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Homemade Horse Escape Detection System

Homemade Horse Escape Detection System

Horse jumping the sun
Image based on a photo by RENE RAUSCHENBERGER from Pixabay

It’s no secret that we had some trouble with horse escapes early on in our horse ownership experience. Horses see green grass on the other side of the fence and want it and their muscular 1,000-pound bodies have no trouble breaking wood fence boards. And sometimes they come to the realization that some fences can be jumped.

That’s where we are today. We think. Romeo, our 900-pound Appaloosa, the kind of horse not normally associated with anything but beauty and laziness, has found a way out of our pasture almost every single day. So every single day Mikki and I spend about two hours walking the fence line and looking for weaknesses. It’s not that the fence couldn’t use some work. We fixed several sections where trees had fallen nearby or the fence posts had been bent by a horse leaning into it too much. In one area soil had built up next to the fence, making it lower than before, the result of erosion that needs to be dealt with (our property is hilly). All of these have been fixed. We’ve replaced some old fence posts with new ones, added additional fence posts in weak areas, installed an additional row of wire in some places, and more. Yet sometimes we’ll look out and find Romeo in our back yard. Thankfully he doesn’t seem to have wandered further. But he could so we’re working hard to prevent him from escaping. But we’re just about out of ideas.

Our current routine is to bring him into the barn each night. At least we know he won’t get out while it’s dark. But we need to do more than that.

How we discovered Romeo is a jumper

After one of these escapes, we walked the fence line and found two hoof prints on the outside of the fence, pretty far from the fence itself and next to each other, the deepest indention being in the front of the hoof. This was a grassy area and the ground was not moist. This is likely the result of him landing after jumping the fence, something we’ve never seen him do.

Options we’re considering

Beyond the repairs we’ve already done, we’re going to have to dip deeper into the ideas list. Such as:

  • Electric fence. I know we’ve mentioned it many times here but we’ve gone through a lot of years not needing it so it was deprioritized. Plus it’s complicated. We have a fairly large property and most of it isn’t near electricity. Much of it has trees but solar is an option. Or we could install it on the section of fence near the barn and hope they learn.
  • Emergency paddock. One of my biggest regrets with this property is that we didn’t immediately add some paddocks. There are more than a few times when it would have been helpful and now we’re considering making one near the house for Romeo, if we can’t find where he is getting out.
  • Selling Romeo. I try to be absolutely honest with this blog and if I’m honest I have to admit I’ve considered removing the problem horse. He’s a great horse and I know this probably isn’t the right idea but it has crossed my mind.

But above all, we’re frustrated to not be able to figure out how he’s getting out of the pasture.

Homemade horse escape detection system idea

And finally, we get to what the title refers to. Options:

  • Mikki could sit in a lawn chair with a book, surveilling a part of the property. We decided this wouldn’t work because even though I say he gets out every day (and sometimes he has), a few times he’s stayed in a few days before getting out. And the property is too large for her to see all of it from one place.
  • Use a GPS tracker. This was my first thought. I Googled “horse gps” and found a few but eventually realized that a pet GPS tracker should work. There are far more options for dog and cat owners and I’m sure we could rig something to fit a horse. There are many options. Some require no monthly fees (Findster, $150), but most use a cellular phone network, requiring monthly fees of around $10 a month with an annual contract requirement. Most have a battery life of 1-4 days, though there are a few that purportedly last a month or longer.
  • Camera system. It would need a good power source, be heat and water-resistant, and be able to transmit or store a lot of photos or video.

Then it occurred to me that I have an old GoPro Hero 3+ camera that does timelapse recording. I decided to set it up on a tripod, slightly outside of the pasture, with a wide field of view. I set it up to take a photo every 30 seconds and I reasoned that if Romeo got out we would either see it or if we didn’t we’d know it wasn’t that particular area and we could move the camera the next day. For power, I connected the GoPro to an external battery nearby. Ziploc was my low-cost friend on potentially wet days.

