Choosing the right fencing for your equine property can make a huge difference in the safety of your horses.

Appropriate fencing is critical to keeping your horses contained on your property and away from hazards such as busy roads, feed not all fences work for all horses. While barbed wire fencing is an obvious no-go, other fencing may seem to work for horses but can actually cause injuries. Several experts share what types of fencing works for them and advice on how to choose fencing for your own property.

For pens holding weanlings to 2-year-olds, Kathy Donegan installed RAMM Flex Fence for Horses, which are highly visible yet have give for when a rambunctious horse runs into it. Photo by Abigail Boatwright

Why We Need Good Fences

Jordon Briggs and her husband, Justin Briggs, have built and sold multiple horse properties in central Texas over the years. Since Justin ropes and breaks 2-year-olds and Jordon is a Women’s Professional Rodeo Association World Champion Barrel Racer and futurity trainer, safe fencing is a top priority in their construction plans.

“It eliminates stress worrying about your horses getting cut, hurting themselves or impaling themselves on a T-post,” Jordon said. “About eight years ago we switched from five-strand smooth wire to no-climb, high-tensile fence, and knock-on-wood, I think we’ve had one horse cut up since we’ve done that.”

With unsafe fencing, Jordon said vet bills and injured horses were all too common.

“When we had slick-wire fencing, I can’t even tell you how many horses we had that cut their bulbs off their feet — nonstop,” Jordon said “I had horses that had hardly any bulbs on their front feet. Changing the fencing has cut out that problem.”

When you have safe fencing, you’re reducing the worry and stress over your horses, Jordon explains. This is particularly helpful when you have horses of different ages as well as mares, geldings and stallions.

“You can either spend money on your fence or you’re going to spend it at the vet,” Jordon said.

Kathy Donegan primarily breeds and raises futurity colts, and she has had fatalities due to the unfortunate combination of young horses and unforgiving fences.

Choosing the right fencing for your equine property can make a huge difference in the safety of your horses.
The corners of Kathy Donegan’s young horse pens have solid wood and pipe panels as a secure anchor for the RAMM Flex Fencing, as well as reducing chances for horses getting caught in the fence. Photo by Abigail Boatwright

“In my opinion, from weanling to 2-year-olds, that’s when they get in accidents,” Donegan said. “I had two babies have accidents in those pens. Once they were weaned, they run around like crazy, and I paired them up in those pens. Babies don’t know fences. When they’re with their mom, they stay safer. But once they’re playing with their buddy and they get older, they just run around.”

Anatomy of A Good Barrier

Avoiding injuries is the primary goal for these experts.

“With a good fence, you don’t have to worry about your horse getting hurt when they’re playing across the fence, or if they roll into it or kick it, you want it to have some give to it,” Jordon said.

The Briggs’ no-climb wire fence has a top rail that holds the wire tight without any gaps. Justin is a welder, and he puts it together.

“They can’t get a foot through it,” Jordon said. “They can kick it, they can roll into it, but they don’t get hurt in it. It also has some bounce to it.”

The height of your fence depends on its purpose. Jordon has fencing 4 feet tall with a pipe rail to make it about 4 1⁄2 feet tall and 6 to 8 inches off the ground. She says if you have cattle, you’ll want that fence to go all the way down to the ground.

Donegan prefers fences about 4 1⁄2 feet tall on her property to discourage jumping out of the enclosure.

Choosing the right fencing for your equine property can make a huge difference in the safety of your horses.
Jordon Briggs has found that no-climb high-tensile wire fences paired with a pipe top rail work well to keep her horses from getting cut or injured. Photo by Abigail Boatwright

The thickness of your fence depends on the material. Jordon’s fences are made of high-tensile fixed knot wire.

“We use fixed knot because it’s the highest strength,” Jordon said. “It has some stretch and give to it so it won’t break. It knots really tight, and it’s the highest quality of no-climb wire.”

The Briggses use metal posts, because wood costs about the same but rots quickly in their part of Texas.

The only downside to the no-climb wire setup for the Briggses’ farm is not being able to hang feeders. For pasture fences, they have 20-foot-long panels that can be welded together in some areas where they hang feeders.

“They go up really fast, between Justin and I,” Jordon said.


In their barns, the Briggses use cinder blocks as the walls between horses, which Jordon says helps keep kicking and paw- ing at a minimum, because the horses can’t see each other.

“That has also helped me with preparing my futurity horses to go on the road,” Jordon said. “If I get somewhere [to the stalls] and my horses can’t see each other, they’re used to it because it’s the same at home.”

