As horse owners, safety of our equine partners usually ranks at the very top of our priority list. We wrap their legs, pad their halters, soak their hay cubes, identify weeds in their turnout areas, and smooth out any rough edges that a horse may find with their often injury-prone bodies. When they almost inevitably do sustain some sort of injury in their lifetime, we search tirelessly for the culprit responsible, and correct it to the best of our abilities and resources. We feel good laying our heads down at night knowing their pasture area is clear of debris. Their bellies are full, their thirst is quenched, but have you ever properly considered the fencing that holds your investment in his safe haven?
If your answer is “no” or “sort of” you are certainly not alone! Fence related injuries are a frontrunner for top causes of injury to our horses, and wire fences are a repeat offender in this category. Both barbed wire and smooth steel wire carry hefty risks when it comes to the life and limbs of your horse. These risks, possible injuries, as well as more appropriate fencing options are worth educating yourself on, to save you heartache and vet bills. It may not be a surprise that leg laceration wounds are known to be the most common fence-related injury. It is our responsibility to use proper precautions, where fencing is concerned, to reduce the chances of entanglement.
Flight vs. Fence
The horse’s instinctual “fight or flight” response is the main reason that interaction with wire fencing can become a panicked, deadly situation in a short period of time. If you have ever had horses kept in enclosures with wire fencing, you know that they will soon figure out that they can use their body weight to stretch the wire with their chest, to get those tasty looking blades of grass that are just beyond their reach. You are forever tightening the wire and cursing your horse for the damage to the fence, and ripping out parts of their mane. Some may have horses in neighboring pens that kick or strike at each other, and are separated only by wire fence. Soon enough, both of these situations will likely lead to entanglement. The fence leaning horse may eventually step a foot forward over the bottom wire. Neighboring horses that do not get along may eventually get a hind leg stuck over the wire while kicking out.
In situations like this, the horse does not operate on what we would consider a rational level. Instinct typically takes over, and since there is no offender to fight, they naturally revert to flight. Horses with legs entangled in wire can completely sever muscle, tendons, and ligaments while trying to get away. They can thrash with such force that they fracture their own bones. Wire is thin and cuts easily through flesh when force is applied. Wire can also break, but usually being “high tensile” means it could take a lot of force for the wire to break. By the time that happens, the horse is usually seriously injured. Blind panic will usually cause a horse to fight until they are completely exhausted, and by then, the damage has already been done. It is horrific to witness one of these incidents, and can be very difficult to safely release a horse from entanglement.
Barbed wire is commonly used as a lower-cost fencing option for larger areas. If 4+ strands are used, and it is kept in good repair, tight with properly braced posts, and paired with electric wire, it can be a good option for large field fencing. It is more suited to cattle than horses, even with those precautions taken. However, you usually see this fence hanging looser than it should be, with only two or three strands, stapled to posts that are in the process of decay. This creates the factor of very low visibility, paired with loose fences in disrepair, which can lead to disaster.
Barbed wire injuries tend to be the worst of any wire injuries. This is because, in the process of struggling, the horse will often run his leg over the barbs repeatedly, which results in pieces of flesh being removed. The wounds from barbed wire are typically quite jagged and irregular, making treatment and healing more difficult.
Smooth wire is a commonly used pasture fencing product. Horses tend to lean on this wire as it has no sharp points, and stretches easily if distance between posts as well as tension is not optimal. Many horse owners are also using 2 or 3 strands of this wire, sometimes paired with a hot wire on the top to prevent leaning. This doesn’t protect horses from injuries or entanglement due to poor fence visibility, fights over a shared fence line, or injuries sustained on those occasions when your fence loses charge for various reasons. Smooth wire is also best used with regular tightening, fence posts placed closer together, 4+ wires, and a strand or two of electrical wire, kept in good repair, to discourage leaning. Even with these precautions, there are much safer and more suitable fencing options available for horses.
Wounds from smooth wire are generally not as jagged as barbed wire wounds. With force applied, however, smooth wires are just as capable of cutting through soft tissues and even bone, if it is high-tensile wire. Exercising extreme caution and diligence when installing and maintaining this type of fence is well worth it.
Qualities of Appropriate Horse Fencing
See http://livestocktrail.illinois.edu/horsenet/paperDisplay.cfm?ContentID=6727 for more detailed research into what comprises safe horse fencing.
Here at centaurfencing.net we feel that we go above and beyond to manufacture a product that is safe for horses, but we are not the only ones. Products like Finish Line and HorseRail are built with a similar concern for horse safety. Fence products like these are the future of safe fencing, boasting low maintenance, durability through a vast array of environmental conditions, and additional safety measures added to reduce injury to horses who may come into contact with the fence.
Keep in mind that the fence you choose to use is not only an investment in your horses, but also in your property and peace of mind. When major soft tissue structures are damaged, often a horse will never perform at the level they did before the injury, or you may lose them altogether. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Protect your investment and practice safe fencing to prevent entanglement and injury.
By: Brittany Oracheski,