Wood fences are the traditional horse-fence choice for good reason. Highly visible, wood fences are substantial barriers that deter horse challenges like running through them. However, they also require high maintenance and are expensive. That’s why vinyl and mesh fences are also popular on most modern horse facilities.
Installing a fence is a lot of work. Post holes must be dug by hand or with an auger or driven into the ground with a tractor attachment. The posts must be lined up, set straight with a level and then the holes around the posts filled and tamped. Corner, end and gate posts should be set in concrete.
While many fences now use safety metal posts and vinyl fence types often have matching posts, locust or treated pine wood posts remain the most popular. Properly installed, these wood posts will last for many years, if not decades.
If you’re going to use board fence, wood planks are usually rough-cut oak or treated poplar or pine. Oak is the strongest, although rough-cut oak has a grainy, splintery surface. Since bare oak won’t absorb rot-resisting treatment, some spots on each plank rot faster than the rest of the boards. Avoid green wood boards that aren’t cured as they’ll warp or twist as they dry, generally within six to 12 months after installation.
Smoothly finished poplar or pine are good plank choices and can be treated with chemicals to resist rot and insects. They’re softer and lighter than oak, but that makes them less expensive and easier to install. However, they’re also less resistant to breaking and chewing.
Wood planks must be nailed into each post, with three to four nails at each end. It’s tiresome work, even if you use a pneumatic nailer to quickly secure the planks.
You can also skip the nailing by installing a split-rail or slip-board fence. These wood fences have holes routed in the posts to accept the rails. The drawback is that the posts are weakened by the holes, making the fence less suitable for active horses.
A wood fence is considered high-maintenance, as you must paint it upon installation in order to protect it from the elements and every few years after that. Also, over time, plank nails can loosen as the wood contracts and expands with rain and temperature fluctuations. Popped nails are common hazards around wood fences.
Standard stock-style mesh fencing — with its widely spaced openings — can easily entangle a hoof.
We prefer non-climb mesh fence. Its close spacing between the wires (generally 2” x 4”) prevents hooves from becoming caught and keeps animals from “walking down” the fence. Non-climb fencing provides flex and spring on impact, reducing potential injury to your horses, and the close spacing gives it the added strength a stock-style mesh fence lacks. It will also discourage pets and predators from entering your pasture, depending upon how high you set it off the ground.
Most non-climb fences are woven and knotted, with one side smoother than the other. Some have the wires welded together, which isn’t as strong or long lasting as the woven wires, so we recommend you go for woven wires if you can afford it. Be sure to install the wire with the “smooth” side in, to keep the knots from snagging your horse’s coat.
When comparing brands, the lower gauge of the wire, the thicker and stronger the wire. All mesh fences should be galvanized to prevent rust.
If you’re using non-climb fencing in a small area that contains a lot of horses, consider a top strand of electrified wire to keep the horses away from the fence. Many people also add a top rail of wood, vinyl or wide electrified polytape to their mesh fences, which increases visibility, strength and better withstands horses trying to lean over the fence.
Installing mesh fencing isn’t a one-person job, and you’ll need a tractor or truck to pull the fence tight enough before securing it to the fence posts with fencing staples. The rolls are heavy and tough to work with, and if you don’t get the fence tight before you nail it to the posts, you’ll end up with a wavy appearance.
Another option in mesh-like fences is Tensar or Polygrid Ranch Fence, which is made from high-strength polymer resins. Rather than being knotted or welded together, Polygrid is manufactured from single sheets of polymer material with precise holes punched into the sheet.
There are no weak junctions or hard, sharp edges. The polymer material doesn’t rot, rust or corrode, and its lighter weight makes it easy to handle, transport and install. UV inhibitors added to the polymer resins help protect the product from degrading in sunlight. Properly installed and tensioned, Polygrid resists sagging or stretching.
Vinyl PVC Planks
Although vinyl planking looks like wood, it’s easier to install and requires less maintenance. Its vinyl posts are pre-routed with holes inside to hold the rails, so you simply slide the planks into the rails, with no nails to hammer in or pop loose later.
While they’re lightweight and easy to install and/or replace, vinyl planks are more flexible than wood and have a greater tensile strength. So, if a horse hits a vinyl fence and the impact is too much for the fence to merely flex, the planks are more likely to dislodge from the posts, rather than split into pieces.
Good-quality vinyl fencing is weather-resistant. It also doesn’t need painting and won’t rot, although you may need to clean it when it gets dirty or accumulates mildew.
The problem with vinyl is its initial cost, which is higher than wood, but the low-maintenance aspects outweigh the initial cost.
Quality can vary widely among brands. Be sure your choice includes UV protection and impact modifiers. Find out the wall widths and method of extrusion used to ensure quality.
Vinyl planking is made of polyvinyl chloride, or PVC. In the process of making the vinyl resins, which are heated and molded into planks and posts, manufacturers add various ingredients to make the vinyl more durable. Impact modifiers help vinyl maintain some of its flexibility and withstand temperature fluctuations without becoming brittle.
UV additives — namely, titanium dioxide (Ti02) — help protect the vinyl from yellowing in sunlight and breaking down. The industry standard is set at 10 parts of TiO2 per 100 parts of vinyl. Since Ti02 is the most expensive ingredient in the PVC formula, however, some makers are tempted to use less than standard.
Extrusion is the process by which the PVC is heated and molded into shape. With monoextrusion, the walls are one solid layer, with the color and UV inhibitors throughout the entire wall. We think this is preferable.
