Electric pasture fencing is a quick, inexpensive way to contain horses and to make existing fences safer and longer lasting. A mild shock of the electric pasture fence provides an effective deterrent to keep horses from chewing on, rubbing against, or pushing through pasture fencing.
Auxiliary “Hot” Set-ups
As an auxiliary pasture fence, an electric barrier works well with most other types of fencing. A visible pasture fence helps your horse define his boundaries. An electric wire or tape added along the top or to the side makes it much more foolproof.
The “hot” wire or tape will help prevent over-the-fence battles, as well as discourage horses from reaching through or jumping over the pasture fence. It will also save a lot of wear and tear, reducing maintenance costs. This is especially true when horses are confined in small areas or sharing a fence line with horses in adjacent pastures.
If the existing fence is metal (metal posts, mesh wire, or some other type of wire), make sure the auxiliary hot wire is far enough away from it to avoid a short circuit. Electricity flows along a path of least resistance. Any chance it gets, electricity will go into the ground. This happens whenever the wire touches a metal object or something wet, such as tall grass or bushes after a rain.
When you or your horse touch the fence, you provide the temporary route to the ground, creating the short circuit and getting a shock. As long as the fence wire is insulated (not able to touch a metal post, for instance), with no detour to the ground, the electrical pulse will continue to the end of the wire.
Horses and Hot Wires
- Adding electric wires to fence lines will help horses respect their boundaries.
- Electric fencing works psychologically, not physically, so don’t use it as the sole fence next to a highway or as a property line.
- Choose the type of electric wire that suits your climate and the amount of horse traffic.
- To prevent injury, be sure that the wire is visible and that it will break if hit hard enough.
- Educate your horse about a new electric fence in a controlled setting.
Electrified Primary Fencing
Electric fence can also function as a primary fence, but you should understand its limitations. Yes, electric fence can be used by itself to cross-fence a pasture, enclose temporary turnout areas, or even enclose pastures. However, if your electric fence is to be used as the primary fence, it must be as much of an actual physical barrier as a psychological barrier.
Many electric fencing systems do not provide a true and effective physical barrier. Rather, they are designed to be merely a psychological deterrent.
Most electric fences won’t stop a determined horse or one that’s being chased and trying to find a way out. Most electric fencing will break or stretch if a horse hits it at full speed or tries to jump it. Moreover, plastic tapes that don’t break can be a hazard if a horse paws it or gets a loop of it around a leg.
Electric fencing is therefore not completely dependable as a boundary fence. You should not use it as the sole fence between your pasture and a busy highway, or as a property line between neighbors.
Wire: Traditional electric fence wire comes in a small diameter, conducts electricity well, but is also hard to see. It is long-lasting, but breaks more easily than larger diameter, stiffer, high-tensile wire. Small-diameter wire is safer in some instances, however, because it’s better to have the horse break through it in the event of a tangle than risk more significant injury.
The larger the wire, the more electricity it will carry. If your fence will cover several miles, 12.5-gauge smooth wire is better than a smaller-diameter wire.
Black, polyethylene-coated wire is thick and elastic, and it is less apt to injure a horse. The wire coating is infused with carbon, which conducts electricity to the outer surface. Polyester-covered wire has a soft, braided fabric cover over copper wire and is flexible enough to bend if a horse runs into it. It resists expanding and contracting with temperature changes, which may be an advantage in colder climates.
Polymer-conductive coated galvanized-steel wire (which usually comes with an outside diameter of three-sixteenths inch) is safer and more durable than traditional wire. Tin, copper and aluminum wire will oxidize over time, inhibiting current, becoming brittle, and breaking more easily. Stainless-steel wire lasts the longest since it resists corrosion, but it is also less conductive, making it less suitable for large acreages. Turbo wire (developed by Gallagher) combines high performance with longevity by mixing strands of several metals.
Small-diameter “string” electric fence is more visible than wire, but is not as durable. It often breaks down in sunlight and disintegrates after a year or two. Braided “rope” or electrified cord is usually more durable (designed to not tangle or overstretch) and less easily broken. But it can sometimes cause injury because it may not break if a horse gets caught in it.
