseCote™ wire and 1472 black posts, a combination we picked because we felt it would minimize the risk of injury to the horses. We created two turnout areas, one about 3000 square feet and another about 1/8 of an acre. Our two retirees make the approximately 200 foot walk from the barn to the paddocks every day.

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Over the past seven years, we’ve had two incidents with our horses and the fences. One, back in 2007, involved another one of my daughter’s dressage horses who had recently traveled from North Carolina to the farm for some R&R. She was blowing off some steam after her long trip and attempted to stop a bit too close to the fence. She hit a patch of mud and slid into the fence sideways. The posts bent nearly to the ground, then flexed back up. The mare had lines of black coating across her body where she had come into contact with the HorseCote wire, but walked away completely unharmed. We speculated at the time that with most fences she could have sustained very severe injuries from the incident, and were quite relieved and assured by the performance of the fence and the posts.

The second incident was with Kitty, the horse who is now nearly 100% blind. My wife found her one morning on the wrong side of the fence with a large laceration on her chest. We don’t know exactly how she got tangled in the fence, but we speculated that something scared her (stray dogs or coyotes). It looked like she had tried to go through the fence and ended up straddling the top of it for nearly 90 feet as she tried to run away from whatever was frightening her.

After close inspection of the section of fence, we found that it was the strainer at the end of the fence that had caused the injury. The veterinarian that stitched up the wound speculated that if we had built the fence with t-posts instead of the composite posts, she would have lost her leg. He was able to stitch her up and we brought her home for stall rest. Fortunately, this mare has one of the most remarkably calm personalities any of us have ever seen in a horse, and she made a full recovery to her retirement lifestyle.

This incident brought to light how important it is to think about ALL of the components that go into building your horse fence. Bottom line – there is no fence in the world that is 100% safe for horses. Known for “finding ways to hurt themselves”, horses have a notorious track record with fencing of all varieties.

Electric fence can be a safer option for horses than many types of fencing, but must be built to minimize hazards.  That said, I’ll be making a few adjustments to our fence to help make it even safer for our beloved blind retiree. Here’s a list of ways we recommend minimize risks to your horses behind electric fences.

Remove all sharp edges

This is probably the most important aspect of building a safe fence for horses. Horses have remarkably thin and sensitive skin, and they also have a knack for finding any spots that have sharp edges to rub on or run into. Though there’s no such thing as completely “horse-proofing”, look at your fence the same way you’d look at your home for toddler proofing – find ANYTHING that might cut their skin or cause injury to an eye. Then remove it, cover it or otherwise find a way to reduce your horse’s exposure to that sharp edge.

Use coated wire or poly rope

Uncoated high-tensile wire can have a razor-like effect on a horse’s skin and we strongly recommend NOT using it for horses.  Coated wire provides a degree of protection, as does poly rope. And here is a link to one of our new dealers who sell a unique wire product made specifically for horses.  www.cameofencing.com

Choose strainers and corners with care

Horses, again in their knack for “finding a way to hurt themselves” will inevitably end up on the part of the fence that isn’t safe. The inline strainers we used caused some of the damage but it was the stripped wire where I connected the wire to the strainer that caused the most damage. I crimped the wire but left about 4 inches of wire past the crimp which was quite sharp.  I would suggest using strainers/fence tighteners that don’t require the coated wire to be stripped in order to attach the strainers or corner insulators. If you do strip the wire one of our customers suggested you cover the sharp ends with wire shrink wrap http://www.lowes.com/Electrical/Electrical-Tools/Heat-Shrink-Tubing/_/N-1z0yt20/pl#!

Electrified horse rope uses non-metal tightners on the fence which adds to their safety. Here’s a link to one of our articles about building a fence with one of these products.

http://www.pasturepro.com/blog/2011/06/a-%E2%80%9Cdo-it-yourself%E2%80%9D-weekend-horse-fence/

Hot or not?

We’ve been asked by several of our customers if our posts would work in a non-electrified environment. We don’t recommend it, primarily because horses like to rub on fences that are not electrified, which will damage your fence and lessen it’s life span as well as requiring a lot more wire to physically control them . The electric shock acts like a “nip” to the horse and encourages them to stay away from it. We recommend teaching your horse about electric fence and once they respect it they leave it alone but don’t have a great fear of it. However, if you do want to put up non-electrified fence PasturePro posts used in conjunction with rigid line boss posts can make a fence safer than any fence made with a t-post.

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About Steve Freeman

Steve Freeman joined Forester Industries as a partner in 2005 after being one of the first customers to use the PasturePro post. He installed his first electric fence in the early 1980’s and implemented management intensive grazing in 1987. Presently, the operation is exclusively beef cattle, but in the past it has also included both goats and sheep. Steve is always happy to talk grazing practices, livestock raising and fence building.
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