Horse Fencing Expert Overview

The fencing and enclosures used to contain horses are essential not just for the well-being of the animals, but for the safety of the general public. In our forensic casework, we frequently see instances where horses have escaped from fenced enclosures, resulting in injuries and crashes when passing motor vehicles collide with the loose horse.

This article discusses how facility owners should assess their fencing requirements, the inspection and maintenance procedures that should be followed, and the elements of animal behavior that can drive a horse to flee its enclosure.

Horse Fencing & Corral Expert Witness

The type of enclosures used at a farm, stable, or show facility depends upon the ages and temperament of horses that will be occupying the space, the size of the enclosure, and the surrounding terrain. An inappropriate fence type or poorly maintained fence represents a hazard for the animals and the people or motor vehicles in the area.

Understanding animal behavior and the circumstances that direct the movement of animals is important when establishing criteria for fencing to reduce the hazards of horses escaping the enclosure.

Horses move about in pastures and land for various reasons:

  • Searching for feed, grass, and water
  • Moving in response to hierarchy pressure within the group (dominant vs. submissive animals)
  • Moving with regards to breeding and non-breeding stages
  • Responding to weather
  • Responding to the presence of other animals (predators)

A reasonable and prudent animal owner should be aware of the risks of mixing different kinds of animals (horses with cattle or other livestock), introducing new animals to a herd, or mixing a stallion with other horses. These conditions can change herd dynamics, increasing the likelihood for horses to bolt, to physically impact the fencing enclosure, and to potentially break loose. 

Fencing Requirements for Horses

In terms of fencing requirements, different animals have different needs. Horses are fast-moving and have a high jumping ability, so fence height and visibility is important. Some horses are more likely to press or rub against a fence, which makes having a strong fence a priority. In addition, the size of the enclosure and the number of horses kept there should be considered when planning out pasture areas and choosing a fence type.

For horses, the minimum height of a perimeter fence is typically 48-54 inches, but this can vary by state or locality. The minimum recommended height of a bottom rail or strand varies based on the fencing type, age of animals (a breeding facility with foals will require a lower bottom rail), and regional environmental factors (such as whether the fencing also needs to keep out unwanted animals like dogs and coyotes).

The objective is to keep the animals safely enclosed and to prevent them from escaping and injuring themselves, other animals, or endangering motorists.

Types of Fencing

Many types of equine fencing are commercially available. The safe usage of each type of fencing hinges on appropriate selection for the horses on that site, proper installation according to manufacturer guidelines, pertinent ordinances, and regular inspection and maintenance of the fencing.

Common horse fencing types include:

  • Wood board
  • Vinyl products, including post and rail, flexible vinyl, and vinyl coated wire
  • Electric wire or tape
  • Steel corral panels
  • Wire mesh or “no climb”
  • High tensile

The needs of a facility may necessitate a mix of different fence types. For example, wood board fencing may be used for larger permanent pastures, but the property may also need small temporary paddocks enclosed by electric tape. Each of these materials has its own maintenance requirements and average serviceable lifespan.

It is the responsibility of the property owner (or lessee in the case of a lease agreement) to be aware of the maintenance requirements of the fencing on their property, and to carry out routine inspections to ensure that the fencing, gates, and other barriers are free from damage.

Gates and fencing components such as electric fencing chargers, grounding rods, and insulators must also be kept in good working order. As before, the property owner/lessee should be aware of the fencing requirements in their state or jurisdiction, as well as industry best practices. Most states and counties have agricultural extension offices where consultants can assist facility owners in determining fencing requirements and best practices for their area.

Horse Containment Considerations for Facilities

Owners and operators of farms, stables, lesson barns, show venues, trail rides, and other equestrian venues must consider the safety of their clients, the horses, and the general public when constructing and maintaining equine enclosures. An equestrian facility that neighbors a busy road must consider the integrity of their perimeter fencing and gate systems to decrease the risk of dangerous animal-vehicle interactions.

A best practice is the use of an automatic gate system for premises entry and exit. Automatic entry gates provide an additional checkpoint for horse egress. An added benefit is control of individuals and horses entering the property. This step also improves biosecurity by enabling the facility owner or manager to ensure new horses to the facility meet entry requirements prior to gaining access to the facility, and to inspect feed and bedding before it is dropped at the facility. General security of the farm is also improved by the use of perimeter fencing and automatic gates, as this equipment serves as a strong deterrent against the theft of horses, tack, and farm implements.

Containment in and around the barn should be carefully considered. Many show facilities rely on temporary stall fronts or “stall guards,” which are heavy canvas panels secured with eye hooks. While these can be quite suitable for many seasoned show horses, fractious animals or small ponies may attempt to go under the temporary stall fronts if startled.

All areas where horses can be crosstied for grooming, bathing, and tacking up (placing saddle and bridle on the horse) should be equipped with secured eyehooks and appropriate crossties. Special consideration should be given to constructing areas for bathing, grooming, and tacking up away from high traffic and noise to prevent startling horses.

Investigating Animal Facility Incidents

The experts at Robson Forensic are veterinarians, avid equestrians, and facility experts, with the education and experience to determine whether the standard of care for animal care and property maintenance was met in cases involving escaped horses, animal fenceing and animal/vehicle collisions. 

For more information, submit an inquiry or call 800.813.6736.

Featured Expert

Kenyon Conklin, Veterinary Expert

Kenyon Conklin, VMD

Veterinary Expert
Dr. Kenyon Conklin is a licensed veterinarian with over 20 years of experience in the private practice, corporate, military, and research sectors. She provides technical investigations, analysis,… read more.

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