I might as well be honest: I’ve never had to construct an electric fence before. And although I like to think of myself as mechanically-inclined, I’m really not. But owning a horse has forced me to step out of many comfort zones, and the project has been no different: I constructed an electric fence.
Now let’s get something straight here: it was not my idea to begin this project halfway through December. But unfortunately it was discovered, halfway through December, that this project needed to happen. So, off I went on my fence-building journey. I’d previously purchased a “temporary trail kit” of electric fencing. Well, that’s what they called it – it was more like sticks with some electric tape. And what they didn’t tell you in the product description was the fact that the stakes were only four feet tall. Once installed, they were three feet tall. But there was a nice little warning about how your horse “must be trained” to use the fence safely. Well, my horse is trained – she’s trained to respect fencing, yes, but she’s also trained to jump. And when the fencing is lower than her belly, well, she’s probably going to see it more as a fence to jump rather than a barrier to obey.
So I came up with the ingenious idea to order a small charger, and to get some larger posts, and use the tape that came with the trail kit. Voila! I’d save a bit of money, construct a small (100’ by 80’) pasture to be used during the winter months, and come spring Whisper could return to the large turnout with the other horses.
Well. I drove out to Home Depot to get some larger poles. I live in a very rural area; Home Depot is almost a 50 minute drive. So I started looking around. I’d discussed it with my father and we’d agreed that the best option would probably be to get some lengths of reinforcement bar, since they’d be strong, have a small diameter, and could be driven into the ground without shattering. Unfortunately Home Depot only offered the bar in 4’ (too short) or 10’ lengths. I knew that I could cut it with a hacksaw, but 10’ was too long to even fit into the bed of my truck. So I explained the project to a girl working at the Customer Service desk and asked if she had any suggestions. Nope.
Thankfully I was heading home for Christmas, and my dad was able to pick up the rebar, tie it to the roof of his car, drive it to the shop where he works, and cut it in half for me. Perfect.
I ordered a charger and headed back to the barn armed with the appropriately-sized rebar, plus a sledgehammer to hopefully install the rebar with. When the charger arrived I opened it and began to pour through the 12 pages of instructions. Within moments I’d found a number of problems: the charger, though built for an outdoor livestock fence, was not meant to be left outside. And it was a continuous charge, meaning that it would melt the electric tape. And, the directions on how to actually construct the circuit of the fence were, to put it gently, complete and utter crap offering no first-time-fence-installer anything in the way of help at all.
My ever-patient horse who stood by the gate and watched for the entire 5 hours it took me to actually construct the fence.
And so it was that trip into town #2 came to be: I went out and bought electric WIRE fencing, so as not to melt the hot tape I’d already spent so much money on, but had no appropriate charger for. I also decided that the charger I did have was going to have to deal with living outside for a few months, and that I’d put it in a box to shelter it from the elements. I also picked up a 100 foot outdoor extension cord. In purchasing the fencing wire I debated over gauge size for a good twenty minutes – would 17 gauge conduct enough current to shock my mare into obeying the fence? If I got 9 gauge, would I be able to bend it? (It is at this point in the story that I should reveal the fact that I have a rather severe case of tendinitis in my right hand. In fact, the day of shopping day #2, I was already in town because I’d just had a cortisone injection into my right wrist. So I was hefting the extension cord, wire, etc with a still-numb-but-becoming-more-painful-than-I-can-describe wrist). In the end, I bought 300 feet of fencing wire, because I knew the area I was fencing had a perimeter of 280 feet. I was covered.
Well, I was covered until I went to actually construct the fence, and started thinking. Yes, the perimeter was 280 feet. But that’s just accounting for one wire. I needed two. And it was all downhill from there.
I’d managed to sledgehammer the rebar poles into the ground (thankfully having the foresight to do so before my cortisone wrist appointment) on a rainy, muddy day. I’d also had the ingenious plan that I’d just tie the little 4-foot fiberglass posts to the rebar, using the rebar as a strong base for the posts and using the connectors already on the fiberglass posts to run the wire through. Which was all fine and good until I realized that the fiberglass posts, once under the tension of the wire, would swivel around, contacting the (metal) rebar poles and shorting the circuit. And of course I discovered this after I’d attached the last of the eight fiberglass rods to the rebar. Dang it. So, I pulled off the plastic insulator doodads and hand-tied each of them onto the rebar. This was made difficult by the fact that my hands were now full of fiberglass splinters, and at that point I had only regained use of two fingers (the ring and pinky) of my right hand – darn cortisone shot. So, through a process I like to call “try and failure” I determined a series of knots/tying techniques which wouldn’t hold the insulators to the rebar properly. Eventually that process became “try and succeed” at which point I memorized the technique and repeated it fifteen more times with the remaining insulators.
Now you remember those three problems I had earlier. Well, I’d kind of solved two of them. But there was still that little issue of how the fence was actually supposed to connect. And the fact that I didn’t have enough wire. Well, insert trip to town #3 (I believe, in all, I spent just short of 6 hours driving for this fence), and the wire problem was solved. I tried to solve the connecting issue by rereading the directions again. And again. And again. But alas, they assumed that their audience consisted of people who had wired fences before, which obviously did not apply here. So I Googled “how to set up an electric fence,” “electric fence construction plans,” and “electric fence circuits.” Though I learned more about electric fence than I ever wanted to know, I still didn’t have an answer; the directions I had gave options to use alternating grounding and live wires, tying certain ones together and leaving certain ones out, and doing all sorts of ridiculous things with the grounding rod.
Insert fourth grade science day spent on electricity. We’d spent hours making little circuits out of lightbulbs, AA batteries, and a switch, all so that we could discover that electricity only flows in closed circuits. Right, which is just what I’d been thinking. But if Whisper touched the circuit, it would transfer to her, therefore breaking the circuit, but energy always seeks the shortest path to the ground... or is that lightning?
The less-than-traditional fence - yes, that is a salt lick holder.
So, with yet more trial and failure, and a well-timed call into the charger manufacturer the next day, I eventually got the fence set up correctly. An added benefit, I managed to do this all without electrocuting myself (though I did wear rubber shoes), and overcame the fact that the people at the charger manufacturer don’t know how to write directions. Though my fence is less-than-traditional (I actually used a salt block holder as a brace between the rebar and one fiberglass pole at one point), it’s (thus far) containing Whisper. And one day I just might get all of the fiberglass splinters out of my hands.