Results so far

Wouldn’t you know the rascal stopped escaping after we started this? But I have lots of sunset photos! The location seems to be a good one, though on one attempt I came back to find the camera was off even though the battery still had lots of power. It was an especially hot day so I’m thinking it may have shut itself down due to heat.

Then it happened. I heard our dogs barking and looked out the front to find Romeo walking up the street. Ugg. Did our the system work? Sadly, no. I hadn’t emptied the micro SD card in a few days and it ran out of storage space. Sigh. We spent hours updating the fence, something we’ve done repeatedly this summer and are growing tired of. We let Romeo out of the barn again today and set up the camera again, with a fresh extended battery and an empty memory card.

Overall I think it’s a decent plan, using the timelapse feature on the GoPro so we’ll keep trying. But I’m seriously leaning towards a GPS option. More research is needed! We’d love to hear your ideas in the comments.

September 2019 edit: It worked! We used the camera system to catch Romeo sneaking out. More soon…

Fence Repair Blues

Fence Repair Blues

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.

2x4 fence board support
Fence rail with temporary 2×4 support.

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.

Horses don’t respect a day of rest

Horses don’t respect a day of rest

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.

broken 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.

Fence building – replacing barbed wire part 1

Fence building – replacing barbed wire part 1

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.

Horse Fence WalkthroughSince 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.

3 fence breaches in one week

3 fence breaches in one week

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.

Back Camera

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.

Caught in the act – part 1

Caught in the act – part 1

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.

Rain! And here we go again.

Rain! And here we go again.

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 nowhere 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.

Time for an electric fence

Time for an electric fence

When we first arrived here at the farm, there was wiring for an electric fence but it wasn’t hooked up to anything. Eventually we removed the wiring because it simply didn’t look good and we didn’t really need it. Now we think it’s probably time to reconsider. We decided to barbecue so I headed outside around 6, just in time to see Moonshine stepping over a section of fence near the barn. She was the third horse to do so. Cash and Romeo were already enjoying the irresistible grass on the other side of the fence. In this case, the grass really is greener on the other side. Valentine, our huge (to us) Walking Horse is the likely culprit for knocking down the fence. He’s always reaching his giraffe neck over to nibble on grass and at almost 1300 pounds, it doesn’t take much leaning to push out nails. I don’t know why the person who built the fence didn’t put the boards on the inside but Valentine has been known to snap boards in half, too. But for all of his brute strength and fence mischief, he’s never escaped after knocking boards down and this time he was far away from the other horses as if to disassociate himself with the escapees.

Horses on wrong side of fence
These horses are on the wrong side of that broken fence.

So I grabbed a bucket with some feed and Mikki grabbed a halter and lead rope and we headed up to coax the horses back onto the correct side of the fence. Mikki headed for Cash first because of that last incident where we chased him through the woods for four hours. He started to walk away but Mikki was able to get the lead rope around his neck, after which he was compliant. Next, I tempted Moonshine with some feed but with a mouth full of yummy green grass, she turned and walked away. Romeo, who lives to eat (and love) came over and happily snarfled the feed without competition. That is, until Moonshine noticed. Once she knew someone else wanted it, she wanted it too and I was able to walk them over the fence again. We led them all to the barn and fed them their evening rations while we went about fixing the fence.

Wooden fences are nice but they require a lot of upkeep. Ours is aging and in need of new paint. Several of the boards are warped and should probably be replaced. Each time this kind of thing has happened (the horses rarely escape but board do occasionally come down), we replace the boards using screws instead of nails. This time we did that and added some extra braces over where the boards meet at the posts.

So that brings us to electric fences. We could go cheap and get the basic electric livestock wire or we could spend a little more and go for something like Electrobraid. We intend to replace the barbed wire with something like Electrobraid so provided the system is expandable, perhaps that’s the way we’ll go. I still like the look of the wooden fence, so we’d probably use it on the inside to keep the horses off of the fence. And because wiring to our breaker box would be difficult, solar is probably our best power source choice.

