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Installation Pointers

This account is not about the sort of electric horse fence to select (see Fence Options), the nature of electric horse fence components (see Fence Parts), or specific products offered on this website (see Fence Products). Instead, with an eye to those who are new to electric horse fencing, it provides some installation pointers–starting with electric fence chargers and proceeding to posts, insulators, conductors, ground rods, and other items.



Electric Fence Chargers: There’s not much to installing electric fence chargers. They generally come in tough cases that take the weather (though Parmak's AC-powered chargers require shelter). Weather-proof or not, AC-powered electric fence chargers are designed for indoor installation near an AC outlet. Hence, to reach the fence one needs to attach them to a special insulated wire capable of containing the charger's high output voltage (see hookup wire), and this insulated wire needs a way to get outside. A good way to do this is to drill a small hole about the thickness of a pencil through a wall, window frame, or door frame. This step is a little more drastic than using an existing window or door opening, but it works much better.

Battery-powered chargers and solar-powered chargers typically get installed right next to the fence and can actually be mounted on a wooden fence post. For this reason it may be possible to connect the charger’s positive terminal to the fence with a charger-to-fence connector, avoiding the need for undergate and hookup wire. However, solar-powered chargers need to be positioned so as to give their panels good sun exposure, and that sometimes means they should be placed at a little distance from the fence line and should be connected to the fence with undergate and hookup wire.



Electric Fence Posts: Step-in posts are the easiest to install, but they are more expensive and shorter-lived than fiberglass posts. Thin (3/8 and 1/2-inch) fiberglass posts are typically inserted about a foot into the ground. Thicker fiberglass posts and steel T-posts should be inserted 18 inches to 2 feet down. In soft of sandy soil the thinner fiberglass posts can simply be pushed in. Some hammering may be needed where the soil is harder or the posts thicker--in which case it is a good idea to put a small board between the top of the post and the hammer to avoid marring the post. Thick wooden posts can be driven into the ground (typically below the frost line and at least 3 feet down for line posts, 4 feet for corner, gate, and end posts) with a mechanical post driver (a massive piece of equipment that requires a truck) or can be set into holes dug with a post-hole digger. It's worth noting that any corner, end, or gate post placed under significant sideways stress can tilt unless it is set deeply into the ground or has some other way of countering the stress--notably with braces or earth anchors for wood or T-posts if the stress is major, and with tent pegs for step-in posts--in situations where the sideways stress is relatively minor. If you are using fiberglass posts at these stress points they may bend--in which case you can counter the bend by removing the post and reinserting the post at an appropriate angle, or else by using a thicker fiberglass post or some other more rigid sort of post.

The proper spacing of electric fence posts depends on a lot of factors including the types of posts and conductors used, the number of conductor runs, the height of the fence, the holding power of the soil, and the windiness of the site if wide polytape is used. Generally a spacing of up to 40 feet is workable if one is using plastic step-in posts with tent pegs to build a short portable electric horse fence or paddock. When the fence is longer and T-posts or wood posts are needed on the corners, whether the line posts are thin fiberglass or plastic step-ins, the post spacing should be reduced to a maximum of 25 feet. When more substantial line posts are used (thick fiberglass posts, steel T-posts, vinyl-covered steel T-posts, or wood posts) the interval between line posts for most projects can be increased to 35 feet. The only exception comes when multiple runs of wide (1.5 or 2 inch) polytape are used, because then the tape and fence must contend with the stress imposed by wind. If the fence is 5 feet tall with 4 runs of wide polytape, the distance between posts should be cut to between 15 and 20 feet, depending on whether the site is sometimes windy or very calm.



Insulators and Tensioners: Plastic step-in posts come with their own insulators, and there’s no trick to installing insulators and tensioners on wood posts, T-posts, U-posts, small round posts, or even chain link fence. Attaching insulators and tensioners to vinyl posts is more difficult. One insulator, with large square arms that go around standard vinyl posts (roughly 5 inches by 5 inches) does the job well but is quite expensive. Virtually all other insulators must be screwed onto the vinyl post, and since the post walls are fairly thin, the insulator's grip on the post is rather weak. For this reason it is advisable to use snug insulators rather than extender insulators on vinyl posts, and to select insulators that have two attachment points instead of one. Another challenge is installing insulators on round metal posts with a diameter greater than two inches. Few if any insulators can do this without help, so the best approach is to drill holes in the posts and attach the insulators with long bolts, again selecting insultors that have two attachment points rather than just one.



