Thursday, January 24, 2013

Hot Wire Makes Round Pens Affordable

A basic round pen using peeler core posts, wire and a metal gate.

Horse owners will tell you that small corrals and outdoor stalls are great places for your horse to stand. Arenas are perfect for larger activities and letting horses run, jump and burn off steam. But when it comes to having an area designed to work with a horse, both are inappropriate.
Stalls are too small and arenas are too big. The solution is an area between them: a round pen.
Round pens vary in size with the most common being 60 feet in diameter. Sizes range from as small as 40 feet to as large as 120 feet. Your diameter depends on your use: smaller pens work fine if you are only going to exercise your horse with a lead rope. Larger pens are better if you plan on riding inside it.
Opinions on sizes and materials vary depending on who you talk to. Your best sources are people whose horses are of breeds, ages and temperaments similar to your own. Fond out what they like and why.
Caution: Use these prices for comparison purposes only. Prices will vary depending on your location.
Close-up of the gate and capped core posts. 

Locating Your Round Pen

 You will need to find a good spot—preferably flat and level—for your round pen. If you are going to use hot wire, you will either need to have the pen close to an outdoor electrical outlet or use direct current or solar power to energize your wire.
Also ensure that you have good footing. Ideally have 4 inches of sand atop a material such as decomposed granite and/or rock for drainage.
It is also a good idea to have your round pen near your horse’s stall so they feel safe and secure.

Common Materials—Steel Panels

The materials used in building round pens vary, partly depending on the climate with cost playing a major role for many people.
Pre-made 12-foot by 5-foot steel corral panels.
Premade steel panels are the easiest materials to work with, but also the most expensive. The advantage is you can have a round pen set-up and ready to go—excluding the gate—in less than two hours. Attaching a gate to a wooden post set in concrete may take several hours to dig plus a day or more for your concrete to cure.
Using a 60-foot diameter pen (multiple by the diameter by pi or 3.14 to get the circumference) as an example, your circumference is about 188 feet. This translates to either 180, which actually means 15 12-foot panels or 19 (190 foot circumference) 10-footers. These measurements include a gate. Premade 6-rail steel panels about 5 feet tall will often run between $90-$120 each. Gates can easily top $120 alone.
These panels use an interlocking design making them impossible for a spooked horse to go through, which can be an advantage with some horses.

Common Materials--Wood

Many people use wood as an alternative to steel both for the cost and the ability to customize their round pen to the size and shape of the available space. Each material has its advantages and disadvantages.
The most common post materials are:
·  Peeler cores: These are round, typically about 8 feet long—which means 6 feet above ground—and relatively inexpensive. Four-inch diameter cores 8 feet long made with pressure treated wood run about $9 each at Home Depot. Six-inch diameter peeler cores cost $17 each at Home Depot.
·  Redwood posts: Square redwood posts come in a variety of sizes, including 4-inch by 4-inch ($19 for a 10-foot length) and 6-by-6-inch, and lengths up to 20 feet. Redwood is hearty, durable and will not poison your horses.
·  Pressure treated fir: This material offers a less expensive alternative ($9.97 at Home Depot for 4x4x8 hemp fir) to redwood. The drawback is most pressure treatments, which are designed to prevent insect damage, use highly toxic arsenic.
Using wood also requires wood or vinyl rails, wire fencing, electrified “hot wire”—which is the focus of this article—or a combination of the above.
Electrical tape is wide and more visible than wire. This displays shows several common arrangements.

T-Posts And Hot Wire

Metal T-posts, named for their triangular shape, are an inexpensive alternative to wood or steel panels. You will still need at least one wood post for your gate, though.
The chief downside of using T-posts is that they can be bent easily. Using electrified wire that gives your horse—or if it gets touched, you—a jolt generally keeps that from happening.
A similar display using wire.
Assuming you want to build a 60-foot diameter round pen, and plan to install a 12-foot gate, your circumference is about 168 feet. Spacing your posts every 8 feet requires 21 posts. Spacing them every 6 feet requires 28 posts.
T-posts come in a variety of lengths. One of the most common sizes is 6 feet, which cost $5.38 each at Home Depot.
To drive in the posts you will need a sledgehammer or T-post driver, which is a heavy metal cap that goes over the top and has handles on both sides.
Hot wire comes in both wire and tape designs. Tape is wider and more visible. Wire is smaller but just as effective since both carry current.

Basic Equipment For Hot Wire

The simplest design is attaching insulators to each T-post with 3 to 6 rows of wire per post. Wires should be spaced about 1 foot apart vertically. Hot wire and tape typically comes in rolls of about 600 and 656 feet, requiring one roll for three rows, two rolls for more than three rows.
You will also need tensioners for each row to keep the wire or tape straight.
Pre-packaged gate kits contain all the essential elements you need to connect your fence to a gate.
You will also need a grounding rod regardless of your power source.

Power Sources

A solar panel power source.
There are several options for powering a hot wire fence depending both your electrical skill and the location of your pen.
If your pen is near an outdoor electrical outlet, you can purchase a power panel that will handle 2 miles of wire for about $100.
If your pen is not close to an electrical supply, your options are to use a direct current source (About $80)—some versions can use 4 “D” cell batteries or a car battery—or solar power. Solar power stations give you the most freedom of location but start at $169 to power 2 miles of fencing.

The Bottom Line

You can build a 60-foot diameter round pen for between $500-$600 using hot wire and T-posts. This figure does not include your gate nor any materials for footing, which is critical to your horse’s health.
A similar set-up using premade steel panels is about $1,500 including gate but excluding one post and footing materials.

A display of electric fencing components at a local feed store.

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