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A 3-year-old gelding Vesuvio Bien Vee - Paso Fino Bellas Formas National Champion 3 Year Old Gelding in 2001; photo taken in May of 2006.JPG
A 3-year-old gelding

A gelding is a castrated horse or other equine, such as a pony, donkey or a mule. Castration, as well as the elimination of hormonally driven behavior associated with a stallion, allows a male horse to be calmer and better-behaved, making the animal quieter, gentler and potentially more suitable as an everyday working animal. [1] The gerund and participle "gelding" and the infinitive "to geld" refer to the castration procedure itself.



The verb "to geld" comes from the Old Norse gelda, from the adjective geldr ("barren"). [2] The noun "gelding" is from the Old Norse geldingr. [2]


The Scythians are thought to have been the first people to geld their horses. [3] [4] They valued geldings as war horses because they were quiet, lacked mating urges, were less prone to call out to other horses, were easier to keep in groups, and were less likely to fight with one another.

Reasons for gelding

A male horse is often gelded to make him better-behaved and easier to control. Gelding can also remove lower-quality animals from the gene pool. [5] To allow only the finest animals to breed on, while preserving adequate genetic diversity, only a small percentage of all male horses should remain stallions. Mainstream sources place the percentage of stallions that should be kept as breeding stock at about 10%, [6] while an extreme view states that only 0.5% of all males should be bred. [7] In wild herds, the 10% ratio is largely maintained naturally, as a single stallion usually protects and breeds with a herd which is seldom larger than 10 or 12 mares, though may permit a less dominant junior stallion to live at the fringes of the herd. [8] There are more males than just herd stallions, but unattached male horses group together for protection in small all-male "bachelor herds", where, in the absence of mares, they tend to behave much like geldings. [9]

Gelding a male horse can reduce potential conflicts within domestic horse herds. Win win relationship.JPG
Gelding a male horse can reduce potential conflicts within domestic horse herds.

Geldings are preferred over stallions for working purposes because they are calmer, easier to handle, and more tractable. Geldings are therefore a favorite for many equestrians. In some horse shows,[ which? ] due to the dangers inherent in handling stallions, which require experienced handlers,[ citation needed ] youth exhibitors are not permitted to show stallions in classes limited to just those riders. [10]

Geldings are often preferred over mares, because some mares become temperamental when in heat. Also, the use of mares may be limited during the later months of pregnancy and while caring for a young foal.

In horse racing, castrating a stallion may be considered worthwhile if the animal is easily distracted by other horses, difficult to handle, or otherwise not running to his full potential due to behavioral issues. [11] While this means the horse loses any breeding value, a successful track career can often be a boost to the value of the stallion that sired the gelding.

Sometimes a stallion used for breeding is castrated later in life, possibly due to sterility, or because the offspring of the stallion are not up to expectations, or simply because the horse is not used much for breeding, due to shifting fashion in pedigree or phenotype. Castration may allow a stallion to live peacefully with other horses, allowing a more social and comfortable existence. [6]

Under British National Hunt racing (i.e. Steeplechase) rules, to minimize health and safety risks, nearly all participating horses are gelded. [12] On the other hand, in other parts of Europe, geldings are excluded from many of the most prestigious flat races including the Classics and the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe [13] (with an exception being the French classic Prix Royal-Oak, open to geldings since 1986). [14] In North American Thoroughbred racing, geldings, if otherwise qualified by age, winnings, or experience, are allowed in races open to intact males. The same applies in Australia.

Concerns about gelding

To perpetuate any given breed, some male horses must remain capable of reproduction. Thus, animals considered to be the finest representatives are kept as stallions and used for mating. Though the criteria used can be, in some places, rather subjective, a stallion should have a superior appearance, or phenotype; a superior pedigree, or genotype, and, ideally, a successful performance record in the area of specialty for that particular breed.[ citation needed ]

Some cultures historically did not and still seldom geld male horses, most notably the Arabs. [15] These people usually used mares for everyday work and for war. In these cultures, most stallions are still not used for breeding, only those of the best quality. When used as ordinary riding animals, they are kept only with or near other male horses in a "bachelor" setting, which tends to produce calmer, less stallion-like behavior. [16] Sometimes cultural reasons for these practices exist; for example, castration of both animals and humans was categorically forbidden in the Hebrew Bible and is prohibited in Jewish law. [17]

Gelding horses is generally approved of as a way to allow more horses to live comfortably and safely in proximity to humans and other horses, and as an ethical means of population control, even within the animal rights community. However, a small number of horse owners are concerned that the process may cause pain for the animal or somehow lessen their vitality or spirit.[ citation needed ] While modern surgical procedures cause far less discomfort to the animal than more primitive methods, there is minor postoperative discomfort when the animal is in recovery.

