Q: I recently acquired a Paint Horse who is almost 2 years old. We use triple-stranded “horse” wire for our fencing, and my problem is that she consistently puts her head through the space between the first and second strands of her pasture fence to eat the grass on the other side. She did this when the grass was lush and abundant on both sides of the fence, and even after we mowed down the perimeter outside her paddock. Our other horse, a 7-year-old Paint gelding, does not do this.

            My beautiful filly now has a “broken” spot in her mane where the uppermost fence wire rubs her neck as she puts her head through. I am fearful that the hair will become permanently damaged. We hope to show her some day, and I want her to have the long, flowing mane I appreciate on most show horses. Will she outgrow this habit? Do you have any suggestions on discouraging this behavior and/or helping the hair regain its strength and health? Jo Anne Berry; Kingman, Kansas

A: Your filly has developed a dangerous habit. Not only is she damaging her mane, but she’s risking her health: She could catch her head or face on the fence, injure her poll if she jumps back suddenly, or get a foot caught in the wires. And that tempting “outside” grass could contain chemicals, lawn clippings or trimmings from ornamental plants, which can be unsafe for horses to eat. Unfortunately, this behavior is self-rewarding (with tasty grass), so she’s not likely to give it up or outgrow it.

Covering her mane really isn’t practical, so you have to find a way to stop her from reaching through the fence. Your best option is to modify the fence to prevent her from getting her head underneath or through it. The safest, easiest and least expensive way to protect the fence is to electrify it.

If your existing wire is installed with insulators, you can connect it to a charger, or you can add one or two offset hot wires (electric wire, braid or tape set on six- to 12-inch brackets) inside the existing fence. The electric fencing and charger must be installed properly, and you’ll have to train your filly to respect the fence by arranging for her to get zapped at her favorite grazing spot. But once she learns that the fence stings, she’ll give it a wide berth.

Another option would be to replace the fence with horse-safe wire-mesh fencing (preferably four-foot-high diamond mesh or “no-climb” horse fencing—not hog or livestock mesh or chicken wire). This is a more expensive solution, but it will keep horses’ heads and hooves inside, it’s safe and secure, and it also has the advantage of keeping out stray dogs.

Once your filly stops grazing under the wire, her mane should gradually grow back to its normal length and fullness. You can help the process by applying a conditioner to the mane, which makes the hairs smooth and supple and less apt to catch on things and break off. However, regrowth of mane hair takes time, good nutrition, and most of all, protection from the damage she’s causing by grazing through the fence.

Susan Harris
Author, Grooming to Win