Have you caught your horses on the wrong side of the fence? Are any of you using Electrobraid or some other electric fence?`

Why we needed an emergency runaway kit yesterday

Why we needed an emergency runaway kit yesterday

As I mentioned earlier, “Cash” is in our barn to test him out with our resident horses. Mikki works during the day so we decided to keep Cash in the barn until she got home so we could watch him together. I felt bad for him being cooped up in the barn all day so I put his halter on and took him for a walk this morning. As with the previous day, he was curious but well behaved. He ate some green grass while I washed him and dressed a wound with ichthymol. No problems. He was happy to go back into the barn but didn’t want anything to do with Moonshine, who was making quite a racket.

Our farrier came by to check out Cash’s feet and even though one foot has a slight clubbing, it didn’t look bad to him. He wasn’t concerned as long as the horse didn’t exhibit problems walking on it. Next I had the bright idea to put Moonshine in her stall so Cash and Valentine could socialize and establish order. This went pretty well. Valentine isn’t aggressive at all and seemed curious but not pushy. Next to our barn is what I call “the peninsula”. It’s an area that juts out towards the small road by our house where the horses like to stand and watch cars drive by and cows across the way. Cash headed to the peninsula and from the other side of the barn I saw Valentine slowly walking that way. Now the peninsula can be a trap and for this reason we should probably fence it off. There are two ways in and out – one high and one low – but it still feels like a corner. I didn’t see what happened next but I heard a loud crack and the sound of tin crinkling, followed by shod hooves cantering down the road. Cash had escaped. I knew enough to quickly grab a bucket with some feed and a halter with lead rope, as I hurried after him. A quick glance at the fence explained the noise. Cash had somehow broken the top two fence boards at the end of the peninsula, both of which were reinforced because Valentine like to eat grass over the fence in that spot. Did he run right through it? Did he try to jump the fence? Why? I have no clue. Cash ran down the road where I walked him earlier that morning, promptly turned (thankfully…the highway was less than a quarter of a mile in that direction) and headed towards me. I shook the bucket and offered it to him but he wasn’t interested. He ran right past me towards the barn. The gate was open so I hoped he would run into the barn but instead he ran up the road, past our farm. The road was fenced on both sides for quite a ways so I gently called him as I hurried in that direction. He walked past a few houses, avoiding the curious neighbors that happened to be outside. The end of this road is private and I had never been very far down it. I was about to get the whole tour. Cash made his way to the end of the road and headed for a garden. I caught up to him and ever so gently tried to send the lead rope around his neck but he knew I was chasing him and avoided me at all costs. The elderly couple who lived there came out to see what the ruckus was and I apologized for the intrusion. They didn’t seem to mind and even tried to help me wrangle him. Realizing the road was somewhat blocked, Cash headed into the woods and we both ventured further and further from home. Mikki wasn’t answering her cell phone so I called Shari for help. She sent Mikki home (they work together) but Mikki forgot her cell phone so she had trouble finding me. Heck, I didn’t even know where I was at this point! Cash navigated through a junk yard full of rusty old cars, sharp scrap metal and broken glass. I, in my shorts and boots, followed him. Shari recommended I not chase him but instead wait for Mikki to show up. Sometimes women have better luck catching horses. So I trailed him at a distance so I knew where he was while I waited for Mikki to find us.

Cash headed down a trail, even further from home. He eventually found a creek, which he crossed to try and reach the pasture on the other side. Fortunately and unfortunately there was a fence on the other side. At least he couldn’t go any further that way but the fence was barbed wire and he seemed to be trying to push through it or jump is. I saw this horse run up and down steep embankments, though thick brush and over small trees and all the while I’m thinking he’s going to get hurt. Once he got close enough to me so I was able to pet him and try to calm him down but when I tried to slowly move towards his head he bolted again.