Electric fencing made of one- to two-inch-wide mesh tape is more visible than wire and easier to install or repair. More flexible tapes can be tied back together, and the stiffer examples can be repaired with a splicing buckle. The disadvantage of flexible tape is a tendency to sag when wet or covered with heavy snow. It also blows in the wind and tends to wear where it rubs on the insulators.
If you get snow or a lot of wind, you can offset this by positioning posts closer together, making shorter spans, and tightly stretching the tapes. Tapes are best suited for small areas of fence (less than a quarter-mile).
Hot-rails consist of a synthetic “rail” with an electrified “wire” along the top edge. They combine good visibility and durability, plus they look like a typical fence rail. Yet they provide electrification that keeps horses from rubbing on or leaning over them.
Posts: Lightweight plastic push-in posts are quick and easy to install as temporary or portable fences, but they are not as durable as wooden or metal posts. Metal T-posts (with wood braces at the corners) can be driven with a hand-held post pounder. Electric wire or tape can be hooked to them with plastic holders that serve as insulators.
Always cover metal posts with round-topped plastic caps to protect horses. Posts can also be covered with PVC pipe “sleeves” to use with types of fencing that require screw-in insulators. Wood posts can have insulators nailed or screwed into them.
A new type of wood post for electric fencing is made from a dense wood that does not conduct electricity, thus requiring no insulators. Holes are drilled at the factory, making it easier to run high-tensile wire or electric fence wire through them.
Gate Handles: A gate handle will be needed for each strand of wire/tape at a gate opening, so you can unhook it without being shocked. Be sure the handle disconnects from the side of the gate toward the charger, so the gate wire is “dead” when unhooked and cannot shock you or your horse when open or create sparks or cause a grass fire if you put it on the ground.
If the gate wire (and all the fence beyond it) is “dead” when unhooked, you can test the portion of the fence from charger to gate by simply touching the gate handle to its hookup. If there’s no spark, the fence is not working. If you have gate handles at strategic spots along an intricate fence system (possibly involving several pens and pastures), you can quickly pinpoint a short, saving a lot of time.
Fence Chargers: Your fence can be hooked to an electrical source through a regular fence charger (plugged into a grounded electrical 110-volt outlet), a battery charger, or a solar charger (in a sunny climate). The charger sends an electrical pulse along the wire that’s low enough in amperage to not seriously harm an animal that touches it, yet strong enough to give a shock.
For horses, it’s best to avoid the chargers known as “weed burners,” which send out more current to kill grass or weeds that touch the fence. Not only are they potential fire hazards in dry regions, the voltage highly distresses horses.
A plug-in charger or battery charger should be located in a dry place, such as a barn or shed. You may need to create a housing unit for it. The charger should be located within easy reach so you can turn it on or off as needed and you can check it daily. The battery in the unit will need replacement about every two months.
If you use a dry-cell battery, don’t put it near a concrete surface or it may drain the charge. Insulate the charger box with a rubber mat behind and under it. A solar charger can be placed anywhere along the fence line, directly facing the sun.
The wire from the charger box to the fence should be insulated so it won’t shock anyone or create a fire hazard. Don’t use nails, metal staples, or clips to support the wire on its way to the fence. The points of attachment may become worn, creating a short that’s hard to locate. Use insulators, and secure the wire just as you would a bare fence wire, so if the insulation ever breaks or frays, it won’t create a short.
If the fence wire is steel, use steel wire from the charger. Don’t use different types of metals because when you hook steel wire to copper, electrolysis can occur and will corrode the metal, making poor contact and weakening the fence’s power.
If the charger is in a building, put a gate handle somewhere near the start of the fence so you can unhook it quickly from outside without having to go inside to turn off the fence. This may become necessary to repair a fence section, or to enable a horse to get untangled from a hot wire if he gets caught in the fence.
The fence charger requires a proper ground in order to work. The fence is thus grounded where it begins so that current running along the wire will try to get back to the ground to complete the circuit. A steel rod or metal water pipe driven into the ground makes an excellent ground for a charger.
If the fence covers a lot of territory, use several grounding rods. The charger should be connected to the grounding rods or pipes with sturdy insulated wire that is stripped bare at the end so it can be wrapped around the rod several times to ensure good contact.
