Equestrian Electric Fencing

Once snubbed in equestrian circles, electric fences now come in forms well suited for horse properties. Time was, everyone who owned livestock knew the basic rules: cattle and sheep needed to be enclosed with electric wire, but horses were best off behind wood planks or poles.

The improvement in fencing technology in the last ten years has outstripped the advances made in the previous sixty years. Designed in wider braids, ribbons or bands for greater visibility, modern electric fencing is the choice of a growing number of horse-keepers, who find that many of the old beliefs – that it is painful, unsafe, expensive, unreliable and difficult to maintain – are no longer true.

Safety is, of course, the foremost concern in any fencing decision. But what exactly constitutes a safe fence can become a complicated question. In some ways, horses are among the easiest animals to keep secure: They are domesticated and if they have all the food, water, shelter and friends they want, most horses aren’t likely to try to leave their familiar surroundings. On the other hand, horses do pose a special challenge: short of a 3 metre concrete wall, not much will hold in a 500 kilogram animal who’s determined enough to escape. You are after all simply fencing in the desire.

Electric fences offer a barrier that horses respect, and the newer materials and erecting techniques that are designed to flex under pressure, are less likely to injure a kamikaze or Houdini. They are lighter in construction and designed to have a “rubber band” effect.

Touch an electric fence once and you’ll know why it works; it’s not very painful — about the equivalent of a sharp slap — but you’ll remember the sensation, and you won’t want to repeat it anytime soon. Horses, too, learn quickly that they don’t want to bump, push through, rub against or chew on them. The energizer is designed to send out a high voltage (about 6000volts), low amperage (about 100 milliamps) electrical charge for a very limited time (about 1/300th. of a second.) every second. Compare this with two other scenarios.

  1. Static Electricity when you touch a door, about 20000 volts at 5 milliamps for 1/1000th. of a second, unpleasant but not lasting.
  2. Mains Electricity. 220volts at 13 Amps and constant, very unpleasant and regularly causes death.

This sting is what creates a psychological barrier within the horses’ brain and it is this that fences him in. A fence with a voltage as low as 2000v is able to create an impression with a horse but this low voltage has other problems. Horses’ hooves and hair are insulators so if they are on dry ground then 2000v will be insufficient. A more viable fence should run at 6000 volts to be effective. A wimpy energizer gives you a wimpy fence.

This higher voltage will also help when the horse has a blanket (a very good insulator) on but a second line aimed at the horses knees will be more effective. Utilizing bait on the line will also work.

Animals are the intended targets of electric fences, but anything else that comes in contact with both fence and ground will also complete the circuit. Very small items, such as blades of grass, allow a small amount of power to travel from the fence to the ground rods, but not enough to drain the entire system. (It’s like a series of small holes in a hose, allowing some of the water to dribble away, weakening the pressure in the hose.) A short circuit occurs when an object, such as a fallen tree limb or the wire wound around a tree, reroutes all of the power from the fence to the ground system. Beyond the tree limb, the charge left in the fence is reduced to zero.

There are a wide range of conductors available in the form of standard wire, poly twine, tape or rope. The first consideration should always be the conductivity. This is quoted in Ohms/meter (or &/m). The lower this figure is the better and should be linked to the price of the material. Whichever conductor you use is up to personal preference. There are a lot of trial results available showing that horses see different materials just as well as if not better than humans and visibility is a human derived problem.

Electric Fencing for Horses