Fencing Maintenance Facts
You’ve spent a lot of time and effort deciding what type of
fencing will enclose your happy little herd. And you’ve spent
as much money in materials and in installation. But no matter
what fencing you’ve decided on (and what the manufacturer
claims), there will be some repair work and general upkeep
involved to keep it safe, effective and looking great.
The level and kind of maintenance you will have to undertake as
well as the costs involved depends on the fencing you have. As
a general rule, the higher the initial investment, the less
work will have to go into keeping it well maintained.
“[In Eastern Canada] this year’s spring repairs could be more
extensive than in some years,” says Dwayne Job of System
Fencing, Stalls & Equipment, based out of Campbellville,
Ontario. The large amount of snowfall, drifts and ice are
likely to have played havoc with many fences, downing wire,
knocking off boards and shifting posts. “The fences have been
covered right over in some cases,” he says.
Job shares some tips on how to do spring clean up and general
upkeep for the more common types of fencing used in Canada.
What About Wood?
Wood requires a high level of maintenance compared to other
fencing but, if you are willing to put in the time and effort
to ensure that it is safe for your horses and continually
provides a solid barrier to escape, this most traditional of
fencing will last for decades.
Wood contracts and expands due to temperature and moisture and
is not immune to equine antics. For these reasons, a fence made
of wood should be inspected on a regular basis but there is no
time that this is more important than in the spring. Any part
of the fence that is less than perfect should be replaced
immediately because a weak spot can undermine the integrity of
the fence. As well, fences in disrepair can cause horses
“You should go around and check to see if any boards are off
from over the winter and then also check if there are any nails
sticking out or if any boards developed a big splinter or
crack. Usually when a board breaks or a horse leans on it, it
creates a spear and you want to check for those so that if a
horse is running down the fence line it’s not likely to get
impaled,” says Job.
In addition, he suggests that fences be checked as a matter of
course, every couple of days or once a week as wood breaks down
Hammer in loose nails. Shake each post and, with the bucket of
a tractor, push down any that have heaved over the winter or
straighten them by using a shovel and stone dust to pack the
post back into place. If gateposts have shifted, adjust the
hinges to make the gate hang straighter again.
Wood can be painted and stained with a preservative to protect
it from weather conditions, insects and fungus as well as an
anti-chew/cribbing substance (see sidebar on page 44) applied
to prevent horses (and other animals) from gnawing away your
Oak board fencing doesn’t necessarily require painting or
preservation. It is a popular choice of material because, as a
hardwood, horses aren’t as able to chew on it and its more
durable. It can make maintenance a bit more difficult, however.
“If you have to replace a board you’ll probably have to
pre-drill the nail holes because the wood is so hard you can’t
just nail a nail through,” said Job.
With softer woods such as spruce and pressure-treated woods,
Job says, “You should put something on to help them last
longer.” Paint and preservatives
can be applied by rolling, brushing or spraying.
“We don’t really recommend creosote anymore because it’s just
not as powerful as it used to be. It now goes to a light brown
colour where it used to be jet black and it’s because the
government has cracked down because of all the toxic stuff that
was in there,” explains Job.
Paige wire, also commonly known as “farm fence”, is not an
ideal horse fence but nevertheless, says Job, “there are a lot
of farms around that have it.” If a horse gets a leg stuck in
the holes in the wire (about 6” x 12”) they can find it very
difficult to extract themselves especially if they are shod and
the wire slips between the shoe and the hoof.
In the winter, paige wire is particularly susceptible to being
pulled down from the weight of snow. At any time of year,
horses lean on it, stand on it and pull it down themselves.
“You have to pull it back up. It can’t really be retightened,”
explains Job. “Once it’s stretched, it’s done.” He adds that if
it is an old fence, it’s probably just best to re-install it
because you’ll probably break the wires when you try to pull
and bend it back into shape again.
“The way to increase the lifespan of a paige wire fence is to
put some electric on there or use an electric off-set nine
inches from the post. That helps prevent the horses stepping on
it or bending the fence down.”
Wire fencing such as this also rusts over time. “It depends on
how much the horses are using it and where it’s situated. I’ve
seen fences rust within five years and other stuff is 40 years
old and it’s rusty but still structurally strong,” says
Mesh fences, such as diamond and square mesh (the safest for
horses, as it is more difficult for them to get hooves and
other body parts stuck between the weave), are best installed
with wood or PVC rails on top and bottom for added strength,
security and visibility. Often electric wire is used as
It is relatively inexpensive to install and maintainance is
low-level but mesh should still be examined for sags and areas
where horses may have interfered with it.
