When it comes to fencing for horses, there is nothing quite as charming and attractive as wood. Wood has been the traditional material used in fencing of all types and is still a very common option for many ranches and stables. Wood has many properties that make it the best choice for livestock corrals and other agricultural fencing applications like it’s time tested durability and the fact that it can easily be painted - as many corral fences are. Wood corrals are particularly popular, especially on properties where pasture perimeter fencing is wire or electric and the property owner is looking for a more classic look for their corrals or round pens; nothing delivers a classic Americana look as well as rustic wood fence.
Designing a horse corral doesn't have to be a tedious process. By determining what it will be used for, what size is required and what types of horses will be housed in it, you can plan out a beautiful as well as functional corral relatively simply.
What is the Purpose of the Corral?
A corral can be a highly flexible containment area. Some may use corrals as temporary holding or sorting areas in addition to their pasture while others may permanently house their horses in corrals throughout the year. Corrals can also be used for training, with round pen corrals having this primary purpose.
If you plan on using your corral for training or even some light riding, it is a good idea to design your corral with rounded corners. If instead, the corral will simply be used for containing horses, the typical square or rectangular design will suffice. The purpose of the corral will have an impact on how big you will need it to be.
What Type of Horse Will the Corral Need to Contain?
Most corrals are built for the average equine in mind, being strong enough to contain your typical horse and tall enough to thwart the idea of jumping. However, there are a few cases in which you might need to change your corral design based on the horses will be in it.
The first factor is if the corral will be used for stallions. As a general rule stallions should only be housed within fencing that is 6' high. In fact, some states even have laws requiring a 6' fence be used for all stallions. It is also a good idea to run a strand of electric along the top wood board of the corral to further convince stallions to not challenge their fence.
Another factor to keep in mind is if the corral will be used for escape artists, young horses, or green horses. Going with higher corral fence than normal is a good idea for corrals that will house spunky green horses or horses have zero training (i.e. BLM projects).
Also, horses known to be disrespectful to fences, such as those that will freely lean into them to reach grass, or known cribbers can still be housed in wood corrals, so long as a hot strand is used in combination.
What Size Corral is Most Suitable?
The size your corral should be is totally up to how big (or small) you'd like it to be, whether it will be used for training or long-term housing, and whether it will house one horse or multiple. If the corral is to be a very small space to temporarily keep a horse, a size of 16' x 16' might be sufficient enough. For longer-term housing and to allow the horse(s) to be able to run a bit and play a size of 25' x 100' would be much more enjoyable for the horse.
Round corrals can be as small as 30' diameter if used for housing or basic desensitizing and groundwork. Consider a 50' diameter to be the minimum for lunging and general round-penning work. A round corral that you want to train and ride in should be a 60' minimum.
For most classic rectangular corrals, using a rough-sawn poplar board fence designed for horse fencing is ideal. Combine these with fence posts that are at least 4" posts in whatever length you need to achieve your desired fence height. The number of boards you need depends on what look you like as well as the utility of the corral. A three board fence is ideal for majority of uses, though a 4+ board fence might be useful for stallion corrals, corrals where mares and foals will be housed and for training.
After answering these foundational questions it is worth it to go out to the building location and mark out where the corral will be before you start buying lumber and other materials.
Take note of trees or in-ground rocks that may be a problem or have to be removed. Also, consider the slope of the area as well as shade/sunlight. Having just a slight slope can be helpful in rainwater and snowmelt escaping the corral rather than becoming a mud pit in spring. Corrals with heavy shade will be cooler in summer, a great idea for hot regions, but also take longer for snow to melt, a potential downside for cold regions.
Don't forget to include what gate you will be using in your planning. It is highly recommended that larger round pens and corrals have at least a 10' gate so truck and/or tractor access is easier. You may also want to place your gate on the fence closest to your barn or road-access to make maintenance and feeding easier.
Keeping these factors in mind and building with high-quality materials, you'll soon have a wonderful, useful new corral on your property.