Donegan recently built stalls with a similar setup — cinder blocks covered with stucco — and is pleased with the results.

“They’re solid walls, which is good for mares and babies,” Donegan said. “Some mares, it’s not good for, because they’re so gregarious they want to see other horses. Some stalls we have mesh wire windows where they can see each other. You have to have different options and put the horses where they’ll do best.”

Donegan revamped those traps to make them safer. She opted to add wooden stays every foot of fence, which made them more visible to horses running around. Still, she only puts mare-and- baby pairs or older horses in those pens.

RAMM Horse Fencing and Stalls recommends standard height for horse fencing to be 54 to 56 inches per post height for average horses, and recommends no more than 9 to 11 inches between rails to discourage a horse from stepping through. Photo courtesy RAMM Horse Fencing and Stalls

“I now put the weanling-to-2-year-old horses in a bigger pasture, which I think is better for that age because there are fewer fences to run into,” Donegan said. “I am using the side of that trap for one fence.”

The rest of the fences for that age group are now RAMM Flex Fences.

Using the same metal posts, with brackets welded on, she has four rails and no additional solid top rail, which is the key for young horses, in Donegan’s opinion.

“No top rail is so much safer,” Donegan said. “That’s what they always got hurt on. My husband is of the opinion now, too. He used to think sturdier is better, but now we know that something has to give. I’d rather it be the fence than the baby, so no top rail.”

Donegan also uses a product called Shockline — a thick polymer-coated 12.5-gauge electric wire that is 1⁄4-inch in diameter. She adds that to the top of her fences.

“I feel like it teaches them to respect the fence forever,” Donegan said. “Anytime you can teach a horse some- thing where you’re not controlling them, they’re doing it to themselves and they learn better.”

Donegan said since she updated her fences to this setup from RAMM Horse Fencing, she’s had babies run through the fence but no injuries. She’s ordered more of those products to continue to upgrade fencing on the property.

“It looks like wood, kind of like a traditional Kentucky fence,” Donegan said. High visibility is also helpful for younger horses, Donegan said.

Debbie Disbrow, CEO and founder of RAMM Horse Fencing and Stalls, said standard height for horse fencing is 54 to 56 inches per post height for average horses.

“If you have any specific needs, if you have stallions, there might be ordinances where you need to go to 6 feet tall — it depends on your situation,” Disbrow said. “Check the ordinances in your situation.”

You can choose shorter fences if you have miniature horses, for example, but consider the future height of your horses.

“If you put a 4-foot fence height in and you get taller horses in the future, that fence may hold the horses, but they may lean on top of the fence, and over time, that will require maintenance,” Disbrow said.

RAMM Fencing also recommends no more than 9 to 11 inches between rails to discourage a horse from stepping through. You may need to reinforce with woven wire or electric fencing to discourage leaning on the fence.

Unsafe Fencing

Jordon knows of horse owners who have had colts get scared and run into a pipe fence and hurt themselves, but she has not had that happen with her particular setup. She dislikes cable fencing.

“Even though the horse can get their legs through and hopefully get them out, cable fencing cuts them worse than anything,” Jordon said.

Hot wire — a wire that is electrified with a relatively low voltage to shock a horse on contact — gives even worse cuts because of how thin it is, Jordon says. A hot wire that is not electrified is dangerous, Disbrow said.

“An electrified fence with a low impedance charger will shock a horse on contact — the horses will respect the fence,” Disbrow said. “If not electrified, bare high-tensile wire is thin and can injure a horse because of their thin hides. Bare wire should be electrified and perhaps used in conjunction with other fencing.”

For the fencing around the Briggses’ barns and stalls, in the past they used 2-inch thick creosote soaked boards and telephone poles. But over time, that wood dries out and becomes brittle.

“When horses can see each other while they eat, they always kick and paw, and we’re always replacing those boards after a year or two,” Jordon said.

Choosing the right fencing for your equine property can make a huge difference in the safety of your horses.
Investing in good quality, safe fencing can reduce veterinary bills due to injuries. Photo courtesy RAMM Horse Fencing and Stalls

Watch out for loose wire or deteriorating fencing, Jordon said. If you have to have T-posts, make sure they have a cap on top so they’re not quite as sharp. She recommends putting panels or hot wire fencing in corners to reduce horses getting caught in the corner while fighting another horse.