What seemed like an hour later, Mikki finally found us. She had to ask several neighbors to use their phones and apparently the very rough geographic indicators (south of the old barn at the bottom of the hill from the junkyard), as well as some audio cues (think marco-polo) but eventually there were two of us. At this point, Cash was close to being tangle in old barbed wire. I have heard the stories and seen pictures of horses that got themselves caught in barbed wire and it isn’t pretty. That and Cash had wedged himself between the barbed wire fence and some trees at the top of a narrow and steep embankment. What the heck?! I stayed a distance away and Mikki trudged through the muddy creek to reach him. As she approached, Cash tried to jump the barbed-wire fence but couldn’t. Mikki spoke softly to him, climbed up to where he was and was able to halter him.

Here’s a short video from my cell phone so you get a feel for how he was stuck. The video is of terrible quality and you can barely see him but you’ll get the point. In the video, he’s rubbing on the barbed wire fence, trying to run through it and jump over it. Scary! You’ll hear me say “don’t do it buddy!”. I didn’t know what to say.

Once the halter was on him, he seemed perfectly normal again. It was a challenge (and probably pretty dangerous) getting him down off of the ledge, through the thick brush and trees and old barbed wire, through the junk yard again and then a two mile walk home but the entire way he behaved as though nothing happened.

Back at home after almost 4 hours in the hot sun, we were all tired, hot, thirsty, cut up and bruised. Mikki washed his old and new wounds, dressed them and put Cash into the barn. Valentine and Moonshine looked at him as if to say “what the heck happened to you?”

Cash fence crashing injuries

Here’s what the fence looked like:

Cash broken fence

I put up new slats with screws and doubled up the top one, making it as high as possible. It’s a miracle he didn’t impale himself on the sharp pieces of broken wood. I’m starting to think we need to consider one of the electro-braid fencing alternatives. While it might not have stopped him, the braided rope wouldn’t impale him.

At night we put Cash into the round pen and let Valentine loose. Moonshine has been curtailed in the barn ever since. Valentine, ever the curious one, slowly and gently went to investigate the new horse in the round pen but Cash wasn’t in to socializing.

It’s been almost 24 hours since this ordeal and things have settled down quite a bit. Valentine routinely spends time near the round pen. He pretty much goes between the barn and the round pen now. Cash doesn’t appear to mind and gets quite close to him. When Valentine followed me to the barn, Cash got pretty excited, as if he wanted to go too. Otherwise he occasionally nibbles the grass or stands in the shade. Earlier this afternoon I washed his wounds, dressed them and took him for a walk around the back part of the pasture, which he hasn’t ever been through until now. I wanted him to know his options so he could “escape” back there if he felt threatened by one of our horses. I hate this part – introducing new horses to the herd. It’s so stressful for everyone.

The plan is to let the horses get acquainted through the bars of the round pen for a while. Then maybe we’ll introduce Cash to the pasture again with Valentine loose. Later we’ll let Moonshine out there while he’s in the round pen. Some internet research also revealed the suggestion that we take all the rear shoes off of the horses. They all need new shoes anyway.

A runaway horse kit?

Oh, so back to the point of this post (and I know it’s an extra-long one). As I was chasing this horse yesterday, I realized I was missing a few things that would be been handy. But I didn’t have time to round things up because I needed to make sure I knew which way the horse was headed at all times. This isn’t the first time we’ve encountered runaway horses, either. Once we accidentally left our gate open and once we tried to help Shari catch one of her loose horses. Maybe it’s a good idea to have a backpack we could quickly grab. In it could be:

1) Halter and lead rope (we should have one in each vehicle, too)
2) Map – this seems stupid but I could have used one yesterday
3) Flashlight – could be dark outside
4) Bottled water – you might be out there a while
5) Horse treats or food in a zip baggie
6) Something to display the horse treats/food/bribe in to the horse
7) Snake bite kit! Don’t think I wasn’t worried about that yesterday. Maybe even a bee sting kit.
8) Basic tools – knife and a small finger saw – the flexible kind you can cut a tree limb with, if need be. I needed this yesterday.
9) Towel
10) Small first aid kit/Something with which to make a tourniquet
11) Flute or piper (pied piper anyone?) – kidding 🙂

And don’t forget your cell phone!!! Though you probably wouldn’t keep it in this backpack.

