by: Betsy Wagner, Ph.D, PAS
Department of Animal Sciences, Auburn University

Horse owners often decide early in the colt's life whether he shows the promise of being a quality stallion or will be a happier and more willing work partner as a gelding.

Geldings are generally more even tempered and marketable. They do not require the specialized housing and handling considerations of stallions. Unless the individual is extremely talented or a prepotent sire, the majority of stallions produce only a handful of offspring a year, and do not generate a financial profit for their owners. This month we will review selection criteria behind the gelding decision, the best time to geld a young horse, and behavioral improvements to expect after gelding a sexually mature individual.

In addition to conformation and athletic talent, temperament is a major criterion for determining whether or not to geld a colt or stallion. All horses should be easy to handle for basic work including the farrier and veterinarian, but stallions must also know when and how it is acceptable for them to demonstrate breeding-related behaviors. Dominance issues such as nipping and biting begin when colts are young, and may be a signal that he will not be a respectful stallion later in life. There also have been examples of stallions that mentally could not handle the hormonal and behavioral aspects of being intact, and only after they were gelded did their over-all health, trainability and competitiveness improve.

Puberty in stallions typically occurs around one to two years of age. Many horse owners wait until the first signs of objectionable sexual behavior in their colts before scheduling castration. Other horse owners prefer to have their colts gelded before this stage to avoid the chance of their horse developing and retaining these behaviors. Colts can be castrated as young as a few weeks of age, though most of the young horse castrations are performed on weanlings and short yearlings. Owners who wait to geld their colts should separate them from mares and fillies before spring of their yearling year to discourage mounting behavior and prevent unintended pregnancies.

Both testicles should be descended into the scrotum at the time of castration. Descent typically occurs between 30 days before and 10 days after birth, and a quick exam and scrotal palpation by the owner or veterinarian can confirm the presence of both testicles. Castration is performed under anesthesia, and can be done with the colt standing or lying down depending on the size of the horse and the veterinarian's preference. The epididymus is closely attached to the testis in the horse, so both are removed when the spermatic cord is severed. Once the colt has recovered from anesthesia, he will be confined to a stall or small pen for a day or two to limit his movement and start a program of regulated exercise. The veterinarian may prescribe an anti-inflammatory to minimize swelling and reduce pain.

Cryptorchids have a testicle retained in abdominal cavity or in the inguinal canal connecting the abdominal cavity and the scrotum. Castration of these horses is more complicated than that of a colt with two descended testicles. The veterinarian may refer the colt to an equine hospital better prepared to handle the procedure. If the retained testicle is not removed, the colt will be infertile though he will produce male sex hormones and display stallion behaviors. A blood test in conjunction with a thorough veterinary exam will determine whether a gelding with stallion-like behaviors may be a cryptorchid in disguise.

Gelding of mature stallions generally eliminates male behaviors. The procedure is similar to castration of colts and young stallions, though there is an increased risk of some complications. It is not uncommon for stallions to continue to exhibit some masculine behavior for several months following castration. Studies have estimated that 20-30 percent of these horses will continue to exhibit some stallion-like behavior, including mounting and copulation, though it is most likely psychological rather than hormonal in origin.

Gelding a young colt or stallion produces a more manageable and even-tempered animal. Castration can be done at any age, though many horse owners prefer to have it done before the colt starts to display objectionable sexual behaviors.


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