Fences are crucial to horse and livestock ownership, allowing property owners to enhance the value and functionality of their property by partitioning land to create areas that meet specific needs—pastures, paddocks and riding arenas.
Whether constructed to confine (or exclude) animals, define the boundaries of your property, or simply add elegant and rustic beauty, fences are an investment that must be carefully planned to maximize efficiency. They must also be constructed of high-quality materials in order to provide many years of service with minimum repairs.
With good planning, you can install a fence strong enough to contain a horse, resilient enough to avoid harm to the animal if it charges, and also deter the horse from attempting to escape in the first place.
A do-it-yourself fence installation is labor intensive, but pretty uncomplicated. With the right planning, tools, and effort, you can install a wood farm fence that will enhance the value of your property, keep animals confined, and look great for many, many years. And you can accomplish all of this for a fraction of what a contractor would charge for the job. But don’t try to save money by scrimping on the materials. As with many things in life, your fence will be only as strong as its weakest element.
Traditional wood post-and-board fences have long been the popular choice for horse enclosures, as they give property a classic, rural look that blends in nicely with its surroundings. Typically constructed of three or four evenly spaced wood planks screwed or nailed between wood posts, post-and-board fences offer strong and attractive protection and are desired by most horse owners—whether for backyard barns or for large equine facilities that house expensive show animals.
For safety, visibility is an important characteristic of fencing for horses. Wood farm fences allow animals to easily see boundaries, and the addition of electric fencing to your post-and-board fence will provide further security and safety, while discouraging corralled animals from leaning against or chewing on the fence.
Most wooden fencing is constructed using pressure-treated pine for its superior strength, resistance to splintering, and easy availability.
Avoid using barbed wire where horses are being corralled. This can cause entanglement and injury from torn hides.
Go here to read more about why wood is a timeless choice of materials for your next fence.
Like most projects, a new fence installation will be much more successful with a bit of thoughtful planning. Your fence will be in place for many years, so do the work ahead of time for long-term success.
A permanent fence around your property establishes a fixed property line between you and your neighbor and helps protect your horses from escape and possible roadway collisions. Temporary or movable fences usually don't last more than three years and are not economical replacements for permanent fences.
To start, sketch the layout of your new fence, making note of the length of each side (use a measuring tape or measuring wheel to determine the running length of each side). Now is the time to decide how your enclosure will best function. When possible, plan to locate gates in a corner close to stables and other farm buildings to facilitate movement of animals from one place to another.
For very large fence projects, an aerial photo of your property can show details of the present property layout and give some indications of the lay of the land. For an aerial photograph of your property, try the US Department of Agriculture’s Farm Service Agency or your local tax office.
Wood is traditional and commonly used for fence posts. For longer fence life, horse owners usually choose pressure-treated pine that has undergone an infusion of EPA-approved chemicals to repel insects and prevent the growth of bacteria or fungi. Pressure-treated lumber is readily available in the United States; look for treated fence posts that are certified for in-ground use. The most common fence posts are pine pressure treated with CCA (chromated copper arsenate). These posts have a greenish color, last longer, and are harder than older treatments. Treated pine posts can be expected to last more than 25 years.
Round post diameters range from 2.5” to 8” or more. The larger the diameter of your post, the stronger your fence will be. Posts of at least 8” diameter should be used for corners and to support gates due to the added stress these points must bear. These will be the backbone of your fence. Line posts can be smaller diameter, but the strength and durability of the fence is correlated to the size of the posts used.
Posts are available in many lengths. Horse fencing should be at least 5’ high. Plan for a fence tall enough to contain your biggest horse or highest jumper.
Choose the post length for your project based on finished height of the fence and how deep the posts will be sunk into the ground, which must be below the frost line in your area (42” in mid-Michigan). At a minimum, the bottom 1/3 of the fence post should be below grade.
Posts that have been planed to create one flat side are called slabs and can be used in place of round posts for line posts. Some users find attaching fence boards to a slab’s flat surface to be more convenient than doing so on the curved surface of a round post.
Posts should be spaced to be not more than 8’ apart. Wider spacing will sacrifice strength, leaving your fence vulnerable to the weight of horses leaning against it, or other challenges to the barricade.
This means you’ll want a post at every corner, as well as a post every 8’ of running length along each side. So designing a fence with sides that are multiples of 8’ makes the math a bit easier. Let’s say you want to create an enclosure that’s 32’ across and 16’ deep. You’ll need 12 posts:
Pressure-treated pine is an ideal board material thanks to its strength, durability, appearance, and availability. Boards measuring 1” x 6” x 16’ are readily available. They are sold with either smooth or rough surfaces. Most horse fences use 3 or 4 boards between each post.
The top board will be attached flush with the top of your fence posts. Place the bottom board low enough to avoid escape by foals or miniature horses. Space the remaining boards equally between the top and bottom. Ideally, the spacing between boards will be small enough to prevent a horse from poking its head through, or large enough that the head will not become caught.
The number of boards you’ll need depends on (1) the running length of your fence; and (2) how many boards will span between each post (typically three or four boards).
In our 32’ x 16’ example, a three-board fence will require (18) 16’ boards.
Remember: you can’t use any boards that are shorter than the distance between any two posts.