“Horses stand in corners and mess with each other, and that’s where they’ll roll,” Jordon said. “Put up some panels — three-by-three, four-by-four — up in the corners of your fences so that if they do roll, or they’re pawing and kicking, it helps keep them safer.”

Donegan has pens sized 250-by-250 feet with horse wire — mesh wire fencing with a pipe top rail. The terrain in those pens is very hilly at her Bluff Dale, Texas, ranch. The wire is sharp at the bottom and because the terrain is uneven, it does not touch the ground throughout the pens. She sandwiched the fence with two-by-four boards on both sides to offer flex and reduce contact with sharp wire.

Donegan learned the hard way that the enclosures were not safe for young horses. The two colts were well-bred, out of her best-producing mares, and they crashed into the fence. One broke the basisphenoid at the base of the skull, and it was a fatal injury. The other one hit it as well but was less severely injured.

“It broke the basisphenoid, because it lifted its head up at the last second when it saw the fence,” Donegan said. “The pipe hit underneath its head on the jaw and broke it.”

Three months later, in the same pen, two different horses ran into the fence. One weanling hit his head, but his leg slid under the fence and it broke his leg.

“I started putting horses that age in a different pen, and I had to figure out another option, because it’s terrible,” Donegan. “It wasn’t even in the market today, but those were $30,000 babies, just gone. It’s heartbreaking.”

Wild animals are also an issue — Donegan said wild hogs have forced her weanlings through the cable fence.

“I’m getting rid of all the cable,” Donegan said. “It’s terrible. It’s going to be our next project. I don’t want any more of it. I don’t want any more top rails. Four of my horses have died because of the top rail. It’s too much.”

Donegan does have top rails in pens for older horses.

“Top rails do make a fence more stable for older horses and makes the fence highly visible,” Donegan said. “I prefer no top rails for pastures for weanlings through 2-year-olds. I like to have a variety of pens and pastures for different ages of horses.”

Disbrow said horse owners should research safer fencing options for their horses, specifically looking at the qualities of the products that would work for their particular horses and situations.

“Does the fence system have a break strength, and will it flex?” Disbrow said. “With traditional fencing, you’ll end up with products that experience weather- ing, and over a short period of time the fence will warp and splinter, and horses can have injuries from that. Additionally, they may have no warranties.”

Fencing issues that contribute to injuries include nails sticking out, horses getting caught in between rails, fighting over too-short fences, and more.

Maintenance

Make sure your fences are installed correctly from the start, Disbrow said. Follow the instructions carefully and ask questions of the manufacturer if you’re unsure on installation.

The Briggses have moved several times over the years and have learned to purchase high-quality fencing that requires little maintenance. They have to do minimal care on their fencing these days, unlike when they had creosote boards in their barn.

“That’s why we switched to cinder blocks, which don’t need any maintenance,” Jordon said.

The RAMM Fencing products Donegan uses do not need a lot of maintenance, and the fence system has tighteners that hold the rail taut, yet it remains flexible, making the fence a safer alternative.

Donegan’s son welded the brackets for the fences, and he’s customized the corners to be “Texas” style. She says they maintain their fences about once a year, if necessary.

Disbrow recommends walking your fence regularly.

“At a clinic one time, Lynn Palm said every horse person has the responsibility of checking your fences on a regular basis,” Disbrow said. “Whether you walk your fence lines and look at them or you ride your horse around your fence line, anything can happen, so you need to check and make sure there’s nothing sharp protruding or something has happened to the fence system.”

Final Thoughts

If you’re having issues with your horses and fences, you might also look at the size of your enclosures, Donegan said.

“My best friend [Norma Alvarez] raises racehorses — she raised First Moonflash,” Donegan said. “She is the one who gave me the idea that weanlings need a larger pasture. She also puts an older, babysitter mare with the weanlings.”

Jordon says fencing is not the place to cut costs when planning or improving your property.

“Don’t cheap out on fencing, because you will not regret spending that money in the end,” Jordon said. “It’ll help you sleep at night and give your horses the best quality of life where you don’t feel like you have to protect them or wrap them in bubble wrap. I want my horses in the pasture enjoying life, being horses, so we put a lot of money in our fence so we’re stress-free and they can be horses.”

Seek advice from several fencing experts before investing in a fencing system, Disbrow said. Ask questions before purchasing. Talk with someone who cares about helping you get the right product, not just selling something.

“You’ve got to look at your horses and what works best for you, what’s the future for your horses, and what’s going to work best for your particular horses,” Disbrow said.


This article was originally published in the May 2023 issue of Barrel Horse News.

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