Basics of Effective Horse Fencing

Fences for Horses

Herd of horses in pasture
Taken from Fences for Horses by G. T. Roberson & R. A. Mowrey

Whether it’s a backyard pen for a single horse or a large equestrian center, a well-designed and maintained fence is an asset. While many people marvel at the appearance of attractive fences around pastures and paddocks,the appearance of the fence should be a secondary concern to the informed owner. A fence should be designed to protect horses, people and property.

A good fence should provide safety as well as be affordable, durable and functional. There is no ideal fence that is best for all horse owners or applications. Selection of appropriate fences will vary according to individual needs or the potential uses around the farm or barn.


A properly installed and maintained fence should provide safety for both horses and people. Horses can be secured behind a fence and be kept away from vehicles or other equipment operating outside the fence. Fences can be used to keep people away from horses that may be considered dangerous. Fences can also prevent horses from causing damage to other property should they get away from their handler or rider.

There are several factors to consider in fence safety. First, a horse has limited eyesight. Therefore, a fence should be highly visible, especially to running or startled horses. Second, it must be solid enough to repel a running horse yet flexible enough to prevent injury. There should be no sharp edges or projections on the fence, such as nail heads or wire ends, which can cut the horse. There should be no openings in the fence or spaces between boards, rails or wire that are big enough for a head or hoof to pass through but small enough that the head or hoof would be stuck. Finally, the fence must be tall enough to discourage jumping. Perimeter fences should be approximately 5-feet high while dividing fences should be 4 1/2- to 5-feet high.


A fence can be a major investment. In addition to the cost of materials, you have to consider the cost of maintenance. Some fences may have high initial cost but low maintenance cost. Conversely, some have lower initial cost but high maintenance cost. Owners should consider affordability, both initially and in the long term, and then choose the fence that offers the best features within an acceptable price range. Another factor is whether you have the time and expertise to save money by installing the fence yourself or if you need to hire a professional contractor. Improperly installed fences will be less effective with higher maintenance costs as well.


How long a fence lasts is a function of the type of material it is made of, the construction of the fence, the weather exposure it receives, the size and aggressiveness of horses contained and how well the fence is maintained. Even good fences can fall into disrepair in just a few months if problems are not identified and corrected in time. Crowded conditions in an overstocked pasture or paddock can lead to damage due to constant pushing on the fence by the horses. Be sure to choose materials that are well suited to specific applications. Weather conditions can play a critical role in choosing a fence material. Fences well suited for some climates may not be advisable in others. Check manufacturer’s recommendations, independent product test results and, if possible, other horse owners who are currently using the product.


The best materials and the best intentions are worthless if the fence is not properly planned to be functional. To insure a functional fence, first identify and locate the major areas you want to fence and what the fence should accomplish. Carefully determine where to place walking and vehicle gates. Design a pasture and paddock system that will centralize access to the barn, work areas and feed storage as shown in Figure 1. The centralized location will improve efficiency and management and will reduce labor and operating expenses. Also, consider future expansion opportunities. Design fences with longer term goals in mind so that they do not have to be torn down and done over if expansions are planned.



The appearance of the fence is the final consideration. An attractive and well-maintained fence promotes pride in ownership, increases property value and gives an impression of professionalism. However, safety, affordability, durability and functionality are all more important factors to consider. One approach would be to place more expensive, eye appealing fences in the well-traveled areas and less expensive fences in other areas. However, the more attractive fences must also be functional. Never let appearance alone lead you to choose a fence that doesn’t meet your needs.

Cost and Durability

Quoting fence prices can be troublesome. However, the following table should help. Bear in mind that a higher initial investment in quality fencing may save money in the long run due to lower maintenance cost and longevity.

Fence Costs and Longevity
Type of Fence Initial Cost $/Linear FT Annual Maintenance Cost, $/FT Expected Life Years
Wood Post & Board High High 15-20
Wood Post & Rail High High 10-15
Polymer Post & Rail High Low 20-30
Steel Pipe High Low 15-20
Polymer Coated Wood High Low 20-25
High Tension Wire Low Moderate 20
Polymer Coated Wire Rail Moderate Moderate 20-25
Woven Wire Moderate Low 20-25
Electric Wire Low Moderate 20
Electric Tape Low Moderate 10

Cost based on 2000 retail prices. Cost estimates do not include installation. Annual maintenance costs and expected life years based on proper installation and maintenance in accordance with manufacturer’s recommendations.


Deciding on a fence is a major decision and a major investment. Factors such as safety, durability, cost and appearance all affect the decision. Careful planning is necessary to determine where the fence is to be installed and the objectives the fence must satisfy. Decisions must be reached on the type of fence, fencing materials and fencing layout. Initial cost of some fences may be high, but lower maintenance costs over the long term may prove to be just as economical. Select a quality fence at a price you can afford. If you install and maintain it correctly, it will give you years of reliable service. Additional information on fence construction can be obtained from your county extension agent.


Worley, J. W. and G. Huesner, “Fences for Horses”, Georgia Cooperative Extension Service, Bulletin 1192, 2000.

Russell, M. A. and K. M. Resler, “Fences for Horses”, Purdue University Cooperative Extension Service, Bulletin AS-418, 1993.

Scarborough, J. N. and C. M. Reitnour, “Fencing for Horses”, University of Delawawre Cooperative Extension Service, Bulletin 136, 1986.

American Wood Preservers Institute, Inorganic Arsenical Pressure-Treated Wood,, 2004.

American Wood Preservers Institute, Creosote Pressure Treated Wood,, 2004.

American Wood Preservers Institute, Pentachorophenol Pressure-Treated Wood,, 2004.