What Should I Do if My Horse Panics at the Electric Fence?

A veterinarian and horse behavior expert addresses a senior horse’s bad experience with an electric fence.
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What Should I Do if My Horse Panics at the Electric Fence?
When using an electric fence, it's important to make sure it can be easily seen. Electric fence tapes are often broader and more visible than wire. | Photo: iStock

Q. I moved my 31-year-old gelding to a new boarding facility six days ago. The farm owner put him in outdoor pen with electric fence wire, which he’s never seen before. He hit it, freaked out, ran to other side of the pen, hit the fence again, freaked out, ran to other side, hit the fence…this continued until he finally charged the gate to escape. He was so scared that he was soaking wet with sweat. I ran to get owner, who shut off the electricity and calmed him down. I was upset, too. What should I do? — via email

A. My experience is that the vast majority of horses learn to respect electric fences. Many of my foals have run through electric fences (used as temporary dividers) in almost deliberate fashion several times over their first couple months, and then just figure it out and stop. So absent any other problems, I suspect your horse will figure out the electric fence, too.

From what you describe though, it sure sounds to me like your horse might have significant vision problems. If you haven’t done so, I recommend you have your veterinarian perform a thorough ophthalmic exam. If significant visual deficits are present, then your horse could have trouble with less visible fencing materials, such as electric wire and even electric tapes

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Prior to attending veterinary school, Dr. Nancy Diehl completed a master’s degree in animal science while studying stallion sexual behavior. Later, she completed a residency in large animal internal medicine at the University of Pennsylvania’s New Bolton Center and worked in equine practices in Missouri and Pennsylvania. Diehl also spent six years on faculty at Penn State, where she taught equine science and behavior courses and advised graduate students completing equine behavior research. Additionally, Diehl has co-authored scientific papers on stallion behavior, early intensive handling of foals, and feral horse contraception. Currently she is a practicing veterinarian in central Pennsylvania.

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