Gates can either be pre-fabricated or created onsite. Always place gates in logical places to allow animals to move through easily. The best location usually is in corners to make use of sturdy corner posts, as posts that support gates should be 8” or larger in diameter. Make sure the gate hardware such as hinges and closures are fabricated from sturdy materials; gates that drag on the ground due to inadequate support are an aggravation and a hazard.
Start by staking out your corner posts. This may require removal of obstructing trees and brush. Once the corners are established, run twine tightly between them.
Use a measuring tape, measuring wheel, or board cut to the correct length to locate the position of each line post. This distance should be no more than 8’ between the center of each post.
Remember to account for the diameter of your post when staking out your line posts. You want the boards from either side of the post to meet at the center of that post, and you must allow space for the board of the next section of fence to be attached adjacent to the current one on the same post.
A post hole digger or power auger will make quick work of creating holes for your posts, but a shovel and elbow grease will also get the job done. Post hole diggers and power augers can be rented if you don’t own one already. Alternatively, a professional fencing contractor may have the capability of driving posts into the ground, which compacts the soil around the post as it’s driven. Hiring this part of the job out may make sense if your fence project is very large and your budget allows.
Don’t get too far ahead of your work when digging your holes; overnight rain can undo your hard work if holes are left open.
Field fences should be 54” to 60” above ground level. A 60” minimum height is wise near roadways or anywhere an escaped horse can flee your property.
Dig all holes so that the top of the fence is the same height all along your work, following the up and down contours of your land. Mark your digging tool to the needed depth to help ensure uniform hole depth.
Remember, post holes must reach past the frost line in your region, and at least 1/3 of the post length should be below grade.
Place the post in the center of the hole making sure it’s centered and straight, and that the length remaining above ground is consistent down the line.
If you’re using slabs for your line posts, make sure to orient the flat surface so that the boards can be nailed to it. If the boards are going on the inside of your fence, the flat side should face the inside of your work. If boards are to be nailed on the outside, the flat side must face the outside. It may seem obvious, but this detail can get forgotten when you’re in the midst of the project.
Once the post is straight, backfill as necessary and tamp tightly. The weight of the post will help keep it in place as soil settles in around it.
Work your way down the line until all posts are installed.
Once the posts are set in the ground, it’s time to nail or screw on the cross boards. Wet boards offer the advantage of having some flexibility when installed, making attachment easier if your line of posts isn’t perfectly straight or you have a need for a curved enclosure. These will tighten up as they dry.
Whether to attach the boards on the inside or the outside of your fence is up to you. Some property owners prefer the appearance of boards attached to the outside of the fence. Attaching to the inside of the post tends to create a stronger barrier, as the boards are less likely to be knocked loose if a horse leans against it or otherwise challenges the fence. Not having exposed posts inside the fence also prevents injury to any horse that runs down the fence line.
A 16’ board will span 3 posts set at 8’ intervals. Place the top board flush, or nearly so, to the top of your posts.
At the bottom, an opening of 8” to 12” will keep feet and legs from getting trapped, prevent foals from rolling under, and allow for mowing or other upkeep. Openings between boards should be either large enough that a hoof, leg, or head can't become trapped, or small enough to prevent a hoof from poking through.
Use a tape measure to get the correct vertical spacing between boards. Tack or screw the boards on lightly, cutting as needed, and checking that they are straight before attaching permanently with nails or screws. It’s easier to reposition a plank that’s lightly fixed than one that’s firmly attached onto the post.
Stagger the seams that butt up next to each other so they don’t always begin and end on the same posts. This will help prevent sections from popping off due to stress applied by the horse.
Painting or coating your new fence is recommended and there are nearly unlimited shades of stain and paint to choose from. In addition to enhancing the classic and uncomplicated nature of a wood horse fence, regular coating maintenance helps preserve the fence’s wood—and good looks—for a longer life.
Electric fencing can be easily added to your post-and-board fence to deter horses from leaning against the fence, chewing on it, or reaching over the top to graze. They create a psychological force that makes horses think escape is either too formidable or impossible.
Electric fence systems include a charger that dispenses a high-voltage, low-amperage current; a conductive wire material to carry that current; and ground rods sunk in the soil to complete a circuit. When an animal touches the wire, it gets an unpleasant jolt. The charge is powerful but short; enough to get the animal’s attention without causing injury. Modern controllers have the capacity to power long distances of fences.
Electric fences are easy to install, have low initial cost, and are cheap to operate. This inexpensive addition can increase the effectiveness and life of your new fence. Installation how-to videos and information are available online or check your county extension office for resources.
As you can see, it’s not difficult to install a wood horse fence yourself with careful planning, the right materials and tools, and some sweat equity. A fence that’s properly installed and cared for will give you long and trouble-free service, while adding value and beauty to your property.
Meadow Ridge Farms & Supply is a one-stop shop for wood posts, slabs, and boards. Let us help you make the right statement on your property with handsome, durable Michigan pine fencing materials.
Contact us today! Our expert wood fencing representatives can answer your questions and help you choose the right products to meet your needs.
Fences for the Farm / University of Georgia Extension
Planning and Building Fences on the Farm / University of Tennessee Extension
How to Build a Fence / Modern Farmer
USDA Farm Service Agency
Michigan State University Extension Office