How to Keep Horses from Breaking Out of Their Paddocks
Wednesday, 09 September 2020

 Horses have, for the most part, earned a reputation as being one of nature’s more docile animals. While we have all encountered our fair share of spirited characters, their calm, peaceful and contented mannerisms are typically the first things that spring to mind when we think about them. 

 But, when it comes to keeping them securely in their place and where you want them, a few instances of bolting, breaking through, or hopping the fence are all it takes to remind us that, despite their easy-going temperaments, horses are independent thinkers. 

When the bridle is off, it does not take long for them to remind us that they are not always the biggest fans of doing exactly what we want them to do. 

Whether you are confining them to a particular paddock to limit their grass intake, or simply trying to keep them away from others, dealing with an escape artist can be incredibly frustrating and, at times, worrying. It is often difficult to understand exactly how your horse is escaping – and why – which can make addressing and fixing the issue a case of trial and error. 

If you are struggling to keep your horse from breaking loose, then read more below about some of the best methods for securing their paddock, and ensuring that your fences are up to the task of keeping them in the right place. 

Perform Regular Checks

As with many things in life, prevention is better than cure. Performing regular checks on your fences will ensure that you are always one step ahead of our four-legged friends, and that any potential issues are mitigated long before you encounter yet another bout of escapology. Continued escape attempts can wind up undermining the fencing further, which means that the issue will become much harder to fix as time goes on.

  • Start by Looking at the Gate

Old or weaker gates will create an extremely vulnerable point in even the best line of fencing. It may be a stiff latch that other humans are failing to secure every time they go in or out of the area, or, alternatively, a loose fastening that is easily opened with a few nudges of a muzzle. 

Alternatively, if your land includes a public right of way, then it may be the case that walkers are leaving the gate open without realising the consequences, which creates the perfect opportunity for your horse to slip through with little effort. 

If this is the case, then looking into more secure gates is a great way of ensuring that your horse stays put. Public right of way (ROW) gates can be installed to ensure that any footpath traffic is entering and exiting through gates that your horse cannot slip through, such as kissing gates or stiles.

Similarly, a strong, metal farm gate is a secure option if you are worried about any weaknesses that make it easy for your horse to slip through unaided. 

  • Check Your Tensioning is Consistent

Your fence should feature a good, consistent tension along the entire perimeter. Any sections where the line is compromised will represent the ideal weak point to your horse, who can jump – or simply push through – with very little effort.

This is also a safety issue. Damaged fence lines have the potential to injure livestock. 

If your fence is prone to falling slack in certain areas, then check it daily for any signs that it has been worked loose, and tighten it immediately. Consider replacing old stakes with something more secure, and investing in the right tools for creating uniform tension along the entire perimeter. 

  • Troubleshoot Your Electric Fencing

Electric fences offer a great deterrent to horses, but there are several issues that could limit the amount of power being carried through the length of the fence. Fortunately, these problems are easily fixed. 

It may be that you are experiencing an electrical short – check that the tape or wire is not losing power through contact with non-conductive objects, such as wooden fence posts or vegetation. 

Alternatively, your fence may be too long for the energiser to power efficiently, which may mean that you need to consider adjusting the power output, or adding an additional or stronger source of power. Consider re-measuring the length of your fence, ensuring that you are accounting for double lines of tape, and using that measurement to calculate your required power output. 

It may also be the case that the energiser is low on battery. These can, of course, be recharged, but if this is difficult, you might consider making the change to a solar powered energiser, which won’t need to be disconnected for regular charges. 

  • Check Wooden Posts and Rails for Rot

In time, timber fences can begin to rot – particularly if they were not pressure treated before installation, or if the ground in which it is placed is not able to drain water efficiently. Remember, that the old saying holds true: an object is only as strong as its weakest point, and if the issue of rot is not addressed quickly, then this will damage your fence, and make it considerably weaker in the event that your horse is pushing against it.

Rot can easily compromise the structural integrity of your entire fence, and must be seen to immediately. 

Extra Steps to Take

  • Try to Observe the Escape

If you feel as though you have tried everything, and yet your horse is still getting loose, then observing the escape first-hand may be your only solution. It is difficult to fix the issue if you are not entirely sure about what it is. The trouble is, most horses are masters of waiting for the perfect opportunity to escape unseen, and being able to view the spectacle for yourself takes some time and patience. 