A High-Tensile Situation
This is a strong, long-lasting type of fencing but Job doesn’t
recommended it for horses because it is difficult for horses to
see and is very sharp should they become entangled. But as with
paige wire, many horse people still use it.
He suggests using high-tensile coated wire - covered in polymer
- with an 1 1/2” electric tape on top or in the middle to make
the fence more visible. “Also, when you turn a horse into a
paddock like that, make sure you lead him around the field and
even push him into the fence so they understand and respect the
fencing,” instructs Job.
Again, maintenance is particularly important in the spring.
High-tensile wire should be retightened after the ground is
finished shifting (i.e. after the frost has come out).
Tensioners located right on the fencing require a special
handle to tighten any slack. “It’s very, very easy to do,” says
Note: when working with high-tensile wire, wear safety goggles
and work gloves as wire can re-coil and cause serious
Flexible rail is comprised of high-tensile wire with a
polyethylene coating. This type of fence also requires
tensioning after winter once the ground has dried up. Like,
regular high-tensile fence, this can be done with a tensioning
handle. If any posts have moved, they can be adjusted the same
as those in a board fence. Flexible rail does not need painting
Other forms of commonly used fencing are the ropes, braids and
tapes that carry electric current. Electric fencing is often
used in combination with other types of fence for added
security and to prevent horses from interfering with the fence.
The addition of electric lines, in effect, add to a fence’s
strength and longevity because horses are not inclined to fuss
with or go near a fence that gives them low-level, harmless
shock each time they touch it.
He said that electric fences should be checked a couple of
times a year. Like with other types of fencing, the most
important time is post-winter. “All of these should be checked
for tautness in the spring,” says Job. The electric tape can
even be tightened by hand “and it snugs right up again. It’s
very easy, very low maintenance.”
He cautions that electric fencing can get pulled down by the
snow in the winter so with any of the electric products it is
important to make sure that insulators are still secure, the
lines aren’t broken, that the fence isn’t arcing (when the
current jumps through a gap in the line via a spark). Also
ensure that the grounding rod at the power source is still
properly attached and that any under-gate cables haven’t been
chewed by mice or other rodents at ground level.
Clean brush out from underneath the fence line to prevent
grounding out and make your fence last longer. Job suggests
using grass inhibitor such as “Round Up” in the middle of the
summer underneath the fence line to help keep the grass from
growing up into the fence.
Frequently inspect the power source (electrical outlet, battery
charger, even solar-powered in some cases) because horses will
soon find out if there is no charge on the wire. Replace
batteries before they run out of charge - set up a schedule to
help you remember.
“Anytime you have an electric fence, you really should have a
fence tester,” advises Job. This gadget (also called a
voltmeter), available at farm stores or fencing equipment
providers, lets you know whether a charge is still running
through your fence and at what voltage. Ideally, says Job, “You
should have over 4,000 volts of power on your fence line.” The
less expensive models have five lights that indicate the
voltage. More costly digital models can also be purchased. Poke
one end into the ground and touch the fence with the other end
and voila - you have your reading.
Says Job, “It used to be that horse owners said, ‘Oh electric,
it never works, it won’t keep my horse in, it always breaks
down.’ But nowadays most of the electric materials have
anywhere from a 10-20-year warranty on them and they’re using a
lot of different polymers and polyethylenes and stainless steel
and copper wires to be the conductors and they’re really quite
PVC - Easy As Can Be
Polyvinylchloride fencing, better known as PVC, is a durable
fencing material that is definitely more costly initially than
other options but because there is virtually no upkeep, it may
be, in the long run, less expensive overall. PVC fence
construction is such that the boards are slipped into slots in
hollow posts, thus no nails are used.
The product contains titanium dioxide to prevent breakdown (the
heat of the sun can weaken some synthetic materials) and to
stop discolouration caused by the sun’s ultraviolet radiation.
This negates the need for repainting and/or resurfacing. In
addition, most horses with the tendency to chew on fences don’t
appreciate the taste or texture of PVC. Therefore, no time will
be spent applying anti-cribbing material or replacing chewed up
Job says most PVC fencing carries a 20-year warranty.
As with other fencing, adjust posts that are out of line and
pound down those that are sticking up. Replace any rails that
Job suggests that PVC be used with electric fencing because it
can get brittle and break when it is really cold. The board
edges can be very sharp and
dangerous. “The winter is very hard on it, especially if there
are horses right on the fencing.”
by by Nicole Kitchener - May, 2001