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Fence trouble with a yearling colt

From: Marissa

Dear Jessica,

I have read many articles on your site and have found them all to be very informative! Congratulations on knowing what you are talking about, and way to be very thorough on your answers. I have checked to the best of my ability, and I hope this question hasn't been asked already. I'll try to keep my question as brief as I can, but I don't want to leave you with questions.

I recently purchased a yearling Quarter Horse colt. He is very level-minded around me, other people, animals running to and fro in the barn aisle, and other horses and he is very patient. He is a great horse to train and to be around. I keep him at my aunt's place.

I love him to pieces, (lucky for him! ;) ) but recently, I've been having some problems. I am very busy with things during the day and I do my best to get out to see him twice a day and work with him/excercise him. Soon after purchasing him, we put him out in a smaller paddock (about 400 ft in total diameter, if I am correct) where he could get some running in. It has four strands of wire, though I am not sure of the guage. We tried him out there first without electric, assuming that if he got out, we would try it. I watched him for about an hour on and off, while doing barn chores, and he was fine. I then went inside and had lunch, assuming he would be okay, and after about another hour, he had stepped out. He had been grazing underneath the lowest wire, but seemed to still be respecting the fence up until that point. He really needs to be out and getting fresh air, so we electrified the two center strands. With my moderate objection, we got him to "shock himself" to realize that it was on now, and let him try this again.

He was fine this time for about four hours, and then stepped between the two bottom strands. I believe, and I'm not sure because I am inexperienced with electric fencing, that the fence was at 5,000 volts.

We have many ideas on what to do, such as add more strands, or raise the voltage. We also recently found out that his previous owner neglected to tell us that the only way she kept him in a fence was with her electric fence set on it's highest setting. We've also considered purchasing a different type of fence, such as a mesh type with squares and trying that without electricity, of course.

Are those types safe for horses if the hole is smaller than his hooves? Do you have any other suggestions on keeping him inside a fence or an alternative way of daily excercise? I am at my wit's end! I'd appreciate any help you could give me, and thanks!


Hi Marissa! Your youngster does need to be outdoors where he can exercise freely - he's lucky that you realize that! Many owners don't, and attempt to keep young, growing horses in stalls, with dismal results. The upside of the turnout you've provided for your young horse is that you've given him a much better chance of staying healthy, happy, and sound. The downside is that, alas, you are probably going to need to install a different kind of fencing if you want your yearling to stay inside his paddock.

If I understand your letter correctly, your yearling is in a large paddock that's roughly 400' on each side. That's a good-sized turnout, and he is a very lucky horse, especially if it's a grass paddock. A lot of horses are put into tiny paddocks or runs - some only as wide as a stall and perhaps twice as long - where there is no grass and no real possibility of exercising freely, and it's quite understandable if those horses devote their time to contriving ways to get themselves out of those tiny spaces. As you undoubtedly know, it's not reasonable to expect a horse to exercise itself in an enclosure that's far too small for anything but walking - and that provides the horse with no reason to DO any walking. So, again, you've done well by your horse. The upside of your horse's large paddock is that, again, with a good amount of running space, he can move freely and grow up strong and healthy. The downside is that if it's a square paddock, 400' on each side, you'll have nearly 1600' of fencing to buy. You said "400' diameter, which sounded like a large ROUND paddock, but I'm having a little difficulty imagining a 400' diameter round pen made from strands of electric wire, so I'm going to assume that it's square. In any case, even if it is round, a pen 400' across will require quite a lot of fencing, and a good many posts.

It's fairly obvious that whatever fence you install will need to be strong, high, tight, safe (no barbed wire or high-tensile wire), and highly visible. Traditional wood fencing would meet your needs; so would the wide strips of polymer with embedded wires (Centaur, Spur, etc.). Other excellent options would be woven (not welded) wire fence designed for horses - that is, V-mesh or horseman's non-climb. That's the one you described, with the 2x4 holes - not to be confused with "field fence" which is meant for cattle and has 4x4 holes. Field fence isn't suitable for horses. Whatever sort of fence you build, adding a single strand of electric wire along the inside of the top rail will discourage horses from leaning over - and on - the rail. Some people like to use electrified lines or tape (e.g., ElectroBraid and HorseGuard) when they have a large amount of acreage to fence and the types of horse fencing mentioned above just aren't in the budget. It IS possible that a fence made from four lines of such products might discourage your youngster from escaping, but since he's already shown talent for getting out of a four-line fence by wriggling between the wires without breaking them, I'd personally worry that he would quickly figure out a way to escape anything but an actual physical barrier. In any case, whatever fence you install is going to cost you some money. On the bright side, though, a good fence should not just keep him inside the enclosure, but also keep him safe.

Some horses seem to go all their lives without ever testing a fence. Other horses test every fence, every day, wherever they are. Generally speaking, the larger the enclosure and the more horse-friendly it is (forage, friends, water, shelter, etc.), the less reason a horse will have to approach - and test - the fence. If most of the grazing, water, shelter, etc. is in the center of, say, a ten-acre field, then the owner of that field can probably get away with less suitable fencing; on the other hand, if a horse is in a small pasture or paddock of 2 acres or less, there's a very good chance that the horse will come into regular contact with the fence, and if the horse is in a tiny run or other small enclosure where he's never more than 10' or 20' from the fence, he's certain to have encounters with it, and that fence will need to be very solid indeed.

Your yearling is young and strong and clever, and as he grows up he will only become stronger, and he's unlikely to lose the habit of fence-testing. In the long run, you'll save money by investing in a fence that will keep him in. You and your husband (and your aunt, since it's her property) will need to get together and discuss what sort of fence you want to put up. Do your homework, look into the different types of fencing available, and then talk to some local fence-builders with good reputations and get some estimates. Fences aren't cheap, but they can be much less expensive than vet bills, and they are MUCH less expensive than dealing with the kind of litigation that is likely to arise if any person or vehicle has a close encounter with a loose horse on the road...

Whatever you decide to do about your fencing project, be sure to think it through, discuss it thoroughly, and cost it out before you initiate any action! Here are a couple of resources you may find useful.

These are web sites where you'll find good general information about fences for horses:

Here are the web sites of three fence manufacturers:

And this is a book that can help you with your fencing and much, much more:

Horsekeeping on a Small Acreage by Cherry Hill

Here's one more thought: Since your aunt has stables and (obviously) at least one very large paddock, does she also have some pastures, perhaps with more horse-suitable fencing, where your yearling could be turned out? If not, is there somewhere else you could arrange to keep him for a year or so? He still has a year or two before he'll be ready to begin any kind of real training, and if you found a good boarding arrangement where he could be in a large, safely-fenced pasture with other horses, he would be better off and you could still visit him and work with him several times a week. From the standpoint of his health and happiness, a large paddock of his own is a nice thing to have (especially if you replace the fencing with something more suitable), but a large pasture and the companionship of other horses would be even nicer. Even if replacing the inadequate fencing around this large paddock is your only long-term option, boarding your youngster in someone else's pasture for a few months would give you time to think about, plan, purchase, and install your new fence without having to worry constantly about the whereabouts of your horse.

Whatever you do, congratulations on making the decision to do it soon, before your young "escape artist" gets hurt or causes a major problem.


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