Although castrations generally have few complications, there are risks. Castration can have complication such as swelling, hemorrhage or post-operative bleeding, infections, and eventration. It can take up to six weeks for residual testosterone to clear from the new gelding's system and he may continue to exhibit stallion-like behaviors in that period. For reasons not always clear, about 30% of all geldings may still display a stallion-like manner, some because of a cryptorchid testicle retained in the horse, some due to previously learned behavior, but some for no clear reason. Training to eliminate these behaviors is generally effective. Another risk is to the veterinarian, if a standing castration is performed, it is possible for the horse to injure the veterinarian during the procedure, and if complications arise, the horse must be immediately anesthetized. [18] Castration does not automatically change bad habits and poor manners. This must be accomplished by proper training. [6]

Time of gelding

A horse may be gelded at any age; however, if an owner intends to geld a particular foal, it is now considered best to geld the horse prior to becoming a yearling, [19] and definitely before he reaches sexual maturity. While it was once recommended to wait until a young horse was well over a year old, even two, this was a holdover from the days when castration was performed without anesthesia and was thus far more stressful on the animal. Modern veterinary techniques can now accomplish castration with relatively little stress and minimal discomfort, so long as appropriate analgesics are employed. [20] A few horse owners delay gelding a horse on the grounds that the testosterone gained from being allowed to reach sexual maturity will make him larger. However, recent studies have shown that this is not so: any apparent muscle mass gained solely from the presence of hormones will be lost over time after the horse is gelded, and in the meantime, the energy spent developing muscle mass may actually take away from the energy a young horse might otherwise put into skeletal growth; the net effect is that castration has no effect on rate of growth (although it may increase the amount of fat the horse carries). [21]

Many older stallions, no longer used at stud due to age or sterility, can benefit from being gelded. Modern veterinary techniques make gelding an even somewhat elderly stallion a fairly low-risk procedure, [22] and the horse then has the benefit of being able to be turned out safely with other horses and allowed to live a less restricted and isolated life than was allowed for a stallion.

Specialized maintenance of geldings

Owners of male horses, both geldings and stallions, need to occasionally check the horse's sheath, the pocket of skin that protects the penis of the horse when it is not in use for urination (or, in the case of stallions, breeding). Geldings tend to accumulate smegma and other debris at a higher rate than stallions, probably because geldings rarely fully extrude the penis, and thus dirt and smegma build up in the folds of skin. [23]

Castration techniques

An open castration being performed on a horse under ketamine anaesthesia Castration horse.jpg
An open castration being performed on a horse under ketamine anaesthesia

There are two major techniques commonly used in castrating a horse, one requiring only local anaesthesia and the other requiring general anaesthesia. Each technique has advantages and disadvantages.

Standing castration

Standing castration is a technique where a horse is sedated and local anaesthesia is administered, without throwing the horse to the ground or putting him completely "under". It has the benefit that general anaesthesia (GA) is not required. This method is advocated for simple procedures because the estimated mortality for GA in horses at a modern clinic is low, approximately one or two in 1000. Mortality in the field (where most horse castrations are performed) is probably higher, due to poorer facilities. [24]

For standing castration, the colt or stallion is sedated, typically with detomidine with or without butorphanol, and often physically restrained. Local anaesthetic is injected into the parenchyma of both testes. An incision is made through the scrotum and the testes are removed, then the spermatic cord is crushed, most commonly with either ligatures or emasculators, or both. The emasculators are applied for two to three minutes, then removed, and a careful check is made for signs of haemorrhage. Assuming that bleeding is at a minimum, the other side is castrated in the same manner. Most veterinarians remove the testis held most "tightly" (or close to the body) by the cremaster muscle first, so as to minimize the risk of the horse withdrawing it to the point where it is inaccessible. The horse, now a gelding, is allowed to recover.

