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Gelding And Aftercare

Gelding and aftercare




           Gelding and Aftercare








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.


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 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.

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.

When 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 flank.


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.


The gelding will get up on his own shortly after he comes out of the anesthesia but it takes about 20-40 minutes for him to fully recover from the drug.  It is important he is in a safe, private place such as a round pen or arena.  Before turning him out, apply petroleum jelly to the insides of his hind legs where sticky fluids will later drip.  Accumulated drainage can result in sloughed hair and chafed skin.  Petroleum jelly will protect the sparsely-haired inside thigh and gaskin area from scalding and makes daily cleaning of the legs easier for the owner and less painful for the horse.

Drainage is largely comprised of white blood cells mixed with discarded tissue fragments and blood.  Commonly this is referred to as pus.  As long as the odor of the drainage remains inoffensive, it is normal and desirable.  Drainage should continue for 2 to 3 weeks.  If the scrotal incisions close up suddenly before two weeks or if there is a persistent bad smell, call your veterinarian immediately.

To minimize hair loss, skin chafing, and to decrease the chances of the horse rubbing his rear end and tail, clean the hind legs and the area under the horse's tail each day.  Using warm water if possible, hose off the drainage, blot dry with a clean towel, and apply a fresh coat of petroleum jelly.  During the washing, don't spray directly into the wound.  Too much washing and wiping can also be irritating to a horse's skin, so strike a balance.  Bathing training prior to gelding will help make this daily washing just another routine.  To encourage the youngster to stand still, have an assistant hold up a front foot, but be sure the young horse has had prior hoof handling.

Because of surgical trauma, the gelding's sheath will swell to some degree.  Accumulation of fluids in the area is normal for four to five days.  If the swelling becomes extreme or is accompanied by heat, it may be advisable to notify your veterinarian.  A swollen sheath may make urination uncomfortable.  Be sure to encourage normal urination and bowel movements by offering your horse fresh water at all times and ensuring that he gets adequate exercise.


When the new gelding is coordinated enough to navigate, he can be turned out with his usual pasture-mates, providing they are not too rowdy.  The best prevention and treatment for sheath swelling is a conscientious exercise program.  However, because the gelding will be understandably stiff, don't expect him to exercise adequately on his own.

Its best to approach the new gelding's exercise needs formally and follow a schedule such as three 15 minute sessions each day for the first three days after surgery; two 30 minute sessions each day for the next week; then one 60 minute session each day until healing is complete which is usually about two to three weeks after surgery.

A combination of hand walking, free longeing, ponying and free exercise can be used. Hand walking is the best method for the very stiff colt on the first day after gelding.  "Free" longeing refers to longeing without a longe line.  The trainer uses body language and voice commands to dictate gaits and direction.  Therefore, it is beneficial to teach a horse to longe before he is gelded.  Otherwise you may make a negative association with learning something new at a time when the horse is not very attentive and may be reluctant to move.

Longeing is best done in a large (66 foot diameter) round pen to avoid unnecessary stress on the young horse's legs.  The newly castrated horse will not want to pick up his hind feet very high so may stumble.  Sand (2-4 inches deep) is a good type of footing providing safety and shock absorbency.  Use leg protection to safeguard against uncoordinated or imbalanced moves and for added splint bone protection and tendon support.

Free exercise is the least labor intensive exercise option but doesn't guarantee that a horse will exercise when he needs it the most.  Left to his own devices, the new gelding that is very stiff might choose to stand relatively still all day.  After just five minutes of forced exercise, however, the scrotal incisions usually reopen and drain, relieving the pressure which caused the stiffness.  The horse then seems more comfortable and strides out much more freely.

Ponying is a very good way to provide vigorous exercise for the new gelding.  The pony horse must be calm and responsive to the rider and assertive toward the yearling without being aggressive.  Although the yearling may try to bite, rear, kick, or balk, the pony horse should just keep moving forward and not attempt to discipline the youngster.  You will need to teach the young horse to stay near your right knee and the pony horse's shoulder.  The best gait for pony work is the long trot.  The walk is not active enough and during the lope, the speed and stride length of a yearling and a mature horse is quite different, so working at the trot will allow you the best chance of keeping the two horses in sync.


There are some complications that can arise even with a routine castration.  Probably the most common is swelling that spreads down the hind legs.  Although you can provide some temporary relief to the swollen legs by cold water or massage, ultimately the incision will need to be reopened to ensure proper drainage.  Hind leg swelling is the body's sympathetic response to the swelling in the sheath area and more probably, the premature closing of the incisions and inability of the area to drain.  Until closure at about two weeks, there should be a gradual decrease in the amount of drainage: copious at first, scant toward day l4.  If drainage halts abruptly, use a warm compress on the scrotal area to soften the crusted incision area and then exercise the young horse immediately.  This will usually cause the incision to burst open and release the accumulated pus.  If the premature closure is persistent, perhaps your veterinarian needs to enlarge one or both of the incisions.

If the spermatic cord was not emasculated thoroughly, excess bleeding may result and the cord may need to be clamped.  In other cases, if too much spermatic cord was pulled out of the abdominal cavity during the surgery, after emasculation, the stump may retract into the abdomen.  The subsequent bleeding and infection that would likely follow might require major abdominal surgery.

Sometimes, after recumbent surgery, horses will exhibit temporary facial paralysis, but it is uncommon.  It can be caused by the halter's hardware pressing on a facial nerve when the horse's head is on the ground during the castration.  That is why is best to adequately pad the horse's head and face with a soft blanket, especially in the area of the nose band hardware and side buckles of the halter.  Temporary paralysis may manifest as a drooping lip, a flaccid nostril on one side, perhaps a floppy ear.  Sometimes the horse's eye will water continually.  It is possible that a horse could have difficulty eating if the paralysis affects both sides of the face.  Generally the side that he was laying on is the one that is affected.  Recovery takes about ten days.


Two weeks after the horse's surgery, from outward appearances, he is a gelding.  However, past behavior patterns and a low level of androgens make the yearling continue to act somewhat like a stud-colt.  Use caution in turning the new gelding out with a group of mares, for example.  He may learn a lesson the hard way.  Depending at what age he was gelded, the horse may need as long as 4-6 months to mentally and physically forget he was a stallion.

After castration, the gelding's metabolism is likely to slow down.  Therefore, to maintain optimum condition, a gelding usually requires less feed and more exercise than his stallion counterpart.  Although a gelding and stallion may have similar muscle bulk, a stallion's muscles exhibit more definition because a gelding's muscles tend to be covered with a layer of fat giving him a rounder appearance.

Horses gelded before puberty usually grow taller than if they were left stallions.  The testosterone rush at puberty triggers the closure of the epiphyseal plates (where bone growth takes place), so the stallion essentially quits adding height at puberty.  The horse gelded at one year of age has a gradual, delayed puberty and the additional time may allow him to add extra height.

Most gelding procedures will occur without incidence.  Preparation, observation, and daily care will help the young horse recover quickly.


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