While checking the water trough levels and doing a quick walk by near our barn I noticed several broken fence boards. Our fence is a combination of three board wooden fence and legacy barbed wire we plan to replace with something horse-friendly. The wooden fence looks nice but is brutalized by the sun and is a pain to repair. It’s mostly horse-strong but these beautiful beasts can’t resist the potentially greener grass on the other side. The worst offender is probably Valentine, who I loving call our giraffe because he’s so tall.
Three times so far this summer the wooden fence has been broken and each time we put up new wood and recommit to keeping the grass “on the other side” short to reduce temptation. We’re pretty sure Valentine reaches over the top and just pushes through. Fortunately, he doesn’t step over and escape.
This week was the latest break, two sections, top boards. We ran out of fence railings and had to borrow some from a section outside the horse area. This time we affixed a 2×4 for extra support but this isn’t a long term solution.
Speaking of long term solutions, if you’ve read through our blog before you’ll see this is a frequent problem and the long term solution is to replace the entire fence with something more durable and horse friendly. But for a property this size, it’s expensive and time-consuming. My recommendation to anyone looking at horse property or creating a horse enclosure for the first time is to install good horse fencing from the start. Barbed wire can cause terrible injury and wood isn’t strong enough and requires maintenance, especially after the sun bakes it for a few years. If wood is already installed, like in our case, consider electrifying the top rail, which is an option we’re considering.
In addition to the wood fence repairs, we also found a few areas where the barbed wire became loose enough for a horse to step over. We discovered this after finding Romeo in our front yard one day. We replaced part of that section with barbless wire and additional steel posts. It’s a reminder that steel fencing, although more durable, also needs periodic maintenance.
Overall, whatever fence you choose for your horse enclosures, it should be periodically checked, especially after storms if trees are nearby. If you take a break and your horses become pasture ornaments, it’s easy to miss seeing things that need repair since you may not be around your horse area as often.
When you become a horse owner, you quickly learn that one of the hats you’ll be wearing is that of a detective. How did my horse get out of his stall? Where is my horse’s fly mask? How did my horse end up in the next stall over with another horse? And sometimes, where did that gash come from? All of our horses at one point or another came back to the barn with some kind of wound that left us wondering how it happened. In fact, that’s one of the reasons why it’s a good idea to see them at least once a day, at feeding time or bringing them into the barn for the night. Even so, this morning while heading to Romeo’s stall to let him out of the barn for the day, I gasped enough to make him jump. The poor thing is missing a pretty big piece of skin on his forehead and also under his chin. First thing is first – treating the wound. It wasn’t bleeding much but it was dirty, probably from rolling or maybe just from dust. So we gently placed a halter on him and brought him out to the center aisle of the barn where we have cross ties. If you don’t have these in your barn, I strongly suggest adding them. Crossties are simple two long ties (straps or rope) with quick-release latches that meet the horse in the middle in a way that keeps the horse from being able to move from side to side or even back to front very much. More about that in another post. So we cross-tied Romeo and Mikki cleaned the wound with some antibacterial scrub. Romeo was a trooper, though he clearly didn’t care for it much. It probably stung. Then she dressed it with ichthammol, a thick antiseptic salve that does a good job of treating and protecting light wounds from getting dirty and infected. You really need to have a small tub of it around at all times. A few “good boy” treats and off he went to find new trouble.
So next up comes the detective work. As responsible horse owners, we must try to figure out what caused this problem. I realize horses seem to spend their lives trying to find new ways to kill themselves; they’re mischievous, it’s true. But we have to keep trying to avert disasters of all sizes. So we run down a list of suspects:
Something in his stall. Nails, gate bungs, etc.
Barbed wire fence. We still have some that needs replacing.
Pine trees. A large one has fallen in the pasture and needs removing.
Horse fight. Not likely, given the length and shape.
Old barn or fence. Sometimes used as a scratching post.
So we start in the barn. Romeo’s stall has a large gate so we checked for sharp bungs or edges and found none. I remembered taking photos of Romeo the day before and discovered this very same wound on him then, though for some reason it didn’t stand out then. So it may not have happened in his stall which leaves 7 acres or so of partially wooded property to review.
I’ll make a long story short by saying that we haven’t yet found out what caused the wound but some quick checking didn’t reveal any standouts. My guess is that he really wanted a piece of grass that was hard to get to and scraped his head on some old barbed wire (which we really have to replace with something more horse-friendly) or around a fallen pine tree that came down in a recent storm. But the fact remains that the case is still open and our detective skills, better with time and experience, are called upon often to solve horse mysteries like this.
What kind of mysteries do you have to solve that require your horse detective hat?
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.