Gelding and Aftercare
2008 Cherry Hill ©
castration of a male horse is a simple surgical procedure with few risks.
Sperm cells are produced in the testicles, matured and stored in the epididymus,
and transported via the vas deferens to the ejaculatory site. Gelding removes
the testicles, epididymus, part of the spermatic cord, and the covering of the
testicles. With gelding comes an immediate cessation in the production of
sperm cells, yet newly gelded horses have impregnated mares. This is due
to the presence of the ampulla, a sperm reservoir at the end of the vas deferens.
Because the ampulla is not removed during gelding, a gelding can potentially settle
a mare for up to one month after castration. After one month, the sperm
that were stored in the ampulla at the time of castration are no longer viable.
Improvement in quality and performance in the equine gene pool must begin with
selection of only the very
best individuals for breeding purposes. Because up to 90 percent of
male horses are not of breeding stallion potential, gelding is very common.
Due to a decrease in the production of androgens (the male hormones) after castration,
geldings generally have a more stable disposition than stallions. Gelding
makes a male horse suitable for a greater range of uses.
Male hormones are responsible for much more than the desire and capability to
breed mares. Athletic performance can be helped or hindered by testosterone.
It can make a stallion perform with more energy and brilliance than a gelding
yet it can also serve to distract a stallion from the work at hand. Similarly,
secondary sex characteristics, such as muscle bulk, that are influenced by testosterone
production can manifest as desirable muscle definition and strength or as an undesirable
cresty, thick, and inflexible neck.
Gelding is often used as a means to modify a horse's behavior. Vocalization,
fractious behavior and sexual interest in mares are frequently the undesirable
characteristics noted in the yearling and two-year-old stallion. Although
sexual interest is desirable in a stud, sexual aggressiveness is inappropriate
and dangerous in a performance animal. The urge to copulate is just one
part of the breeding ritual; related breeding behaviors include forms of whinnying,
squealing, pushing, rearing, striking, and biting - all socially acceptable behaviors
among horses but not between people and horses. A small percentage of young
male horses exhibit sexual frustration or self-mutilation tendencies. If
such a horse is not intended for breeding, it is best to geld him before habits
Although gelding will
remove the underlying cause for such behaviors, it will not change poor manners
and bad habits. This must be accomplished by proper training. Behavior
learned before gelding, especially if it involved breeding, will not disappear
instantly after castration, and perhaps will never be eliminated completely.
Some horses retain sexual behaviors after gelding and are often called "proud
cut". In the past this was said to be due to some testicular tissue
being missed during the gelding procedure allowing testosterone production (but
not sperm production) to continue. In some cases, this may have been true,
especially considering the variety of crude methods of castration practiced
over the last 2000 years. However, today, with the availability of restraining
drugs and the level of knowledge and surgical techniques, it is unlikely that
missed testicular tissue is the cause for the estimated 25 percent of geldings
that are said to exhibit some type of stallion behaviors. Since the adrenal
glands (located near the kidneys) also produce testosterone, it is thought that
the cause of so-called "proud cut" behavior may be due to the (hyper)activity
of a particular horse's adrenal glands. Other stallion-like behaviors may
simply be poor manners due to inadequate training.
testicles of the normal male horse descend from the abdomen into the scrotum around
birth. Gelding can be performed soon after birth but a delay is traditional
for several reasons. First of all it gives foal owners more time to determine
if a young horse is stallion potential. Secondly, it allows masculine characteristics,
such as muscle definition, strength, and aggressiveness to develop.
to geld is largely a management decision. Often, facilities require that
young horses of both sexes be housed together, so gelding at about 12 months has
become popular in order to avoid accidental breeding at puberty (18 to 24 months).
It is best to assess each individual though, to determine the optimum gelding
time. Some weanlings become preoccupied with nearby mares and may go through
or over fences to get near them. In other cases, a long yearling may only
quietly watch the mares. Others may develop an obsession with their penises
and may devise various means of masturbation or self-mutilation. Other early
gelding candidates include those that show premature signs of excess bulk such
as a thick, cresty neck. Such individuals might best be gelded at eight
months or earlier while others remain very supple and moderate in musculature
well into their two-year-old year.