Standing castration can be performed in more complicated cases. Some authorities have described a technique for the removal of abdominally retained testes from cryptorchid animals, [25] but most surgeons still advocate a recumbent technique, as described below. [26] The primary drawback to standing castration is the risk that, even with sedation and restraint, the horse may object to the procedure and kick or otherwise injure the individual performing the operation. [27]

Recumbent castration

Recumbent castration, including use of emasculators Mule castration emasculator during haemostasis.jpg
Recumbent castration, including use of emasculators

Putting a horse under general anaesthesia for castration is preferred by some veterinarians because "surgical exposure is improved and it carries less (overall) risk for surgeon and patient". [28] For simple castration of normal animals, the advantages to recumbent castration are that the horse is prone, better asepsis (sterile environment) can be maintained, and better haemostasis (control of bleeding) is possible. In addition, there is significantly less risk of the surgeon or assistants being kicked. In a more complex situation such as castration of cryptorchid animals, the inguinal canal is more easily accessed. There are several different techniques (such as "open", "closed", and "semi-closed") that may be employed, but the basic surgery is similar. However, general anaesthesia is not without risks, including post-anaesthetic myopathy (muscle damage) and neuropathy (nerve damage), [29] respiratory dysfunction (V/Q mismatch), and cardiac depression. [30] These complications occur with sufficient frequency that castration has a relatively high overall mortality rate. [24] To minimize these concerns, the British Equine Veterinary Association guidelines recommend two veterinary surgeons should be present when an equine general anaesthesia is being performed. [31]


With both castration techniques, the wound should be kept clean and allowed to drain freely to reduce the risk of hematoma formation, or development of an abscess. The use of tetanus antitoxin and analgesics (painkillers) are necessary, and antibiotics are also commonly administered. The horse is commonly walked in hand for some days to reduce the development of edema. [32]

Possible complications

Minor complications following castration are relatively common, while serious complications are rare. According to one in-depth study, for standing castration the complication rate is 22%, while for recumbent castration it is 6% (although with a 1% mortality). [22] The more common complications are:

See also

Related Research Articles

Horse breeding

Horse breeding is reproduction in horses, and particularly the human-directed process of selective breeding of animals, particularly purebred horses of a given breed. Planned matings can be used to produce specifically desired characteristics in domesticated horses. Furthermore, modern breeding management and technologies can increase the rate of conception, a healthy pregnancy, and successful foaling.

Cryptorchidism is the absence of one or both testes from the scrotum. The word is from the Greek κρυπτός, meaning "hidden", and ὄρχις, meaning "testicle". It is the most common birth defect of the male genital tract. About 3% of full-term and 30% of premature infant boys are born with at least one undescended testis. However, about 80% of cryptorchid testes descend by the first year of life, making the true incidence of cryptorchidism around 1% overall. Cryptorchidism may develop after infancy, sometimes as late as young adulthood, but that is exceptional.

Neutering, from the Latin neuter, is the removal of an animal's reproductive organ, either all of it or a considerably large part. "Neutering" is often used incorrectly to refer only to male animals, but the term actually applies to both sexes. The male-specific term is castration, while spaying is usually reserved for female animals. Colloquially, both terms are often referred to as fixing. In male horses, castrating is referred to as gelding. Modern veterinary practice tends to use the term de-sexing.


Acepromazine, acetopromazine, or acetylpromazine is a phenothiazine derivative antipsychotic drug. It was used in humans during the 1950s as an antipsychotic, but is now almost exclusively used on animals as a sedative and antiemetic. Its closely related analogue, chlorpromazine, is still used as an antipsychotic in humans. Acepromazine is used primarily as a chemical restraint in hyperactive or fractious animals.

Foal A horse of either sex up to the age of one year

A foal is an equine up to one year old; this term is used mainly for horses. More specific terms are colt for a male foal and filly for a female foal, and are used until the horse is three or four. When the foal is nursing from its great (mother), it may also be called a "suckling". After it has been weaned from its dam, it may be called a "weanling". When a mare is pregnant, she is said to be "in foal". When the mare gives birth, she is "foaling", and the impending birth is usually stated as "to foal". A newborn horse is "foaled".

A colt is a male horse, usually below the age of four years.

Stud (animal)

A stud animal is a registered animal retained for breeding. The terms for the male of a given animal species usually imply that the animal is intact—that is, not castrated—and therefore capable of siring offspring. A specialized vocabulary exists for de-sexed animals and those animals used in grading up to a purebred status.

Stallion male horse that has not been castrated

A stallion is a male horse that has not been gelded (castrated). Stallions follow the conformation and phenotype of their breed, but within that standard, the presence of hormones such as testosterone may give stallions a thicker, "cresty" neck, as well as a somewhat more muscular physique as compared to female horses, known as mares, and castrated males, called geldings.