Installation and Your Horse
For a permanent installation, use at least two or three strands of wire or tape. The bottom strand of a two-strand fence is usually 18 inches off the ground, with the top strand at least 20 inches above the lower one (or at least 42 inches high).
A two-strand hot wire works best if there’s a third, well-grounded, non-electrified wire spaced between them. If an animal tries to reach through the fence, he generally touches both the grounded and the hot wire and gets a shock. To prevent attempts at jumping, it’s best to have the top wire at least wither height, which means you may want more than two or three wires in the fence.
With a fence made of high-tensile wire, posts can be as far apart as 80 to 100 feet (on flat ground). The wire must act like a rubber band if an animal (even wildlife) hits it, stretching to the ground and springing back up. If posts are too close together, the insulators may be broken or the posts knocked over when something runs into the wire. Insulators should allow wire to slide through them, which will maintain elasticity of the fence and not break a wire.
For horses, use a fencing unit with a mild charge because horses don’t tolerate electricity as well as other livestock and can be more easily deterred by a weaker shock. Still, some horses become very smart about electric fences and can tell when the electricity is off or shorting out-boldly walking through it or reaching over or under it to graze. Electricity produces a pulsing that a horse can “feel” when he puts his face or nose near it. Most horses hate being shocked, however, and never take a chance once they learn about electric fences.
Horse must learn about hot wires. If you put an inexperienced horse in an electrified enclosure with no solid fence, he may crash through it. He’ll learn best in small, controlled environments, where he’s not upset or trying to go through the fence.
It’s also crucial that the wire/tape be very visible. Most horses will smell it, get a shock on the nose, and leave it alone from then on. If your horse doesn’t check it out, tempt him to touch it by offering him a treat from the other side or leaving a bale of hay close to the fence. This sounds cruel, but saves injury later, when he is more upset and liable to try going through the fence with more force.
Don’t turn a horse out into a large area until he knows about the electric fence. Even then, if it’s a large paddock or pasture he’s not familiar with, lead or ride him around the fence boundary before turning him loose.
A Note on Safety
A wire that doesn’t break can cause serious injury. Most webbing or tape will break if a horse hits it hard enough. You want the tape and wire within it to be the same strength. A wire that’s stronger than the tape around it can injure the horse if the tape breaks and the wire doesn’t.
Sunlight weakens plastic and vinyl polymer tapes or ropes, and they may disintegrate after a year or two. Use the ones with UV inhibitors and try to purchase only the ones that have a 20-year guarantee.
Sunlight also damages plastic insulators. Some experienced ranchers report that the black ones seem to stand up to the elements better than the light-colored ones.
Traditional electric wire has low visibility unless flagged with bright pieces of cloth, surveyor tape, or some other material. The newer fence tapes, ropes or web strips are more easily seen. Lightweight white or orange nylon tapes (with wire filaments woven into them to carry electric current) flutter in the breeze and are highly visible. The white ones are most visible from a distance unless the ground is covered with snow. The 1.5-inch stiff electric tapes (such as HorseGuard) combine good visibility with greater longevity.
Check the fence often to make sure it’s working. Wet vegetation can cause a short. Wild animals may push the wire or tape into the solid fence next to it, or stretch and break the hot wires. If the wire/tape gets caught on nails, metal fence, or any other metal object, it will likely cause a short.
Periodically trim grass and branches away from the fence in summer when plants are growing rapidly. If your bottom wire is hooked up separately from the others, you can unhook it when grass is tall. That way the grass won’t short out the whole fence.
Most fence chargers have a blinking light to indicate the fence is working. The light will go off if it’s not plugged in or if there’s a short. You can also use a fence tester to check for any charge in the wires. The tester uses a small grounding rod and a wire to touch the fence. If the fence has a current, the light in the tester will go on. The best kind of tester has several small lights and tells you how strong the current is. A weak current will light only one bulb, whereas a strong charge will light them all.
If you don’t have a tester, use a long blade of green grass. If you don’t feel any shock, slide the grass over the wire so your hand comes closer to it, until you feel a pulse through the grass, to know the fence is working weakly. If you feel nothing, the fence isn’t working at all.