It may not seem likely, but some horses are able to master the art of slipping underneath a fence. It is, however, more common for them to jump over the top, or to slip through a hidden gap that you might not be aware of. 

  • Add Height

Even if you’ve yet to see your horse clear every jump in the arena, they may still be breaking out the old fashioned way: by going clean over the top. Five feet is generally considered a good standard for horse fencing, but, in some cases, even this proves to be too low to keep a determined horse from breaking loose.

  • Add Electricity

If you haven’t already, consider adding a line of electrical tape or wire to the top of your existing fencing. Not only is this a great deterrent for horses prone to kicking or pushing fences down, but it can also stop them from submitting the fence to wear and tear if they are in the habit of scratching themselves against the posts, or chewing on the rails

Whether they mean to or not, horses can put the most strain on our fencing, and the addition of an electrical current will help to limit the amount of erosion, and ensure that they can stand up to a few escape attempts much better. 

  • Increase Visibility

Contrary to common myth, horses have excellent vision – although they do have dichromatic vision, which means that they only see blue and green colours, and not red. This may mean that, if your horse is prone to barging through fences, a lighter colour may stand out better against the pasture. While green electrical tape is a little more aesthetically pleasing, consider switching to a white tape to ensure that your horse is recognising the boundary. 

  • Consider the Cause of the Issue

Of course, even with the best will in the world – and the strongest fencing imaginable – some horses will continue to stalk the perimeter of their enclosure and keep testing the waters until they are able to find a way out. Not only is this frustrating for you, but it can be dangerous – they may well attempt a jump that is too high, or one for which a proper run up is impossible. 

It may well be the case that your horse is trying to escape annoying flies, or that their pasture is too close to the road, and a constant stream of traffic is bothering them. They might be lonely, and breaking out in search of company, or, alternatively, they could be trying to get away from a companion they are not yet used to.

It could, however, simply be boredom, or that your horse thinks the grass really is greener on the other side of the fence. 

Overhaul Your Internal Fencing

A robust, high-quality fence can last for anywhere between fifteen and thirty years, though this depends on the materials used, and how well it was installed in the first place. 

Regular checks and maintenance will go a long way to ensuring that the fence is able to stand up to punishment from a rogue horse, but if it is made of cheap or poor quality components – or, alternatively, if it was installed poorly in the first place – there is a limit to how much you can do to solve the issue.

If loose, splitting, or rotting posts seem to be a persistent issue – or, alternatively, if the fence is just too low to keep them from hopping over whenever they feel like it – then this may well be a clear sign that you need to re-think your fencing.

Choosing a pressure treated wood or galvanised steel will ensure that the new fence is able to withstand more wear and tear, and resist unfavourable weather conditions, much better than the old one. 

Don’t Forget Your Perimeter Fencing, Either

While your main priority might be to fix the fencing on their paddock, remember to pay attention to the fencing at the edge of your property, too. If you have an escape artist on your hands, then the risk that they will escape your property altogether – and potentially injure themselves or others – is much higher.

This is, of course, a worst case scenario, but it can – and does – happen.

For the boundary of your property, consider a strong and durable galvanised steel fencing system, or a high wood reinforced by wire stock fencing or an additional line of electrical tape. Some horse owners choose to implement a double-fence system, which is much harder for a horse to clear, but if your fence is strong and high enough, then this extra precaution should not be necessary. 

Don’t Lose Hope

Anyone with any experience in equestrian care will know the frustrations of trying to keep an adventurous horse in his or her place. Most of the time, there really is no discernible rhyme or reason to their movements, and it may well be that you experience a few weeks’ respite before the shenanigans begin once again. 

What is important to remember is that these issues are fixable. It may take some trial and error – or a complete renovation – to rectify the issue completely, but encouraging your horse to settle down and enjoy the field they are in will come with enough time, patience, and perseverance. Loose horses are far more vulnerable to injury, illness and getting lost in unfamiliar territory, and the more you do to mitigate the issue of their escapology, the better. 

If you have checked every post, wire, and rail, then consider installing a security camera and reviewing the footage every time you spot them running through the yard. If they have a companion with whom they get along well, see if you can’t put them out to pasture together. 

An escaping horse may test your patience, but there are plenty of things you can do to put a stop to the habit, and feel confident that he or she will stay safe and secure on the right side of the fence. 



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