Horse Gelding and Aftercare

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Gelding and Aftercare

  2008 Cherry Hill   Copyright Information

The 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.


Horse For Sale by Cherry Hill   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.

How to Think Like A Horse by Cherry Hill    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 get established.

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.

Cherry Hill's Horsekeeping Almanac    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.


    The 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.

Horse Health Care by Cherry HillWhen 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.

StablekeepingHorsekeeping On A Small Acreage    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.


Horse Health Care by Cherry Hill    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.

Horse Handling and Grooming by Cherry Hill    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 flank.

Horse HousingTHE 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 the procedure.

    Restraint 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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