One of the things you learn as a horse owner is to expect that work related to your horse habit will not be confined to a schedule. It would be great if everything in barn and pasture ran smoothly while you’re at work, on vacation or it’s cold/rainy/yucky outside. I would prefer that to-do items conveniently appear on my list around, oh, 11 AM on a Saturday, provided it’s sunny, not too windy, and warm (but not too warm) and I’m not sick. But that’s not how life works. Case in point is this little incident that happened Sunday. It was cold, I had just completed a few necessary outside tasks (watering horses, putting out hay) and was looking forward to kicking off my boots and enjoying the remainder of my afternoon on a day that is supposed to be a day of rest. As I leaned down to lock a gate I heard what sounded like a car crash. I spun around to look down the road at a stop sign where no one actually stops but didn’t see any cars there. My next instinct was to see what Cash was doing. He tends to be the instigator of trouble and this time my instinct was right. Cash was facing away from the fence, rearing up at one of our other equines. Behind him was a cracked fence board. The sound I heard was the snapping of wood and screws tearing out of a fence post. I watched him examine his handiwork and I would bet an apple he was thinking of how he might use this broken fence to some advantage. I’m sure it was an accident – he was kicking at someone or thrashing around, posturing in response to the fresh new hay roll. Just as I thought I was done for the day, I had to repair a fence.
Cash breaks another fence board
As I examined the fence post (right in the photo) and discovered it was missing a large piece of wood that came off as the screws ripped through, I had a few angry words for Cash, which he completely ignored. After calming down a little, it occurred to me that this was a demonstration of the amazing power of a horse. When I relayed the story to Mikki, she reminded me that that’s probably what would happen to our bones if we were to be kicked like that. Food for thought.
As I was adding the above photo, the folder that I use to store such photos had others over the years showing Cash standing next to broken fences. I haven’t searched lately but I suspect I’ve written other posts about this very subject. Troublemaker! Don’t get me wrong, though, he’s a nice horse but he is alpha in his herd and isn’t afraid to demonstrate it.
So if you’re thinking about having horses, mentally prepare yourself for the eventuality of having to do unplanned barn, pasture, fence and sometimes horse repairs at inconvenient times. And always keep spare fence boards around.
Barbed wire is bad for horses. Today we began replacing it. We’ve spoken of the dangers of barbed wire before. The biggest problem seems to be that horses get tangled in it when no one is looking and can end up seriously wounded. We know people whose horses have died this way. The property we’re on has a mix of wood fence and barbed wire and was probably used a long time ago for cattle. We plan to replace all of the barbed wire at some point but as you can imagine, the cost would be pretty high on a property this size (7+ acres of pasture). So for the visible areas, we’re continuing with a three board wooden fence, electrified as necessary on the top row. For the rest of the pasture, we’ll probably use something inexpensive but effective like Electrobraid.
Since Pop and Granny moved in on property adjacent to the pasture, it made sense to replace this fence first. So we started by selecting a spot for a walk-through gate. Normally this would be in the shape of a V but we’re building a hybrid version in the shape of a U. Basically it’s wide enough for a human to slide through but not a horse. If built right, you don’t need to open and close anything because the horses won’t fit in. From here, we’ll replace a section at a time until all of the barbed wire between the two properties is gone.
Today was nice and mostly warm, in the upper 60s and dry so there were no concerns about the concrete we’re using on our fence posts setting and drying. We used an auger (post hole digger for a tractor) on the Kubota that saved us a lot of work. Augers don’t seem to work well in clay soil so what might take a minute or two in Missouri takes twenty or more minutes in east Tennessee. But it beats digging by hand! Taking the advice of someone who build a lot of fences, we covered the part of the pressure treated 4x4s we used as fence posts in roofing tar paper in an attempt to keep moisture and dirt away from the wood. It’s cheap and easy to do and we’re hoping it will add life to the posts.
