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…