Top sight rail on the fence necessary? Settle this for me once and for all

I’m going to be replacing my ancient fallen down board/wooden rail fence with Ramm or Centaur hot poly coated high tensile wire. I will do 5 or more strands; haven’t totally decided on a number yet. What is the consensus on doing a top flex rail for sight?

I would like to reference scientific data that they can or cannot easily see multiple strands of fence line, but I don’t know if such data exists. I have had horses out in various hard-to-see fence situations before and rarely had an issue. To include 9 or so strand smooth wire that you could hardly see. I believe the close spacing of fence posts generally made the presence of the fence line known.

For the sake of budgeting, I would like to skip the top rail. But I am torn…

Can you just put up electric tape as the top rail? That’s pretty visible but shouldn’t break the bank.


I Googled both, and I’m not sure exactly what type of fence you’re installing. Is it the broad ribbon type of poly coated, or the single strand? And what color?

In the pictured fence, I don’t think the top rail is necessary, I think because of the thickness of the wire and the color, it’s adequately visible. I would just add a 6th strand up top and be done with it.

I have uncoated hot high tensile wire for most of my fencing, which horrifies some people, but I’ve also had a stable herd of sensible geldings so it’s never been a problem. Keeping it hot is key to it being safe. A friend of mine has the thick electric braid fencing on wooden posts without a top rail and it is also plenty visible, she has never had a problem either.

Sorry I don’t have any science to back that up.

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No scientific data here either, but we’ve used HOT white coated high tensile fencing for years and never had a problem w anything.


I must admit that we don’t have top rails here, at this farm in our large pastures. I was concerned about it at first. And the fences are barbed wire, on these large pastures. It’s 160 acres in all, and there are cows all around us, so barbed wire is pretty much necessary to keep cows from breaking IN. Where I have or have had neighbour’s horses over these fences at least at some times of the year, I have added an electric wire on our side of the fence. This acts as an adequate deterrance to keep my horses away from getting mixed up with fences. But these pastures are LARGE, and once they know that the electric wire is there, they do not go near the fence, or test it.

If you are going without a top rail to mark the fence, you need another type of aversion to the fence to keep horses away. They only chew a top rail, anyway. On our “farm fence” fences, which is also wire, but squares, not barbed, a top rail is necessary, because they will lean on wire like this, stretch it, and can get tangled up in it that way. They don’t with barbed wire. Also, without a top rail on our non barbed “farm fence” wire, the deer jumping it, hitting it, and horses leaning over it was rapidly breaking it all down, so we had to add the top rail or else it was all going to be destroyed. I added an electric wire on that wooden top rail to keep it from being chewed. Barbed wire is actually a lot like electric… once they poke themselves once, and know where the “perimeter” is, they know it “bites”, and give it more respect than many other types of fencing. If your pastures are large, they don’t need to get too close to it. They do respect it.
Good luck with your decisions. You pay your money, and make your choices. There are always risks, involving horses, and fences. The worst injury we have had was with a five rail wooden plank fence, completely destroyed by a cast horse. Horse was also permanently damaged, as a weanling. He’ still here, at 18 years old, a pasture puff.

PS. If you add an electric wire on top of any “non” wooden plank fence to deter horses from leaning on them or coming near them, run the wire BELOW the top of the fence if you also have deer. Because the deer will take the electric wire down, break it, and short it out if it is the top wire on your fence.

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I have coated high tensile electric wire fence, four strands with no top rail, and I’ve never had a problem. My two sane geldings stay away from it whether it’s hot or not. I turn on the electricity when the cows rotate through, and it keeps cows, calves, and bulls where they belong.

I have read that horses don’t see white as well as they see green or brown. Don’t know if that’s true or not, but it might be something to think about. If you’re worried about visibility you can get flags to clip on the wire, but if your horses aren’t crazy that’s probably not necessary.


I have read this too but people still swear white fence is the way to go for visibility. I will be doing black as it ties in to the color theme of the rest of the ranch; white house with black roof and grey trim, all the previously traditional red barns (now bubble gum pink from fading) will be painted white with black trim. So black fence will tie in nicely. I’m sure I’ll walk my dumb ass in to it in the middle of the night. But from what I can tell, horses don’t see white well so :tipping_hand_woman:t3:

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I pretty much hate electric tape so probably won’t go that route. All the poly coated will be hot with cut off switches to I can shut off the lower strands (or all of them) when they’re covered in snow. I guess if I have to have a top rail, I would probably splurge on a flex rail simply for aesthetics.


Poly coated, likely black. Same as what you have pictured; option being with or without the top rail. All of the poly strands will be hot with cut off switches so I can shut off various lines as they get buried in the snow.

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I have had horses in this, and have never had a horse not see it. Go for it. I have three paddocks in non-climb with a top “rail” of black hot poly, two of which are divided with four strands of the poly hot, and my new large paddock is just four strands of the poly hot with the bottom one not energerized because weedeating. Here is my two connected paddocks when the fence was first installed professionally and a comparison of that fence with the one my Dad and I just did ourselves that is just poly hot - so much cheaper!

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Looks great! I think the close spacing of fence posts help visibility as well since any horse who has been on earth more than a day or so, knows that there’s usually fence attached to vertically installed posts. I think COTH has made up my mind, so thanks y’all :slightly_smiling_face:


These are, IIRC, 13’ or 14’ spaced. Both Centaur and Ramm recommend less but a. I wanted the posts on the new paddock to be lined up with the posts on the older paddocks because I’m fussy like that, and b. money, less posts equal less money from both posts AND insulators. Also we had no issue getting them tight enough with that spacing, but the corner posts, next ones in, and all gate posts are really cemented in, the rest were pounded in. Only two places have the older paddocks, installed 2017, needed the top rail tightened and that was I think the second year in after unseasonable hot weather and they drooped a little and touched the top of the non-climb.

