While budget and eye-appeal are certainly a consideration when choosing horse fencing. Safety should be the primary concern. Horses are geniuses at getting caught in fences, and no one type of fencing is absolutely idiot-proof.
Post and Rail
Known as the standard fences for horses, post and rail is probably the most popular horse fencing. Miles of fencing surrounding happily grazing horses is many horse lover's dream. Wood fencing is expensive, especially the more desirable hardwood fencing. Softwood fencing requires more maintenance and will not last as long. Pressure-treated wood is not recommended because it could be toxic to horses if they chew it and of course, there is a trend away from pressure-treated wood because of its impact on the environment. Wood boards frequently need replacing and the fence will need painting, staining or treating with a preservative. Staining the fences at our hobby farm is a family activity we don't miss! Wood fences are relatively safe for horses, although broken and splintering rails can cause injuries. I've also had horses run straight through rails. If you have a wood chewer or cribber, your four-legged termite can easily give all of your wood fences scalloped edges. Low maintenance PVC coated planks and posts are also available.
Wire Mesh, Diamond or No Climb Wire
Wire Mesh or No Climb fence has several advantages. The spaces in the mesh are small enough that most horses won't be able to get a foot through. Many are designed to keep opossums out of pastures. This lessens the spread of EPM. Horses leaning over the fence can cause the top to sag, so often a wooden top rail or electric wire is used. A top rail makes the fence more visible, but will require upkeep. This is a relatively affordable type of fencing that if properly installed will require little maintenance.
Electric fencing is good for temporary paddocks and pastures, but many people use it on a more permanent basis. Electric fencing is tape, ribbon, wire or rope, through which runs a harmless pulse of electrical current. Thin copper or stainless steel or stainless steel coated wires are woven through tape, ribbon, wire or rope. There is also carbon infused wire. The fence can be powered by electrical outlet, solar panel or battery. Battery and solar-powered fencers (the component that generates the voltage) can be quite portable, allowing setup of both fencer and wires anywhere. The posts are often 'step in', can be hammered in, or insulators can be nailed or stapled to permanent wood fence. The horse (or other animal) feels the jolt of the voltage if it touches the fence, but because there is no current, there is no worry of electrocution.
Electric fencing can be attractive and affordable. Fencers can power many yards of wire, and step-in posts can be put in where more permanent fencing can't go. The downside is that electric fencing can be shorted out if a weed or twig lays across the wire. The wind can blow down wide tape, snow and ice can pull it down, and some horses learn to run through electric fencing. Electric fence is difficult to see, especially in tall grasses or in the dark. Some electrical tapes or ropes can stretch and tighten around a horse's limb if the horse becomes entangled. This can cause serious injuries.
Electric fencing for livestock is not permitted in some areas, so check with your local by-laws before buying and setting up your fence.
Page or Sheep Wire
Page wire or sheep wire is a mesh fence with large spaces, usually about 8”x10” between the strands. In the past, it has been a popular choice for livestock fences. The fencing can be stapled to wooden posts, or posts with stakes can be used, cutting down on the cost of buying full-sized posts. While it is reasonably inexpensive, it must be put up properly, or it can sag badly. A top rail is required if there is a chance horses will lean over it. And the spaces between the wire are large enough that a horse could easily put a foot through and become entangled. A strand of electric fence run to the inside of the page wire will prevent horses hanging against the fence. I know of horses that were lost due to injuries caused by entanglement with page wire. While it may be somewhat acceptable as perimeter fencing on a large area, it is not a good choice for smaller paddocks.
Wire strands are used for horse fencing but these types of fences, whether straight high-tensile wire, barbed wire or high tensile electric wire are a poor choice for horses. My husband aptly describes these as 'cabbage shredder' fences. Because they are not highly visible, a horse can easily run into the fence or become entangled. This can cause injuries that range from disfiguring to deadly. Some wire is PVC coated to make it safer, but there is still a risk if the horse hits the fence hard enough. These fences are popular with some people because they are reasonably easy to put up, and they are inexpensive in comparison to many other fencing choices.
Pipe fencing is popular is some areas. Pipe fencing is a sturdy and permanent option that requires little upkeep. Structural steel is used for both upright posts and rails. It is attractive, and the surface can be painted. Pipe fencing is often used for round pens as well. Horses will not break this fencing; however, the fencing could cause a lot of damage to a horse if they stick a leg through. There is no 'give' in pipe fencing if a horse becomes entangled in the fence (and they do become tangled in fences) their limbs may break before the fence does. It is also one of the more expensive fencing options.
Vinyl or PVC Rail
Attractive, easy to install and maintain, plastic rail fencing is becoming more popular. Plastic rail is sometimes combined with thinner wire and can be installed on wooden or plastic posts. Its cost is comparable to wood, and it needs no painting to stay looking nice. While some of these fences have the look of wood, horse won't chew or crib on them. On the downside, they are not as sturdy as other fence choices such as wood or pipe and horses may be able to push through the rails. Some rails have a wire through the top and bottom, and I know of horses that have been cut by these rails.