The relationship between a horse owner and his equine is truly legendary; horses are not merely our livestock but our friends and even family. This is exemplified in the great lengths we will go to ensure their security comfort and general well-being. With pain-staking care we will wrap their legs, search out weeds in turnout areas, pad their halters and always try to stay a step or two ahead of them to remove any potential hazards to their accident-prone bodies.
When they do sustain an injury, as they frequently seem to do, we will tirelessly and even passionately search for the party responsible and do anything in our power to remedy our dear friends. A day’s work is finished with great satisfaction when we are confident that all their necessities have been met and their environment is clear and hazard free. But is it?
One of the most commonly overlooked hazards our horses face comes from the enclosures we choose. Of all the injuries to horses sustained annually across the nation fence related injuries are always at the top of the list. Steel wire and barbed wire fences cause some of the most horrific injuries to horses that are too heartbreaking to describe. This is the number one reason I choose Centaur for all my horse fencing, but that’s an entirely different story.
Every horse owner should be well versed in all of the dangers, risks and more suitable fencing options available. This will avoid you the suffering of losing a friend or at the very least a whopping vet bill. Needless to say most fence related injuries are leg lacerations caused by entanglement, it is the duty of a horse owner to be wary of these potential hazards and take remedial action.
When Horse and Fence Collide
Horses are naturally panicky animals; they rely heavily on their instinctual “fight or flight” response to aid them in crisis. This is why a casual encounter with a loose wire fence can turn into a disastrous situation in a heartbeat.
Observe the nature of horses kept inside a wire enclosure, the tragedy of the wire death trap plays like a vicious cycle. After a few days or hours in the enclosed area the horse will begin to notice the grass really is greener on the other side, hence the expression.
Pretty soon he will be pushing his confines to get to those lush blades just beyond his reach. A horse is a mighty strong animal and barbed wire a rather puny restraint; pretty soon you will be spending your valuable time tightening up the loose wires and pulling clumps of your horses beautiful mane that got snagged.
Some of the more aggressive horses may reach into adjacent enclosures and pick a fight, biting and kicking at each other; wire fences crumbling under their weight. This is when things get bad. One of the feisty horses kicks a hind leg at his neighbor and gets it caught on the lower wire. The horse leaning out of his fence gets his foot snagged on a loose wire and boom, the drama of horse entanglement has begun.
Barbed Wire Fencing
Barbed wire is often favored by ranchers because large areas can be fenced off at a low cost. This option can be quite effective if it is properly set up. Over four stands should be regularly repaired and supported by sturdy tightly-braced posts. Used in conjunction with an electric fencing system and this is a good option for fencing in large areas.
Even a well maintained barbed wire enclosure is a better option for cattle than for horses. These enclosures will eventually begin to droop weary from the heavy-duty work. And eventually will be reduced to two or three strands stapled to rotten fences sinking their way into the ground and preparing a loathsome come back. Many a fine horse has fallen victim to hidden wires on the ground.
Some of the worst injuries a horse can sustain are from being entangled in barbed wire. A horse will seldom be still when he finds himself caught. Twitching this way and that in an effort to free itself a horse will run his flesh repeatedly across the sharp barbs. Wounds from barbed wire are often irregular and quite deep; treating these wounds is a more complicated process. Here is the government’s (USDA) take on why you shouldn’t use barbed wire fencing: http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_DOCUMENTS/nrcs141p2_024509.pdf (Starting on Paragraph 4, pg 1)
Smooth Wire Fencing
Smooth wire is the most common option for fencing in a pasture. Horses can lean into these fences with greater comfort because they are smooth; they also stretch farther because pasture posts are usually farther apart so the tension is less than optimal.
Horse owners using smooth wire fences often accompany the system with a hot wire between the top strands. This is supposed to prevent the horses from leaning; it does little to prevent injury, however. Smooth wire fences are difficult for a horse to see, are damaged by fights between adjacent enclosures and still cause injury when the hot wire loses charge for whatever reason.
For best results tighten smooth wire fences regularly, place fence posts closer together for optimal tension and always accompany your four strands of smooth wire with an electrified wire or even better, two. Even with all these safety measures it is still unadvisable to use smooth wire fencing for horses.
Although wounds sustained from a smooth wire fence may not be as jagged or complicated as a barbed wire fence, the force that a horse will apply added to the tensile strength of the wire can cause severed flesh and bone. It would be irresponsible to use this method of fencing unless it is installed and maintained with the utmost attention and diligence.
Features of Responsible Horse Fencing
A good fencing system should be:
Easily Visible – The horses within the enclosure should be able to see the fence clearly in the day or night. Decorating the strands with bands of colored tape or ribbon is a good way to increase visibility.
Strong Enough—Materials used in fence construction should be as heavy-duty as the task at hand. A solid fence should withstand the elements and also the pressures of enclosing large animals without collapsing. (For example, Centaur’s Cenflex product has a break strength of 4,000 lbs per rail)
User Friendly – Get professional help when deciding on a fencing system to fit your needs. Professional will help you select the most cost efficient option without cutting corners. Search customer reviews and do some research before making a final decision.
Require Suitable level of Maintenance- Choose a product that will fit the maintenance level you can handle. Poorly maintained fences can be dangerous to live stock. Cheaper initial prices may cost more time and effort in the long run. The efficiency of a fence will depend largely on the upkeep it is given.