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I’ve got black coated high tensile and occasionally have a new horse in the mix over the years. I have black or creosoted wood posts. The one and only time any horse ran into the fence was when we relocated the fence that keeps them out of the barnyard. We moved it “back” to make the barnyard bigger, and in doing so realigned the curve of the yard. Chip was making a stink of refusing to go out and ran into what he assumed was the open gate gap…and bonked into 5 strands of wire. He bounced off it unharmed but embarrassed, took another look and found the new gate gap.

In my lifetime I’ve observed exactly one horse “forget” a wire fence line, one she had lived with for about a year or so. I boarded and helped at that barn…she was turned out into a field that shared a fence line with another field and to our horror, she galloped across the field and only at the last second saw? Remembered? the hog wire and tried to jump, causing a rotational fall. She crashed onto to her shoulder and side of her neck. It was so freaking scary. We caught her immediately and put her in a stallion pen with top rails and kept an eye on her (owners had no $$$ for diagnostics so she got Bute and that 80x120 turnout for a few weeks to offset stiffness). She was super duper sore for a good while but recovered fully. She knew the fence was there, she just forgot to jump it. I don’t know that a rail would have stopped her.

My top going to be 19yo this year & I’d have skipped it if I could have seen the future.
It has breaks/chips where it meets posts & is stupidly hard to retension.
Underneath are 3 lines of coated tensile, top one could carry a charge, but I’ve never added a charger.
If I could, I might replace the rail with electrobraid.
I’ve never had a problem with horses testing the fence, beyond grazing through it (& rubbing their manes :roll_eyes:).

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I’ve boarded where the pasture fencing was multiple lines of Centaur White Lightning (coated wire). I want to say 5 lines, with 2 or 3 of them hot, but I don’t remember for sure. No sight board. Never heard of a problem or saw an issue and I’d be comfortable using that sort of fencing myself. I did watch a young doofus stud colt run into the fence and bounce off unscathed, but it wasn’t that he didn’t see it, he just couldn’t brake quick enough.

Another place I was at used just 3 lines of it for paddocks but it was poorly installed (corners not adequately braced and fence not tensioned) and I did see issues there with horses getting caught up in it. But that wasn’t an issue with seeing the fence, but poor installation and lack of upkeep.

No science here, just my observations!

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One thing to think about is if there are horses from other properties who could end up at your fences.

I think generally you probably don’t need the top rail if the fence is hot and the horses stable.

HOWEVER,I would consider what is around you. My horse spooked and dumped me on a trail and went straight through a neighbors high tensile wire fence in his panic. I don’t think they ever had issues with their own horses, but my horse didn’t see it and it was an ugly injury (and broken fence).

Something to consider, may not be an issue for you at all, just depends on your situation.

I love 2 inch electric tape, white with black borders. Quite visible 12 months a year. Cheap and easily repaired. I know several instances of excited horses going through tensile wire. Of course horses also crash trying to jump out over wooden fences…

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For the last 12 years, my horses have been turned out with either electro braid or narrow electric tape as the only form of fencing and they have never bumped or challenged the fencing. Periodically I have to put up temporary fencing to block off portions of the field, and I always do that with narrow white tape. I try to put it up in the morning so they have all day to adjust, but sometimes it goes up just before dark. Never had any problems with that either. If I’m putting up new fencing and there’s snow on the ground, i tie trail tape to the fence every few feet to help them see it. That stays up all winter. I do now have the widest available electric tape as a “top rail” on one fence line, but that is because I like the look. All that to say, I wouldn’t bother with a top rail unless you plan to have new horses coming in frequently.

I think the size of paddock(s) is important as well. If they have smaller paddocks (such as sacrifice winter paddocks) I would go for a top rail. If they are larger paddock(s), I don’t think it would be necessary to add a top rail. I find in the large paddocks, the horses run around but tend to stay fairly far away from the fencing. When they have smaller paddocks and neighbors, I find they have a harder time stopping or think they can jump through/over a fence and a top piece might discourage them.

We use a 4 strand thick white electric rope on large cedar posts that are spaced 24’ apart. Its a 4 acre paddock and our plan was to eventually add more posts in between (to make it an 8’ span) and use oak board to finish. We have done 2 of the sides this way already, but 2 of the sides are still at the 24’ span and 4 strand electric rope and have had 0 issues. This is only the summer paddock as our winter paddock is about 1 acre and is 3 board oak with some electric on the inside to keep them off the fence.

They do respect that rope and don’t challenge it once they’ve got a shock. The fencing does have to be working though. We have had coyotes tear through the electric fencing (and even chew on all of our insulators) and found that our battery in our charger was not holding a charge all night, so the coyotes would shred the electric. It was unreal! At least it was only $600 for the rope, but it was shredded in about 1,000 pieces. We caught them on trail camera. Buggers

If you have a mature, stable herd and no close horsey neighbors, you’re probably fine without a sight rail. They’ll learn the fence lines pretty quickly, and, since your fence will be hot, shouldn’t lean on/over the top of the fence.

If you decide you need a sight rail, I’d personally do (and did) Horse Guard tape rather than the flex rail. It serves the same purpose and is cheaper, lower maintenance, and much easier to repair if/when it gets stretched or damaged. I’m not at all a fan of the flex rail fencing. Great idea in theory, but, having worked at multiple facilities that had it, I‘ve not been impressed with the functionality or longevity. Especially for the price!

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