Mare Female horse

A mare is an adult female horse or other equine.

Veterinary surgery

Veterinary surgery is surgery performed on animals by veterinarians, whereby the procedures fall into three broad categories: orthopaedics, soft tissue surgery, and neurosurgery. Advanced surgical procedures such as joint replacement, fracture repair, stabilization of cranial cruciate ligament deficiency, oncologic (cancer) surgery, herniated disc treatment, complicated gastrointestinal or urogenital procedures, kidney transplant, skin grafts, complicated wound management, and minimally invasive procedures are performed by veterinary surgeons. Most general practice veterinarians perform routine surgeries such as neuters and minor mass excisions; some also perform additional procedures.

Horse behavior

Horse behavior is best understood from the view that horses are prey animals with a well-developed fight-or-flight response. Their first reaction to a threat is often to flee, although sometimes they stand their ground and defend themselves or their offspring in cases where flight is untenable, such as when a foal would be threatened.

American Cream Draft American draft horse breed

The American Cream Draft is the only draft horse breed developed in the United States that is still in existence. A rare horse breed today, it is recognized by its cream color, known as "gold champagne", produced by the action of the champagne gene upon a chestnut base color, and by its amber eyes, also characteristic of the gene; the only other color found in the breed is chestnut. Like several other breeds of draft horses, the American Cream is at risk for the autosomal recessive genetic disease junctional epidermolysis bullosa.


A ridgling, or rig, is a cryptorchid; a male animal with one or both testicles undescended, usually describing a ram, bull, or male horse, but cryptorchidism also can be an issue in dogs and cats. Because the heat inside the body is too high for sperm to survive, an undescended testicle is non-functional. The condition is most often discussed in the horse world, as the health behavioral issues surrounding adult males with the condition are of concern to owners and handlers of such animals.

Veterinary anesthesia is anesthesia performed on non-human animals by a veterinarian or a Registered Veterinary Technician. Anesthesia is used for a wider range of circumstances in animals than in people, due to animals' inability to cooperate with certain diagnostic or therapeutic procedures. Veterinary anesthesia includes anesthesia of the major species: dogs, cats, horses, cattle, sheep, goats, and pigs, as well as all other animals requiring veterinary care such as birds, pocket pets, and wildlife.

Contagious equine metritis (CEM) is a type of metritis in horses that is caused by a sexually transmitted infection. It is thus an equine venereal disease of the genital tract of horses, brought on by the Taylorella equigenitalis bacteria and spread through sexual contact. The disease was first reported in 1977, and has since been reported worldwide.

Studbook selection is a process used in certain breeds of horses to select breeding stock. It allows a breed registry to direct the evolution of the breed towards the ideal by eliminating unhealthy or undesirable animals from the population. The removal of individuals from a population is called culling, and does not suggest killing the animal in question. Typically, culls are castrated or they and their offspring are unable to be registered.


Urethrostomy is a surgical procedure that creates a permanent opening in the urethra, commonly to remove obstructions to urine flow. The procedure is most often performed in male cats, where the opening is made in the perineum.

Sheath cleaning is a hygienic process occasionally needed by male horses, both geldings and stallions, wherein a caretaker, groom or veterinarian checks the horse's sheath, the pocket of skin that protects the penis of the horse when it is not in use for urination. This area may need to be cleaned, starting at a young age after breeding and the birth season, but particularly in geldings. Not only can smegma, a waxy substance that includes dirt and dead skin cells, accumulate, but some geldings may also form a "bean", a hardened ball of smegma inside the sheath or even the urethra that, in extreme cases, can interfere with urine flow. Although a gelding retains the same beneficial microorganisms in the sheath as a stallion, they seem to accumulate smegma and other debris at a higher rate, probably because geldings rarely fully extrude the penis, and thus dirt and smegma build up in the folds of skin. Thus, it is recommended that the sheath be cleaned once or twice a year. Cleaning the sheath is a specialized task requiring a mild cleaner with grease-cutting properties, generally designed specifically for the process, along with warm water and many clean towels. Rubber gloves for the handler are recommended, as the job is rather smelly and messy.

Kiso Horse

The Kiso or Kiso Horse is one of the eight indigenous horse breeds of Japan. It is the only native horse breed from Honshu, the principal island of Japan. Like most other Japanese native breeds, it is critically endangered.


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