Therefore, depending on management and the tendencies of each individual, gelding
usually takes place between six and twenty-four months of age.
Research has shown that there is little difference in the behavior change toward
people in horses gelded before puberty (18-24 months) and those gelded after puberty.
However, horses gelded after puberty tend to retain a greater amount of their
former horse-to-horse behaviors - sexual drive, vocalization, and body language
- than those gelded before puberty.
Early spring and late fall are the traditional seasons for gelding. Flies
are usually not a serious problem for the healing wound site and the lower seasonal
temperatures do not exaggerate swelling of the sheath. However, the mud
characteristic of spring and fall may make dry, sanitary
conditions more difficult to provide and maintain.
Proper health management practices contribute to safe and easy recovery from the
minor surgery. All horses should be current in their deworming
and vaccination schedules. Parasites can steal nutrients necessary for
proper healing. Each gelding candidate should have had two doses of at least
these vaccines as a weanling: Western Equine Encephalomyelitis, Eastern
Equine Encephalomyelitis, Influenza, Rhinopneumonitis, and most importantly, Tetanus
Toxoid. Yearlings should have a booster at least a month before gelding.
The veterinarian should be informed of the horse's immunization status.
If the horse is not current for tetanus, the veterinarian will likely administer
tetanus antitoxin at the time of surgery.
The horse should have good
manners for pre-tranquilizer handling. Veterinarians should not be subjected
to potential injury from an unruly yearling stallion. Also, the more a horse
is familiarized, in advance, with the type of handling he will receive before,
during, and after gelding, the less stress he will experience.
Before gelding, examine each horse thoroughly to determine what the "normals"
are for that horse. Look at his sheath, his legs, his eyes, his normal facial
expressions. Take his temperature, pulse and respiration. Become familiar
with each horse in an unstressed condition and it will help you monitor his progress
during the post-operative and recovery period.
If both testicles are not obviously visible in the scrotal pouch, it will be necessary
to palpate the scrotum to determine if both testicles have descended completely.
Some horses are initially very reluctant to having the scrotum handled and may
kick or pull away. Proper handling from birth or at least well in advance
of the gelding process will decrease handler risk.
When one or both of the testicles are not present in the scrotum, the horse is
termed a unilateral or bilateral cryptorchid. The retained testicle(s) might
be located high in the abdominal cavity or in the inguinal canal, the area between
the abdomen and scrotum. Gelding a cryptorchid requires general anesthesia;
the testicle(s) are removed via the inguinal canal, the abdominal wall, or the
SURGERY Routine gelding of a horse that has two descended testicles is a
simple on-the-farm procedure. Find a clean,
level, smooth area for your veterinarian to work. A grassy spot out
of the strong sun works well. The surgery is performed either under general
anesthesia with the horse laying on one side or on his back or with a local anesthesia
with the horse standing. The veterinarian will require an accurate weight
for each horse in order to determine the proper dosage of tranquilizer and anesthetic
to use. Usually a tranquilizer is administered first to relax the horse.
Then either a local anesthetic is administered and the surgery is performed with
the horse standing or a general anesthetic is administered which will make the
horse lose consciousness and lay down. Care must be taken as the horse collapses
to ensure he does not injure his head, or lose his balance and fall backwards.
As the horse is laid down and throughout the surgery, it is important to protect
the horse's eye and head with a soft blanket to prevent injuries. Once down,
the anesthetic allows the veterinarian about ten to twelve minutes to complete
ropes are usually applied as a safeguard because all horses react differently
to anesthesia. The scrotal area is washed. Usually two incisions are
made in the scrotum. The testicles are pulled out of the scrotum so that
about two inches of the spermatic cord can be removed with the testicles.
The spermatic cord is made up veins, artery, nerves, and the vas deferens, the
tube which carries sperm away from the testicles. The spermatic cords are
crushed with an emasculator for about sixty seconds to sever them. The veterinarian
enlarges the scrotal incisions and trims any excess scrotal tissues that would
interfere with proper drainage.
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