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Fencing should allow wildlife to pass through the property while providing a boundary for horses. Photo courtesy Deb Balliet.

Fences keep horses safely confined and mark boundaries, provide decorative borders or privacy screens and serve as windbreaks. Requirements vary among states as to where and how to construct fences, especially between open range and other types of pasturelands.

Properly constructed fences protect horses and enable wildlife to pass safely through the property without damaging the barrier. Wildlife damage to fences poses an additional expense for landowners and increased risk that horses will escape or be injured.

There are reasonable low-cost fence designs and modifications that are friendly to wildlife. Strategic placement of fence lines and crossings can save money and headaches in the long term while protecting and enhancing wildlife.

Many types of fence that are hazardous for wildlife pose risks to horses as well. Barbed wire, widely spaced woven wire and top spikes can tangle or injure wildlife as well as horses. Wire and even poly rope, if not properly tensioned or too closely spaced at the top, poses a risk of entanglement.

Fences whose bottoms are low to the ground separate adults from their fawns and calves if the adult is able to jump over but the young cannot go over or under them. Double fences may not be negotiable as one obstacle or, if too closely spaced, jumped one at a time. Buck and rail (jackleg) fences pose an equally impenetrable three-dimensional obstacle for wildlife.

The first rule of thumb for fence placement and design is that less is better. Remove obsolete fences. Fence seasonal pastures with power fences, where feasible, and remove them when not in use. Incorporate gaps, gates, lay-down sections or adjustable top and bottom wires or rails for wildlife passage in the off-season.

Increase the visibility of top wires with flagging, PVC covers or high-visibility polytape. Space top and second wires at least 12 inches apart. Place bottom wires, boards or rails at least 10 inches above the ground for enclosures with ponies or foals and 18 inches for full-size horses to provide an underpass for wildlife. Alternatively, intersperse higher bottom sections in fences where they cross wildlife trails.

Become familiar with natural corridors and habitats for wild animals and birds in your area. Look for game trails, tufts of hair caught on fence wires, trails to water, gullies and swales. Place and construct fences so as not to obstruct wildlife movement and access to water, food and cover.

For more information, find your local Extension Office here or here.