Electric vs wooden fences
26 Apr 2015
Do electric fences cause horses stress? This was a question examined in a study by Swiss researchers recently. The short answer – no. Horses in electrically fenced paddocks showed no significant signs of stress compared to when they were turned out in a paddock with a wooden fence.
The study did find that electric fences reduced the amount of space utilized by the horses. In paddocks with electric fencing equines generally made an effort not to get within 50cm of the fence. Of the 20 equines used in the study, all had been exposed to electric fences before.
In the study, horses were individually turned out in a different paddock type (large or small, wooden fence or electric fence) for approximately 90 mins each day. In a 6m x 6m paddock (large paddock), 7% of the study animals came into contact with the electric fence and this incidence increased with a smaller 3.5m x 3.5m paddock size to 17%. With the wooden fence, 73% of the individuals came into contact with the fence in a large paddock and 83% in a small paddock. The researchers note that the horses never came into contact with the electric fence on purpose but rather by accident when they were performing activities such as rolling or turning around.
When placed in a paddock with a wooden fence, horses were likely to interact with the fence. They used the fence for chewing, rubbing and also spent time with their head over the fence gazing out at their neighbours. This suggests that a wooden fence may provide some environmental stimulation for horses as well as potentially allowing for more interaction with neighbours.
In the study the researchers also examined the effect of large paddocks (6m x 6m) vs small paddocks (3.5m x 3.5m) on salivary cortisol levels (an indicator of stress) and behaviour. They did not find any significant differences, but noted that there was a trend for horses to show more negative behaviour, such as pawing or threatening to kick their neighbour in a smaller paddock. Rolling and moving about also occurred significantly less in a smaller paddock.
Glauser, A., Burger, D., van Dorland, H. A., Gygax, L., Bachmann, I., Howald, M., & Bruckmaier, R. M. (2015). No increased stress response in horses on small and electrically fenced paddocks. Applied Animal Behaviour Science.