Castrating a horse

Gelding a male horse

The castration of a male horse is known in Britain as gelding and the castrate also shares this name. The simple ten minute operation involves the removal of the stallion’s or male horse’s testicles by a veterinary surgeon. The operation is not reversible and the gelding will no longer be able to breed. It is important to note that it is a legal requirement that the gelding of a horse should occur under anaesthetic. Colts are usually castrated at one year old although foals can be castrated before even five months of age. Many male horses do not have the necessary traits for breeding and so gelding is a common procedure. In comparison with stallions, gelded horses are usually calmer, less easily distracted, not able to produce unwanted pregnancies with mares and are easier to handle and control.

At what age should a male horse be gelded?

A male horse can be gelded at any age although most owners prefer them to be done before they reach sexual maturity in order to allow them to be more easily handled or ridden in the future. Most commonly, it appears that male horses are being gelded at around twelve months of age in order to prevent accidental breeding. Some owners wait until the horse has reached two or three years old with the intention of having a gelding with a more muscular body and a thick neck.

The Operation

During the operation both testicles, responsible for the production of the hormone testosterone, are removed. Before the procedure can begin, it must be ensured that the two testicles are well descended into the scrotum. If this is true and the horse is healthy then the operation can be performed at the farm whereas if there are complications, such as hernias, the veterinarian may choose to undergo the surgery at their clinic. Areas on the farm can include a pleasant, dry spot in a field without the glare of the sun.

It is illegal in Britain to not anaesthetise a horse when castrated and the aesthetic is given intravenously. This is followed by carefully placing the horse on its side which may require more than one person in order to ensure the safety of the horse and anyone involved. During recumbent surgery, the horse’s head must be allowed to rest on a lot of padding to prevent the rare possibility of temporary facial paralysis as a result of the pressure from the halter. This paralysis can usually last up to a fortnight.    

The surgical site is scrubbed using surgical soap to prevent infection and a linear incision is made through the coverings of each testicle and the spermatic cord is divided above the epididymis which lies on each of the testicles. Here, the blood supply is crushed with in an emasculator for around a minute and then checked in case of a haemorrhage. The surgical site is allowed to drain by leaving the incisions open which then heal in their own time.

The horse will recover from the anaesthetic after twenty minutes and will stand up. For this to come to pass safely the horse needs to be in a safe area where it cannot hit its head or damage itself or others. Some veterinarians suggest an adequately sized pen.

Are there other ways to castrate a male horse?

Other methods exist such as “immunocastration” of which the effects are to immunise the horse against the production of testosterone. These are given in the form of injections and are not long lasting and need to be constantly repeated.

Post-Operative Care

Cleaning of the hind legs is required daily and a careful watch must be placed to ensure that the normal drainage, which occurs after gelding, does not have an unpleasant smell. The horse’s sheath will naturally swell but high temperatures here are normally a sign of infection. If there is no drainage, there is continually unpleasant smell, bleeding occurs, the sheath has a sudden rise in temperature, or swells to an alarming degree a veterinarian should be contacted. This is also true should the gelding acquire a painfully stiff gait for a prolonged period of time, if a fever develops or there is a loss of appetite. However, the operation is simple and complications such as these do not happen often and are rarely the reasons for not gelding a horse.

It is necessary for geldings to have a smaller amount of feed than stallions. The gelding also requires more exercise than the entire. After the operation, the new gelding must be exercised with the aim of reducing any stiffness. This is of vital importance. It can also be returned to an area with other horses so long as it has full coordination. Before this petroleum jelly may be placed on the inside of the legs to prevent chafing. Although being allowed to exercise by itself and being left to its own devices is less time consuming for the owner, forced exercise ensures the horse is comfortable and heals more quickly. In the majority of cases it is highly recommended to force the horse to exercise. This can perhaps be done via lunging or hand walking beginning with a few short sessions for the first week following the castration and then increasing this to an hour a day for the next fortnight.  


Stallions are taller than geldings

Commonly, horses that have been gelded at an early stage of their life have a delayed closing time of the growth plates in their legs. The hormone responsible for the closing of the growth plates is testosterone and this it is this hormone which is prevented from being produced following castration. As a result geldings are usually taller than stallions and not the other way around.

My horse can not have been gelded properly since he still behaves like a stallion

It must be noted that geldings can take up to six months to finally finish producing any stallion-like behaviour. Some geldings are known as “false rigs”. This is because they are able to exhibit behaviours more commonly seen in stallions such as mounting mares and obtaining an erection. If this occurs a consultation with a vet can be arranged to discuss as to whether the reason for this is hormonal (due to an unsuccessful operation) or behavioural but it is almost always the latter.

My horse will be depressed if he cannot mate

This is not true. Unlike humans, horses do not engage in sexual intercourse for pleasure but due to instinctual behaviour increased by testosterone. Therefore, without the production of this hormone, the horse should not have these emotional consequences which one may expect from a human.


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