As with any project, especially one where learning is involved, it’s taking longer than we expected but we’re getting better at it with each post we stick in the ground. By the time we’re done, we’ll be fence installation experts!
I’ll show before and after pictures in an upcoming post.
I guess I should have expected it because it seems just about every year our vacation is interrupted by a phone call from a concerned neighbor about our horses roaming the streets. This one was no exception. We were 400 miles away in Savannah, GA and the phone rings. Luckily our backup system worked this time. The last time this happened, all of our horse contacts were away also.
Now you might think that our fence is pretty crappy after reading our posts about fence breaches but in truth it’s a good fence, a mixture of a three board wood fence (double boarded on the top layer) with barbed wire. The barbed wire isn’t horse-friendly so we’re replacing it over time but normally it works to keep animals inside pasture and is very common where we live in east Tennessee.
The first break was just Romeo, our small Appaloosa. A neighbor called to inform us he was down the road in an open pasture by himself. A horse friend led him home and Mikki’s dad patched where we thought he got out. Romeo is a barrel horse, flexy and nimble. There was one strand of barbed wire that was spread a little far so he patched it up very well. The next day, another call comes in telling us that Romeo is walking down the highway between two open pastures. Ack! After being led to the barn, a quick check revealed the previous patch job was still intact but a more thorough perimeter sweep identified that a tree had fallen way out back in a place that was difficult for humans to detect. Romeo simply stepped over the fence and went on his merry way. Why the other 3 horses didn’t follow, we don’t know. Mikki’s dad got a crash course in barbed wire fence repair with the help of a horse friend and everything was fine. Until tonight.
We waited a little late to feed the horses tonight. As I looked up at the fence next to the barn, I stopped in my tracks as I saw the carnage. Fence was everywhere. With my flashlight, I pointed in the direction I thought the horses would have gone and saw lots of shiny eyes reflecting the light. They were eating grass from my neighbor’s lush green lawn. It wasn’t hard to get them to return to the barn since it was feeding time but darn if they didn’t have to spend a few of the hottest days this summer in the barn while we bought wood and planned our next move.
The next day I was able to see what they had done and get a picture. Two 4×4 posts were snapped as well as some of the fence boards. This is the area we call the peninsula and it’s a problem spot in our pasture. Our horses congregate here and when a fight breaks out, there aren’t many options for escape. I think this is likely what happened versus the horses leaning against the fence for greener grass. This break seems like it was pretty violent.
We’ve decided to move the fence to eliminate this peninsula and to make way for our manure composting system. This is now much higher on our priority list.
By the way, it’s a good idea to always have some emergency repair supplies around. These kinds of things almost always happen to us at night or on a Sunday when the lumber yards are closed.
Photographic proof of one of my fence vandals is below. This is Moonshine checking out the grass on the wrong side of the fence. Valentine and Cash do it too, though Valentine is such a giraffe, he goes over the top of the fence instead of through it. The fence posts are starting to loosen from all of that horse weight pushing against them. Electrifying is in our future, I think.
We had been having a pretty good year so far rain-wise. Last year was desert-like in east Tennessee but this year through July was almost normal, yielding a few cuttings of hay for most fields. Someone must have bragged about it because from August 1 through August 24, we had absolutely no measurable precipitation. And everything died. Our grass died, the hay fields look bad and even some trees seem to be shedding their leaves early. Today marks a break in that dry spell. We’ve had a decent steady rain and more is predicted for the next few days. I’ve never loved rain so much as when I became a horse owner. So much of the horse life depends on rain.
That’s the good news. The bad news is that one of our frisky horses broke through the fence…AGAIN. This is the third time this has happened at this spot and the second time the break resulted in an escaped horse. Apparently horses can’t read signs. Not an exit…NOT AN EXIT! Fortunately I work from home and my office is close enough to this section of fence for me to have heard a loud noise. I went to investigate and found Cash eating grass in our backyard. The other horses were chasing each other no where near the fence. It’s cooler today and raining and it seems to have made them frisky. Our backyard has some yummy grass so it was hard to incent Cash into leaving it. Oats did the trick, along with a lead rope but given our last escapee incident with Cash, I expected him to bolt at any second.
