Castration is a safe procedure, performed on the vast majority of colts born today. If a domesticated male horse is not going to be used for breeding, he should be gelded. Castration will likely stabilize his disposition, making him more “socially acceptable” among other horses.
You Know It’s Time to Geld When...
- Signs of sexual arousal include lifted head, curled lip, flehmen gesture. A horse’s sense of smell is far more acute than a human’s allowing him to scent a mare a half-mile away. If your horse is obsessed with dropping and extending himself, immediately separate him (via strong fencing) from fillies and mares to avoid unplanned pregnancies.
- If your horse prances about to announce himself he is showing signs of studdishness.
- Nipping, biting, pushing and rearing are common for stallions.
- Nickering in a deeper louder fashion (more like a bellow or squeal) at other males, as if to challenge, denotes a presumption of superiority.
- Stallion pecking order behavior includes sniffing at the flank area (presumed to seek the scent of nervous sweat) to discover submissive pasture mates or challenge confident rivals.
- If your horse is knocking over fences to get to mares, constantly nose to nose with the ladies, or attempting to mount mares, he does not have his mind on his training.
Some believe a stallion’s growth will be stunted if he’s gelded prematurely. Others will tell you to geld as soon as both testicles descend. Early gelding can mean more rapid healing; older studs usually bleed more and are at greater risk of infection. Waiting until a stallion is 3 or 4 years old can maximize potential growth, strength, energetic aggressiveness (not sexual) and athletic performance. My preference is to geld between the ages of 18 months and 2 years.
To minimize handler risk, a colt should learn four necessary skills prior to gelding:
1. be comfortable in a halter
2. obey commands such as to walk on a lead rope
3. stand still and stand tied
4. trailer load, even if the veterinarian is coming to your home. In an emergency situation, all horses need to be able to load and travel!
Plan to geld in late fall or early spring, if possible. I like to set a date with the vet for cooler weather. Cold weather eliminates flies and reduces blood loss; hot weather, and the accompanying bugs, sweat and mud, increase stress and the potential for swelling and infection.
A 2000-year-old practice (still not scientifically proven) sets gelding time based on astrological signs charted in the Farmers Almanac. When castrating according to astrology, look for downward trends, or signs “moving away from the heart.” Also look for the moon in Pisces for optimal castration times. Almanac users say recovery is easier, with less blood and swelling; some say “it couldn't hurt” to consult this time-proven method still in use today.
THE GELDING PROCEDURE
Castration is a simple surgical procedure, generally taking less than 15 minutes by a veterinarian. The horse is given a tranquilizer to relax, then gently laid down, although some vets geld standing. The scrotal area is washed and two incisions are made. Both testicles are severed and removed along with about 2 inches of cord and some outer covering, followed by minor trimming of tissue. A tetanus antitoxin is usually standard procedure at the time of surgery.
( TIPS: You may want to have a blanket on hand to lay your horse’s head on to soften his fall and protect his head. Additionally, you or the vet can apply petroleum jelly on the inside of the legs to allow drainage to slide off easily.)
If your vet makes farm calls, you need only a safe, flat, dry, sanitary area out of sunlight and away from other horses to conduct the procedure. A round pen is perfect. Gelding is easily conducted when both testicles are visible. If both testicles have not descended (also called a cryptorchid), the surgery will take place at a vet clinic.
Most procedures occur without incidence, but if in doubt call your vet immediately.
- Look for signs of fever, excessive sweating, infection or heat at the surgical site, foul odor and foreign objects dangling below the incision.
- Hind leg swelling may be caused by an inability of the site to drain. A warm compress, followed by exercise, may loosen the incision and allow it to reopen and drain.
- Excessive bleeding could occur, which might require a vitamin K shot from your vet to assist blood coagulation, or internal swelling might require further surgery.
- A droopy lip, floppy ear, watery eye or temporary facial paralysis (caused by nerve pressure on the side the horse was laid on) is uncommon but possible and should subside in 10 days.
Be observant of any dramatic changes in the incision site or personality traits of your horse on a daily basis.
- Light drainage (up to 2 weeks) and minor swelling of the sheath is common.
- If possible, occasionally hose off near but not on the area or warm water wash then blot dry.
- Expect normal eating and drinking patterns, regular urination and properly formed regular bowel movements, along with a normal stance and demeanor (no lowered head or lying down a lot).
- Lessen stiffness and prevent swelling with exercise. Start slowly with brief sessions (15 minutes 2-3 times for the first 3-4 days) and gradually build to 30 minutes twice a day (for 5-7 days) then 1 hour for another 2 weeks, varying the tasks and intensity.
- Your gelded horse might not need as much feed as a stallion due to a slower metabolism. He may also need more exercise and his muscles may not be quite as chiseled as a stallion's because he may have more fat.
Don't take any chances in releasing your newly gelded horse back into the herd too soon. Although gelding immediately ceases sperm production, your horse naturally has stored sperm, called ampulla, that is not removed with the procedure. This sperm can still be viable for a month. Technically, your gelding can still impregnate a mare for up to 4 weeks after the procedure.
IS HE “PROUD CUT”?
Stud-like behavior can remain after gelding, especially if it was already present prior to the procedure. Pre-existing bad manners can continue, especially with older aggressive geldings. A gelding doesn't make sperm any more, but a horse’s adrenals produce testosterone and are unaffected by the procedure. Some think this may affect sexual behavior, as might any remaining testicular tissue left after castration (a rare occurrence with today's technology) allowing additional testosterone (hormones not sperm) production. Retention of more aggressive behavior is generally more prevalent in post-puberty castration.
To determine if your gelding’s stud-like behavior has a physical cause, your vet may opt to:
- palpate rectally to identify testicle presence
- check testosterone levels of young geldings by obtaining a baseline first. A single testosterone blood test may be enough, but if testosterone is high, the vet can give an hCG injection followed by drawing blood again in 24 hours.
- at 3+ years, look for high concentrations of estrone sulfate.
Blood tests may reveal that your horse has testosterone levels in the norm, yet his behavior is still undesirable. In the end, some horses simply possess a stallion-like psyche. Also, keep in mind a stud may need 6 months to forget he is a stud, at which time his personality may become more relaxed.
Castration is a necessary, common and safe procedure that has been conducted for centuries. It contributes to responsible breeding practices and reduces the likelihood of unwanted, neglected and abused horses.
Shari Frederick, BS, NMD, LE, a nutritional educator, assists horseowners in making healthier, more natural choices in horse care. She is an independent author, international lecturer and self-styled naturalist. At her Happy Horse Haven Rescue in Texas, detoxification and liver/kidney/immune supports are the FIRST steps in rehab for nearly every arriving horse. Visit Shari’s websites, horserescuefaces.com , healthyhorsehints.com