Why we castrate horses
Castration or “Gelding” of colts or stallions is the most common surgical procedure performed in horses. Male horses that are not intended for breeding may be castrated for a number of reasons, however the most common reason is to avoid or reduce aggressive stallion behaviour.
Gelding is considered an effective means of eliminating this aggressive behaviour in the majority of cases, however it is important to note that a percentage of geldings will continue to display stallion like behaviours such as mounting and aggression toward other horses.
Other medical reasons for castrating horses include correction of inguinal hernias, trauma to the testicle or treatment/prevention of testicular cancer.
Considerations when gelding a horse:
- Age: Castration can be performed at any age in horses, however most colts that are not intended for breeding are gelded as yearlings, very young animals are a higher anaesthetic risk, and older animals have learnt stallion behaviours
- General Health: It is always important that your horse have a good general physical examination prior to any kind of surgical procedure, as underlying disease may increase the risks associated with the procedure. If your horse has been unwell or the physical examination is abnormal the surgery may need to be postponed. It is also important to check that both testicles are present in the scrotum prior to anaesthetising the horse. Sometimes only one testicle will have descended into the scrotum. These horses are known as cryptorchids. Gelding a cryptorchid horse is a more complicated procedure, as the abdominal cavity may need to be opened in order to retrieve and remove the un-descended testis.
- Weather: Following surgery, the incision site is left open to encourage wound drainage. We avoid gelding colts in wet weather is due to increased risk of wound contamination & infection in wet muddy conditions. Gelding during cooler weather is also preferred to decrease the risk of flies laying maggots in the wound
- Location: Geldings are performed under a short general anaesthetic (laying down). An open grassy area is therefore required to ensure the safety of both the horse and people is optimised.
- Handling: Colts must be halter trained before gelding – this makes the initial physical examination and subsequent anaesthesia safer for you, the vet and your horse. Following surgery, it will be important to exercise your to minimise the amount of swelling around the surgical site. This is often much easier to do if the horse is at least used to lead walking. Having horses well handled prior to gelding will also make management of any post-operative complications far easier to deal with.
- Performance Horses: If your horse is currently in work, it is generally advised that they be taken out of training and fed reduced amounts of concentrates for 5-10 days prior to surgery and for 2-3 weeks post surgery
After your horse has recovered from the anaesthetic, he may be a little wobbly on his feet for the first hour or two. Our veterinarians will stay with you and your horse until it is standing again. It is important to keep him quiet and in a clean, dry and open area for the remainder of the day. Ensure he has access to water at all times. You may offer your horse his normal feed the evening of the procedure.
There are a number of complications to watch for – these will be detailed to you by one of our vets, and a handout is available for post-operative care.