This time Cash broke through a double fence board. I image he must have kicked it because he has no marks on him. That section of fence is a little low so perhaps it was tempting to him. When we get an electric fence, we’re going to bypass this peninsula. In the meantime, I replaced the broken boards with a 2×6 and added a riser to make it seem higher. It’s not the most attractive fence section but hopefully it will do the trick until the electric fence is installed.
Over the past year we’ve spent time mending horse fences. Some repairs worked, some didn’t last. Here’s what we’ve learned:
- Screws work better than nails. Eventually nails creep out, especially since horses tend to lean against fence boards pretty hard. At least ours do.
- When using screws, drill pilot holes first. Otherwise you end up with wood splitting. In fact, many of the boards that were nailed in actually split from the nail.
- Have spares – never know when you need them, such as in the middle of the night. There have been a few times this year when we heard a loud bang outside and it turned out the horses had broken a fence board. It’s important to have spares around for emergency repairs.
- Save broken fence pieces for other repairs. We occasionally have a break in the middle of our 12 foot fence boards. We’ll take the two halves and trim them for use as center supports.
- Center supports work and look nice. A center support is simply a small section of board attached across the center of the three fence boards. Lots of people don’t use them but I find our 12 foot sections tend to sag over time in the middle. The center support ties the three boards together in the middle to prevent that and to spread the force of a horse leaning on the middle across all three boards. They also look nice.
- Fences are expensive! We discovered our 3 board fence costs about $40 per 12 foot section. That really adds up when you’re looking to put in 150 foot of fencing. We may need to replace a few sections of barbed wire fence at a time.
I have an idea for a fence strengthening brace that might also look really nice. The idea came to me while I brainstormed about how to save the fence boards that had split at their nail holes. I wanted to see if there was a way I could repair them using easy-to-find and inexpensive hardware items. What I came up with is a simple piece of flat steel brace with three holes in it. If I screw the fence boards into the posts through one of these, it would spread the grip of those three screws across the entire brace, essentially clamping the board onto the post. And if I painted it black and maybe rounded the corners, it would like nice against the wood. Here’s my concept photo:
The braces should cost less than $.50 each, or about $3 per 12 foot section. I’m still toying with the idea but I’m thinking about trying it on a small section of fence to see what it looks like.
Other posts about fence mending:
Fence Mending (12/06)
More Fence Mending (2/07)
We walked up to the barn the other night and the horses were waiting at a section of fence that kind of comes to a “V” right next to the road. It’s kind of tight quarters there and apparently someone felt crowded because there was some kicking and/or shoving. We didn’t see exactly what happened but there was a horse squeak, sudden movement and then a loud bang and voila! Two fence boards were missing, right next to the road. Luckily, we were right there when it happened because the next thing to happen would be for our two horses to step over the one remaining board and out to freedom. Needless to say, we did an emergency fence repair. At this point, whenever a fence repair is needed, we are replacing nails with screws. They stay in much better.
This is kind of a weak section of fence anyway, probably because of the aforementioned tight quarters and the also mentioned proximity to the road. Valentine in particular likes to hang out at the shortest part of the V (as in the photo) and push on the boards. We’ve had to repair the top slat three times. The last time, we added a vertical support and another board on the pasture side. Even with the reinforcements, though, we check that section pretty frequently.
I just want to say two things about this most recent incident: One – it seems to me that when building a fence, the fence slats should be on the “horse” side of the poles, and not the other way around. It’s much harder for the horses to push nails out that way. And two – Bill’s horse Moonshine is a big bully and picks on my poor Valentine all the time. Meanie.
Fence Mending (12/06)
Mending Horse Fences – Update (5/07)