Got any other ideas for an emergency runaway horse kit or advice for us?

With Horses, Fences Really Do Make Good Neighbors

With Horses, Fences Really Do Make Good Neighbors

Blaze at neighbor fenceOur neighbor down the hill, Buddy, rode his lawn mower over yesterday for a visit. We talked about a lot of things, including gardening. His garden is directly downhill from, and shares a fence with, our pasture. Apparently, our horses like to stick their heads over the fence when he’s gardening. He thought they were just being friendly, but we know better. They’re wondering what he’s growing for THEM. “Hey, Buddy, got any carrots? Apples? Blackberries?” (They do like blackberries – we discovered this while picking wild blackberries in our pasture yesterday. We’re lucky we escaped with any blackberries at all.)

Buddy is a nice guy, and we know he wouldn’t bother our horses. He probably wouldn’t feed them anything, either, and if he did I’m sure it would be something safe, like a carrot. But on the other side of the pasture are the neighbors my dad affectionately calls “The Bumpuses” (yep, another “A Christmas Story” reference). They do not have a bunch of hounds – just the two – but they do have three, ahem, rowdy children. They also share a fence with us, and apparently said children routinely played in our pasture when the previous owner lived here – whether they had permission or not is kinda unclear. In any event, they’ve caused us worry ever since we brought our horses into the pasture. Some concerns are horse-related, some are not. Since this is a horse site, let’s talk about the horse-related concerns that neighbors can bring.

  • Fences. Fences are notorious for needing mending. If you share a fence with someone, who’s in charge of that fence? Sometimes there’s no question; last summer, our bush-hogger knocked a fence post down while bush-hogging our pasture. Obviously, we fixed that one. But sometimes it’s not quite so clear. Also, the fences we share are barbed-wire and we want to replace them. Do we have to get permission? Maybe they like the barbed wire, because they’re sure it’ll keep the horses out. Which brings us to:
  • Horses damaging neighbors’ property. What if our horses decide Buddy’s garden is just too irresistible? I think you have to ensure your horses are contained as well as you possibly can, to keep the neighbors happy. And the horses safe, of course.
  • Neighbors feeding your horses. For the most part, I think people have common sense about what you can and can’t feed horses. But there are some things you can feed a horse that seem pretty safe that really aren’t. Some plants, for instance. It’s entirely too easy for your horse to be fed something bad without you even knowing.
  • Landscaping. This is even touchier. We want to block our view of the Bumpuses’ mobile home. This in turn will block their view (of our pasture). I think we have every right to plant some privacy-ensuring trees or hedges, but I’m sure they won’t be happy.
  • Children in your pasture. We’ve gone back and forth on this one. As I said, the children were accustomed to playing in our pasture, and now we’ve asked them not to. I know this also doesn’t make them happy, and I also know that our requests have been repeatedly ignored. How far should you go to let them know you don’t want them over there? Is a verbal notice okay, or should you send a certified letter or something? Because sometimes you need a legal trail. Which brings us to…
  • Liability issues. I remember being a kid. I remember being around boy children. I knew a great many kids, particularly boys, who would not have been able to resist the urge to ride a horse that lived practically in his backyard, as my horses do. I can tell you that neither of our horses would take kindly to that. Or a child could get stepped on, or kicked, or bitten. Most of all, I don’t want anything like that to happen to anyone, but also I really, really don’t want to be sued by a neighbor for something I tried to prevent.

So the point here is that, in addition to the many other responsibilities horse ownership brings, there is the added burden of trying to be a good neighbor. We do what we can…but I’m pretty sure the Bumpuses don’t like us.