Most vinyl-plank makers, however, use a coextrusion process where two layers of material are joined. Typically a thicker inner wall is covered with a thin outer finish. The two layers are bonded by heat and pressure and can&rsq uo;t be separated.
Some makers use a lower-grade of vinyl on the inner wall to reduce costs. The outer wall may be a slightly different color from the inner wall, and UV inhibitors are usually added only to the outer layer. If a portion of the outer wall is damaged or worn off, leaving the inner layer exposed, the strength and durability of the plank can be compromised.
Always be sure the rails have internal ribs for extra strength. Hollow-plank products are more suited for residential fences, where strength is not an issue.
Quality vinyl makers recommend setting posts at 36” deep, meaning a 4’ high fence requires 7’ posts. Some vinyl makers recommend you only set in concrete the posts that need it, such as corner, end and gate posts. Other makers specify setting all posts — even line posts — into cement, and failing to do so can void the product’s warranty. Read the fine print in your contracts.
You may also be required to “notch” the plank ends yourself to help keep them from popping out of the posts, and you may have to glue on all the post caps with PVC cement.
Lifetime Vinyl Fencing offers a high-density product made of polyethylene, a more flexible product than PVC. With substantially beefier post and wall thicknesses, the product is strong and great for high-traffic areas or for fields with rambunctious horses. Also, the product can be made in dark colors as well as white and a natural-wood look.
Flexible vinyl rails
If you want a rail-fence look, but can’t afford it, consider a flexible-vinyl-rail fence. Instead of rigid planks, the flexible vinyl system consists of rolls of polyethylene strengthened inside with high-tensile stainless-steel wires.
The “rails” are attached to wood posts with slip-though brackets that work like belt loops — they allow rails to remain taut through tensioning, but still flexible. Any impact to the fence is absorbed and dissipated down the entire length of the fence to protect your horses and keep your fence intact.
Centaur’s Hot-Rail Electric HTP has an electrified top wire on its three-wire rail, which eliminates the addition of a separate strand of electric wire to keep horses from trying to reach through the flexible rails.
PVC-coated lumber offers the strength of wood planks and the low-maintenance aspects of vinyl planks. Posts and rails are usually solid pine, spruce or fir. The wood is then coated with polymer, which conforms to the wood texture and protects the interior wood.
PVC-coated lumber installs like regular wood. You cut it with a standard saw but add an end cap to protect cut ends. You attach it to wood posts using standard nails or screws, so the planks are less likely than vinyl planking to pop off the posts. Also, the polymer coating tends to close tightly around the nail or screw heads, making them less likely to loosen. In addition, if a horse breaks a plank, the coating helps to contain the breakage, limiting the danger from exposed wood shards or splintering.
Woodguard takes the process a step further by first treating their lumber with Timbor wood preservative to protect against dry rot and termites. The treated posts and planks are then coated and permanently sealed with a polymer finish that the manufacturer claims is so tough it is said to take a hammer impact at ?”30?° without cracking or splitting.
Some companies specify certain time frames, while others offer “lifetime” warranties. Most warranties have lots of disclaimers, especially if you install the fence yourself. Since your odds of making good on a warranty problem a few years down the road tend to be iffy at best, we downplay the importance of warranties in purchasing decisions.
Instead, ask manufacturers for references of facilities in your area you can visit. This is particularly important with a vinyl-plank fence. Industry scuttlebutt is that some manufacturers scrimp on important factors, such as quality of vinyl, UV inhibitors and impact modifiers, without your knowledge.
The type of fence you choose should be largely determined by your needs and, of course, your budget. For most people, the days of miles of four-board wooden fence on horse farms are long gone. The cost and maintenance often outweigh the aesthetic advantage. In fact, if you’ve got the money for an upscale fence, go with a vinyl-plank product to reduce most long-term maintenance costs.
If your budget is tight, yet you like the look of rails, we do like the Centaur Hot-Rail Electric product. The trick is to be sure you’ve got it properly installed so you get a nice, tight “rail” appearance.
Overall, our first choice in most instances is non-climb woven wire. It’s a relatively economical option that’s safe and low-maintenance. It’ll work for virtually any type of horse, from foals to stallions. In fact, it’s now on so many large breeding farms — with a top board added for looks, visibility and strength — it’s really a traditional horse fence.
Your choice of materials also may be determined by your geographical region.?? The type of ground you have and the height of the water table in the ground may preclude certain types of posts.?? In addition, shipping costs may also be prohibitive for some fencing materials.??
If you plan to use a local installer, you need to check with the company before you get your heart set on a certain type of material.?? Since installers buy in bulk, they may have some types of fencing available and not others.?? Look around at the fences in your area to see what the predominant fence type is, which may be the best value.
Contact Your Local Fence Dealer Or: Keystone Steel & Wire www.redbrand.com 800-447-6444; Behlen Country www.behlenmfg.com 402-564-3111; Ramm Fence Systems www.rammfence.com 800-434-8456; Centaur Fencing Systems www.centaurhtp.com 800-348-7787; Ferris Fencing www.ferrisfencing.com 250-757-9677; Gardner Fence Systems www.gardnerfence.com 800-788-3461; Bufftech www.bufftech.com 800-333-0569; Horse Fence Direct www.horsefencedirect.com 800-478-0099; HT Woven www.fenceitin.com 419-896-3531; Heritage Vinyl Fencing 800-393-3623.
Also With This Article
Click here to view ”Choose The Type of Fence For Your Farm.”
Click here to view ”Nifty Accessories” and ”Mesh Fence Examples.”
Click here to view ”Flex Board and Vinyl Plank Fencing Examples.”