Castration: Part 2

Learn the methods of preparing your horse for castration.

This is the second half of a two-part series. Need to review Part 1?

Before Castrating

To prepare your colt for gelding, make sure he is in good health and current on deworming and his vaccinations. A little time spent getting the horse accustomed to being handled prior to the surgery can make the post-gelding experience much easier and less stressful for all. Horses can be gelded in either the standing position or anesthetized and lying on the ground.

Training your own foal is a truly special experience, but not one to be taken lightly. His first experiences will affect the way he looks at the world for the rest of his life. Thankfully, the AQHA’s FREE report,  Halter Breaking Your Foal, will guide you through the process.

When anesthetics were unpredictable with a narrow safety margin, most horses were castrated standing, but with today’s safe and effective short-term anesthetics, most horses are gelding while anesthetized and lying on the ground. My criteria for gelding a horse in the standing position are that it is tall enough, halter broken and does not mind palpation of the scrotum or water splashing on its hind legs. As a young veterinarian, I always required that before doing a standing castration, the horse be halter broke and I could palpate his testicles without him resisting or kicking. I found out in the middle of a castration that some horses don’t mind having their testicles palpated, but they explode when blood drips on their hind legs. And so I test them by throwing water on their lower hind legs while washing the scrotum prior to the surgery. Horses castrated in a standing position are usually tranquilized and a local anesthetic is injected prior to the surgery.

If a horse is to be gelded anesthetized on the ground, he should get a pre-anesthetic followed by a short-term anesthetic that will last 15-30 minutes. Horses under short-term anesthesia can be stimulated by light and noise, so a towel is usually placed over his eyes and an attempt is made to minimize noise. The scrotum is washed thoroughly and incisions are exteriorized by blunt dissection and then emasculators are used to crush the spermatic cord to prevent bleeding. The incisions are not sutured but left to drain. Following gelding, horses should receive a tetanus toxoid booster (if his vaccinations are current) or both a tetanus toxoid and a tetanus antitoxin injection if he has never been vaccinated. Your veterinarian will advise you on what is best for your horse. Generally, antibiotics are not administered. If it is fly season, it is a good idea to apply an insect repellent.

After Castration

After surgery, it is recommended the horse be placed in a small paddock or stall for 12 to 24 hours to ensure adequate clotting. If he is stalled, bed the stall with straw rather than shavings. Shavings can contaminate the wound and cause infection. Beginning the day after gelding, the horse should be exercised at a trot for at least 15 minutes twice a day to decrease swelling and to stimulate drainage of any post-surgical fluid that might accumulate. Exercise should continue for about two weeks. Post-surgical complications are rare but can occur. The most common is excessive swelling of the scrotum that extends into the lower hind legs, usually due to premature closure of the incision. If increased exercise does not resolve the problem, contact your veterinarian. In rare cases where the horse has an unusually large inguinal ring, small intestines might protrude from the incision.

This is a true emergency, and your vet should be contacted immediately. After castration, semen remains in the horse’s accessory sex glands and the portion of the vas deferens not removed during gelding. There is usually enough present for one ejaculation, so gelded, mature horses should be kept separated from mares for 30-45 days. Depending on the age and maturity of the horse, it might take several weeks for the horse’s testosterone levels to decrease and he might still be aggressive. Stallions castrated after maturity (6 years of age or older), especially those that have bred mares, might continue to express stallion-like behavior, including developing an erection and attempting to breed mares. I know we all want to produce better horses, protect the integrity of the breed and decrease the number of unwanted horses. Castrated colts don’t reproduce.

Halter breaking a foal will be his first experience learning to respect you, to give to pressure and to handle new experiences. You need to make sure it is done right the first time. AQHA's FREE report, Halter Breaking Your Foal, will show you that training your foal to accept a halter doesn’t have to be a struggle.