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Male horses that are not intended for use as breeding stock are usually castrated, also referred to as gelding. Gelding a horse involve the removal of both testicles, the epididymis and part of the spermatic cord that supplies blood and nerves and houses the ductus deferens to the testicles. Horses can be castrated at any age, but are most commonly gelded between six months and one year of age.
Stallions, intact male horses, can be difficult to handle and house, and geldings are preferable for most horse owners as they tend to make more manageable and tractable mounts. Gelding a horse is a very common procedure, however complications are possible and follow-up care is important. Gelding a horse can be performed in a standing horse under sedation but is more often performed under general anesthetic. The procedure can be performed by a veterinarian at the horse’s home site or at a veterinary hospital.
Gelding may be performed in a standing sedated horse or under general anaesthetic and the procedure may be open, closed, or semi-closed. Before the procedure, your veterinarian will suggest that the horse is vaccinated for tetanus. The horse is also examined to ensure that both testicles are descended. If not, then the horse is a cryptoid and requires a special procedure usually performed in a veterinary hospital. Standard, open procedure under general anaesthetic is the most common. This involves sedating the male horse and administering intravenous anesthetic and slowly lowering the horse to the ground. Most veterinarians perform this procedure at the horse’s home site, in a grassy area if possible, to reduce contamination and provide a safe place for the horse to recover from anesthetic. Intravenous anesthetic usually lasts approximately 10 minutes; the horse can be redosed if required during the procedure but preferably the procedure is performed under one dose. The horse is placed on his side and the legs moved out of the way.
An incision is made over each testicle, and covering and connective tissue manipulated away to expose testicle and structures. An emasculator, which is a tool with a flat blade that crushes and then cuts the spermatic cord, is used. The emasculator is applied to the spermatic cord and held in pace to crimp and crush vessels and ductus deferens. This should result in controlling bleeding. In a mature stallion, crushing the blood supply may not be adequate to control bleeding and vessels my need to be tied off. The cord is then cut, taking 4-5 cm with it to ensure no testosterone producing tissue remains. The site is observed to ensure hemorrhage does not occur. Testicle and associated tissue is then removed. The procedure is repeated for the other side.
Standing castrations under sedation can be performed if anesthetic is thought to be not well tolerated, however the horse must be halter broke and able to be restrained, tall enough for the veterinarian to reach under, and there is a risk to the veterinarian performing the procedure and the horse if the horse reacts during the procedure. Also, if hemorrhaging occurs during the procedure it will be difficult to correct and the horse will need to be put under anesthetic to address.
If performed in the field, incision sites may be left open to heal on their own, which will require aftercare by the horse owner. Some horse owners opt to close incisions.
If under anesthetic, the horse is observed until they recover from anesthetic and aided to standing position if necessary, this usually takes 10-20 minutes.
If performed correctly, and no testosterone producing tissue remains, castration of the male horse is effective in preventing both fertility and unwanted stallion behaviors. In some geldings, and especially when altered after they have matured and stallion behavior has already manifested, the behavior may remain or may take longer to dissipate.
Incisions are left open to allow the wound to heal from the inside out. This prevents fluids from building up in the scrotal sac that could become infected
After castration, the horse should be confined for 24 hours to ensure clotting occurs. After this, the horse needs mild exercise to prevent swelling and allow drainage to occur. Most horse owners are encouraged to take the horse for long walks daily or exercise at a trot for 15 minutes twice a day. Simple turn out may not be adequate if the horse does not move around sufficiently due to being sore. Anti-inflammatories may also be prescribed by your veterinarian. Cold water can also be applied to reduce swelling.
If swelling extends into the abdominal area, the horse requires more exercise. Monitor the incision site for excessive bleeding. Moderate bleeding can be treated by applying pressure with bandage materials, but excessive bleeding may require anesthetic and blood vessels to be litigated by your veterinarian.
Monitor the horse's temperature, and if fever occurs antibiotics will be required. Severe swelling may indicate infection and signs of this should be addressed with your veterinarian.
It can take up to six weeks for residual testosterone to leave the horse's body and changes in behavior may not be realized immediately after surgery.
The cost of gelding a horse depends on whether it is done on site or at a clinic, whether general anesthetic is used, and whether incisions are closed or left open. Mileage for your veterinarian to travel to your home site is ls a factor. Gelding a horse usually cost between $200 and $500.
If anesthetic is not well tolerated in your horse, a standing castration may be performed, however due to the risk of injury to the horse and veterinarian this is not as commonly conducted.
Recovery from anesthetic, hemorrhage and infection are all possible complications of the castration procedure. Steps to mitigate these complications can be taken by ensuring a safe sterile procedure site, ensuring bleeding is addressed, and monitoring your horse for signs of infection or hemorrhage.
Gelded horses tend to grow taller as the growth plate closure is delayed, however stallions will develop more musculature. A male horse left to mature may develop musculature but may retain unwanted stallion behaviors after gelding.
A severe complication of gelding can occur when the intestine descends through the inguinal canal into the scrotal area. In a castrated horse where incisions have not closed, this can result in the intestine protruding through the open wounds, which is a life threatening emergency requiring emergency veterinary surgery.
It is also possible for the horse’s omentum, which is a fatty yellow tissue of the abdominal organs, to protrude through open incisions. This requires addressing by a veterinarian but is not as urgent as intestinal protrusion.
If your horse has an undescended testicle they are referred to as cryptorchid and require a more involved procedure.
Gelding is in itself a prevention for unwanted breeding and unwanted behaviors. A gelded horse makes a more easily handled riding horse, is more manageable to house, and is less prone to injury from unwanted mounting, fighting other horses, and attempts to reach mares.
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