Types of Horse Fencing for Equestrian Farms

Updated September 11, 2023
Rolling green hills of a beautiful horse property.

Have you ever driven by a large horse farm or stable and begun to envy the acres and acres of beautiful fencing? You have likely seen various fencing if you live in a horse country like Kentucky or Florida. There are many widely accepted safe ways to keep horses enclosed. Horse fencing can range from wooden, electric vinyl, electric wire, metal fencing panels, and more. With so many options, knowing what safe horse fencing options are and what to avoid on your farm is important.

Safe Types of Horse Fencing

horse standing at wire and wood fence post

Depending on location, fencing requirements may be determined by building codes, HOAs, or the types of horses on the property.

No matter the material you use for fencing, allow for proper spacing between the ground and the fence line. The fence should be low enough to the ground that a horse or foal can not roll under if lying down, about 8 to 12 inches. The line of fencing moving upward should be spaced far enough apart that a leg or head will not get caught but close enough so the spacing does not allow any part of the horse to go through the fence.

Keep reading to learn about some of the most widely used safe types of horse fencing.

Fence Posts

The longevity and durability of fencing often come down to installation and materials. Fence posts are the foundation of the fencing system. Improper post-hole digging or too much spacing can spell disaster for the fence. A strong foundation always starts at the corners. A general practice is to use wooden fence posts at corners and reinforce the bases with poured concrete. For long stretches of fencing, add strength by placing wooden posts at regular intervals. 

Gates will often be an area of the fence the horses will test. Make sure to brace the gate assemblies for pulling forces and constant movement. Latching should be quick and easy, but not something a mischievous yearling can open.

Wood Board Fencing for Horses

Wooden fencing systems create a physical barrier and a highly visible barricade. The most important installation tip for wooden fencing is proper spacing between boards. Remember, create a space large enough for a head and neck but small enough to prevent a leg from passing through. Boards should be positioned inside the posts so that if a horse rubs up on them, they won't pop out boards. 

Wood fencing requires regular maintenance. In addition to repairing rotten, sun-bleached, or broken boards, some horses prefer to play with wooden fencing, increasing the wear and tear.  

PVC Horse Fence

palomino grazing by white pvc horse fence

PVC board fencing is a favorite for many equestrians. PVC fences have the visual appeal of painted wooden fencing with less maintenance. PVC fencing is more costly than wood, averaging about $10 per linear foot. 

PVC resists breakage but will break when the pressure of 1,000 lbs of horses pushes on them. For this reason, additional electrical wire systems are recommended to keep horses from leaning on the fence.

Electric Fence for Horses

Suitable barriers work on two levels: they provide a physical presence and a psychological force that makes the horse think it’s impossible to escape. We often forget the psychological aspect of deterrents, but electrical fences teach horses to respect their boundaries and avoid the fence. This makes it much easier to maintain your fence lines and keep your horses safe!

Electric fence systems include a charger that dispenses a high-voltage, low-amperage current. A conductive wire material carries the current along the fence line. A ground rod sunk into the soil completes the circuit. If this circuit is interrupted, then the fence will not work. 

When working correctly, an animal (or person) touches the wire, and the current flows through the body to the ground. Maintenance of electrical fences for horses requires knowledge of how this works because a broken wire or ineffective grounding will cause the system to fail.

High-tensile wire

High-tensile is, more simply put, a wire under tension. It is in the majority of electric fences for horses. With many designs, high-tensile wire fences use posts and corner assemblies with braces to support the wireline. Then the fence is tightened with a tuning instrument so the string of fencing becomes very tight. This allows for a strong electrical current.

High-tensile wire fencing has low visibility and requires knowledgeable people to install it properly. A top line of fencing should be added for visibility when using high-tensile wire in horse pastures.

Smooth wire

Smooth-wire designs are the least expensive fences to construct. They’re basically barbed-wire fences without barbs. The wide spacing of poles, as much as 20 feet, adds to the low installation cost. This design is commonly paired with an electrical system.

Dozens of different designs are used, ranging from three to eight wires. Generally, the smaller the paddock, the more wires are used. 

Wire fencing has low visibility, posing a danger to horses because they cannot see it as easily as wood, metal paneling, or PVC. If installing all wire fencing, you can improve visibility by adding a highly-visible top rail, like wood, PVC, or durable vinyl fence ribbon. 

Also, manufacturers have introduced wire wrapped in brightly-colored PVC coating. These are also safer, as unprotected, thin metal wires can be dangerous when hit by fast-moving horses.

Do's & Don'ts of Horse Fencing

Barbed Wire: Never for Horses

Barbed wire fencing is firm "NO" for horses. Barbed wire is designed to hurt. While it has been used across the United States and is seen as an acceptable form of containment for Cattle. Barbed wire is just not safe for horses. Cows, sheep, horses, and even pigs used to be held in barbed wire enclosures. So why, suddenly, is it dangerous? Barbed wire always was risky, but safer alternative fencing options are now available.

Why isn't barbed wire good for horses?

Barbed wire is particularly dangerous for horses due to horses' inherent sensitivity, emotionally and physically. Horses are flight animals. They will instinctually run from danger or pain when presented with danger. Since the barbed wire is painful, if a horse gets caught or wrapped in the fencing, it will spook, resulting in significant damage. 

All horses need a secure turn-out area or field, but it becomes comfortable when they have been in a field for a long time. Horses will test the borders of the fence. These fenced borders will often get ignored if a horse is scared. When horses try the fence, they can catch a body part in the fencing and get tangled and cut by it. Barbed wire exaggerates this even more. It can create deep lacerations that need stitches and permanent damage.

So with all of these warnings surrounding barbed wire fencing, why is it still being used? Unfortunately, it comes down to budgets, lack of education, or the laziness factor of using what existing fencing is already there. Barbed wire is also relatively cheap compared to other fences and is still sold at farm supply stores.

So many other safe options are just as economical and sometimes cheaper in the long run. Fencing does not have to be a pain to maintain, either. Pick something that will work for you.

I already have barbed wire in my horse pastures

If you have purchased a property with pre-existing barbed wire fencing, you aren't stuck with it! While removing it is a big undertaking, and it can sometimes be quite costly, your horses will thank you. 

Since barbed wire fencing has been used for so long, many people are reluctant to change due to a lack of education. Many people purchasing property with barbed wire will mend the fence with more barbed wire rather than remove it. Thanks to the efforts of the horse community, many have been educating others about the dangers surrounding barbed wire fencing. Some places across the country are even looking at banning it altogether.

Selecting the Right Fence for Your Horse Farm

When considering which fencing to choose for your horse area, consider four main things: Safety, maintenance, installation, and cost.

Select a fence that is safe for your horse. If you install it yourself, follow the safety guidelines for spacing and post placement. If your horse is an escape artist or particularly adventurous, remember you may need a combination of fencing to keep them safely contained. Know your budget for the initial installation—also, consider budgeting for maintenance costs over the years. 

If maintaining the fencing, how often are you willing to invest a day of labor in your fencing? If you don’t have time, can you hire someone to maintain it regularly? Committing the time and work to installing a new fencing system can be overwhelming. Remember, you can ask for or hire help with this!

Video on the Best Types of Fencing for Horse Farms

The information provided in the Horsemanship Library is based solely on our SmartPak authors' opinions. SmartPak strongly encourages you to consult your veterinarian or equine professionals regarding specific questions about your horse's health, care, or training. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat or cure any disease or behavior and is purely educational.