Conductors, Reels, and Connectors: Just as the spinning jenny is a fundamental tool for installing fence wire, so a winding reel is a basic tool for installing polyconductors. The winders on this website are a small one for installing polywire and a large one for installing all the other polyconductors. One thing to note is that polyrope, polybraid, and wide polytape are bulky; and even the large winder will hold only about 500 feet of quarter-inch polyrope or 1.5-inch polytape. That means that if this winding reel is used, extra spools will commonly be needed to manage, store and transport these materials.

One should also be prepared to connect things up properly as the conductors are being installed. This includes: (1) applying tensioner/tighteners and splicer/joiners so that any given run of conductor is continuous and taut and (2) establishing the electrical connections needed to pass the charge along the fence. With regard to the latter, start by connecting the electric fence charger to the conductor with a charger-to-tape or charger-to-rope connector or with undergate and hookup wire. If there are multiple runs of conductor on the fence, connect all of them together with an appropriate rope-to-rope or tape-to-tape connector, or with undergate and hookup wire. At gates, go under the gate with undergate and hookup wire and on the other side re-electrify all the conductor runs by connecting them with hookup wire or an appropriate connector. If you wish to electrify the gate, put insulators and runs of conductor where you want them on the gate, and then connect them to appropriate charged wires on the hinge side of the gate using undergate and hookup wire. In making all these connections there is no need go in a circle or to complete any circuit, and it is VERY IMPORTANT to make NO connection between any of these actively charged elements and the ground rod(s), ground terminal on the charger, or any other part of the grounding system–because the target animal will complete the circuit containing these two (charged and grounded) elements, and if the circuit is effectively completed some other way the animal will not receive a shock.



The Ground System: One or more ground rods should be located near the electric horse fence at a place that is relatively moist most of the year and where people and animals are unlikely to trip over the few inches of ground rod and clamp that remain poking out of the ground after installation. The rod or rods should be hammered into the ground until only a few inches remain above the ground. A wire (any metal wire will do) should be attached to the electric fence charger’s ground terminal, and should then be run over to the nearest ground rod and attached securely (usually with a clamp). If more than one ground rod is being installed, this wire should then be used to connect all of the rods together. Also, if alternate conductors are not being charged and instead are being grounded, those conductors to be grounded should be connected by a wire--either to one of the ground rods or directly to the ground terminal on the charger.



Lightning Protection: To protect the charger, especially if the fence is long or in a lightning-prone area, you may wish to install a lightning choke and diverter (for detalis see lightning protection in the products section. The only point that needs to be emphasized with regard to installation is that  the diverter should be better grounded than the charger. Therefore, if the charger is connected to one ground rod, the divereter should be connected to at least two comparable ground rods located 50 or more feet away from the charger's ground rod.


 Warning Signs: These should be positioned at all places where people unfamiliar with the electric fence stand some chance of coming in contact with it. Such signs are typically hung from an electric fence wire or nailed to an appropriately situated board or post.


Testing the Fence: Once the entire fence has been installed and charged, a pulsing light or meter on the electric fence charger will indicate whether the charger and its immediate connections are working properly. If the light does not flash, turn the charger off, disconnect all wires from its positive terminal, and turn it on again. If the light still doesn’t flash the problem is with the charger, and one should call the charger’s maker for guidance. If the light flashes the problem is with the fence. Check to make sure that no actively charged portion of the electric fence has been inadvertently connected to the electric fence charger’s ground terminal. Then examine the fence carefully to determine where some actively charged element along the fence has come into contact with something that is not insulated (thereby grounding the fence) and proceed to fix this problem.

Once the turned-on electric fence charger is hooked up and its light is flashing, you know that the charger and its immediate connections are working properly. At this point take a fence tester (used by FIRST grounding the little pointer attached to the tester by sticking it into moist ground and then touching the tester’s other terminal to the actively charged element being tested) and employ it to test more distant charged elements in order to determine that they too are working. This same procedure should be repeated periodically as a part of proper electric fence maintenance.