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Extension > Agriculture > Livestock > Horse > Horse care and management > Fencing options

Fencing options

B. Mowrey, PhD, North Carolina State and K. Martinson, PhD, University of Minnesota

Deciding on a fence is a major decision and investment for many horse owners. Factors horse owners should take into consideration are:

Planning. Design a pasture and paddock system that will centralize access to the barn, work, and feed storage areas. Also consider future expansion opportunities. Gates should be placed in corners closest to the direction of travel. Gates should be large enough to get equipment and several horses through at once. Avoid placing gates in low areas where water may pool. Sacrifice paddocks (paddocks where horse are held when no on pasture) can vary in size but should provide a minimum of 400 square feet per horse.

Budget. A fence can be a major investment. In addition to the cost of materials, you have to consider the cost of maintenance. Some fences may have high initial cost but low maintenance cost. Conversely, some have lower initial cost but high maintenance cost. Owners should consider affordability both initially and in the long term and then choose the fence that offers the best features within an acceptable price range. Quoting fence prices can be difficult, however, Table 1 discusses different fences and cost and maintenance estimates.

Safety. A properly installed and maintained fence should provide safety for both horses and people. There are several factors to consider in fence safety. First, a horse has limited eyesight. Therefore, a fence should be highly visible. Second, it must be solid enough to repel a running horse yet flexible enough to prevent injury. There should be no sharp edges (no barbed wire) or projections on the fence.

Installation. Another factor is whether you have the time and the expertise to save money by installing the fence yourself, or if you need to hire a professional contractor. Improperly installed fences will be less effective with higher maintenance costs.

Containment. The priority of all fences is containment. Perimeter fences should be approximately 5 feet high while dividing fences should be 4 1/2 to 5 feet high.

Durability. How long a fence lasts is a function of the type of material it is made of, the construction of the fence, the weather exposure it receives, the size and aggressiveness of horses contained, and how well the fence is maintained. Even good fences can fall into disrepair if problems are not identified and corrected in time. Check manufacturers recommendations, independent (i.e. University) product test results and if possible, other horse owners who are currently using the product.

Appearance. The appearance of the fence should be the final consideration. An attractive and well maintained fence promotes pride in ownership, increases property value and gives an impression of professionalism. One approach would be to place more expensive, eye appealing fences in the well-traveled areas and less expensive fences in other areas. However, the more attractive fences must also be functional. Never let appearance alone lead you to choose a fence that doesn't meet your needs.

Table 1. Common equine fence types, costs, longevity, and installation.

Fence Type Cost Estimate Maintenance Estimate Expected Life (in years) Installation Labor Required
Wood (post and rail) High High 15-20 High
Plastic (post and rail) High Moderate 20-30 High
Steel Pipe High Low 15-20 High
High Tension Wire Moderate Moderate 20 Moderate
Electric Wire Low Low 20-25 Low
Electric Tape Low Low 10 Low
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