Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Gelding your horse: Know what to expect!

The picture below is Riley just getting to his feet after his castration surgery. He gelded before he was a year old -- as soon as his little 'nads had dropped, in fact. My rationale for snip-snipping was partly to avoid studdish/aggressive behavior, and partly to reduce the risks associated with surgery. And in fact, things went very smoothly.

A cautionary tale
But castration does NOT always go so well. Yes, most horses do fine. But there can be expensive complications, and a few actually die. My friend recently gelded her horse, and despite her best efforts her horse has experienced infection and other complications that will cost her into the thousands. I'm not into scaring people, but I would like to encourage owners to be vigilant and attentive to their recently gelded horse. Follow the post-op instructions, and call the vet if excess bleeding, fever, or swelling occurs.

When to geld
In very young horses, the testicles up in the abdomen or inguinal canal. Testicles must be "dropped" into the scrotum in order to perform field surgery. Usually this happens by the time the horse is a yearling. Gelding early reduces the risk fo complications, because the genitalia and blood vessels are not as big/developed in the young horse as in a full-grown adult. As a horse gets older, the surgery will become more involved/risky. Horses gelded earlier will grow taller, because testosterone tends to cause the horse's growth plates to close early.

You'll want to geld in spring or fall; it should not be too cold for the surgeon to operate in the field, but fly season should be avoided. A sunny, dry day is best. Avoid castrating when the horse will be exposed to wet/muddy conditions.

Spend some time getting your horse used to being handled in the nether regions. Depending on the post op care recommended by your vet, you may need access to the surgical site to cold hose or clean it. Find a grassy, clean spot with bright sun for the surgery. My vet did the surgery on the side of an incline, which did turn out to be helpful in dropping Riley safely. Make sure your horse is current with his vaccinations (especially tetanus) and worming.

Castration methods
Standing surgery: Frankly I don't know much about this. I assume a local anesthetic is used and some brave vet does the snipping while crouched underneath the animal. This can only be performed on relatively tall horses (no ponies, no minis). The advantage is that the risks of the anesthesia are avoided, and the wound is left open to drain. There are generally no sutures which could invite infection. It is riskier for the vet, and in the event of catastrophic problems (bleeding) the horse will need to be anesthetised.

Recumbant (dropped) under anesthesia: The horse is sedated/anesthetised and "dropped." The procedure is quick, perhaps 10-15 minutes, and the horse is allowed to wake up and stand. There are sometimes sutures. The advantages are that it is safer for the vet, and the vet has easy access to the genitals; the disadvantages are slightly higher risk of infection (sutures) and complications from anesthesia.

Clinic surgery: This is the only option for horses that have not dropped their testicles. It is relatively safe, with some risks from going under a general anesthesia. The surgery occurs in a sterile setting, and the wound is closed following the procedures, so complications from infection/bleeding are rare. The main disadvantage is cost.

The procedure
The horse is "dropped" -- anesthetized. While lying on its side, the vet makes two incisions, one over each testicle. The tissue surrounding each testicle is removed, leaving the testicle, epididymis, and spermatic cord. Emasculators -- a tool used in castration -- are used to crush the blood supply in the spermatic cord. The cord is then severed and the testicular and associated tissues are removed. The emasculators are left in place for up to two minutes. Usually, the wound is left open to drain.

Generally antibiotics and painkillers are prescribed. Bleeding is normal, but drops should come at a rate that you can count them individually. If it becomes a stream, contact the vet. Bleeding may continue for days after the surgery. You can apply vaseline to hind legs where blood may come in contact with the skin (prevents scalding). Let the horse rest the first day, and keep him in a clean environment After the first day, exercise is important. Pasture him with a quiet buddy or by himself, but do make sure he moves, walking and trotting, for an hour a day. This keeps the wound open and draining. Some vets advise cold hosing, others will tell you not to bother the site. Watch the site for excessive swelling Unusual smells are a sign of infection -- call the vet immediately.

None of these scary complications is common. But forwarned is forearmed!

  • Eventration occurs when part of the abdominal contents (most commonly loops of small intestine) comes out through the incision site or down into the scrotum. This usually occurs within the first few hours of surgery, but may occur days following the procedure. Call the vet immediately.
  • Bleeding can be a serious complication. Again, call the vet at the first sign of unusual bleeding.
  • Because the castration incision must be left open to drain serum, infection is another common complication. Castration sites need to heal from the inside out. If the outside skin heals first, serum and blood can accumulate in a pocket and the site will become infected.
  • If too much spermatic cord was pulled out of the abdominal cavity during the surgery, the stump may retract into the abdomen. This can cause bleeding and infection that requires additional veterinary attention.


Castration in horses from The Horse Magazine

Gelding and aftercare by Cherry Hill, author of Horsekeeping

Castration surgical procedures from The UC Davis Book of Horses


  1. Great post! I know too many horse owners who think gelding is no big deal and leave the horse to his own devices. Not good.

  2. rrous cord horse anitbioticThank you for stressing the importance of aftercare of a castration!
    I am a vet who has performed many (standing) castrations of minis on up to drafts and older racehorses and the only ones (2) I can recall having complications are the horses whose owners neglected to observe the site for proper healing and 'coddled' the horse by not making sure he moved around a lot.
    Turn-out is NOT the same as forcing the horse to jog at least 15-20 minutes twice per day to allow the site to drain and heal from the inside out. I am dealing with one now. Two months after the procedure, the owner noticed the horse off his feed. When she looked underneath, she noticed a large swelling in the scrotal area, had an emergency call to another vet (I was out of town)who put him on antibiotics but did not open it, and it has since started draining whitish thick material through two little pinholes. I re-sedated him and opened the drainage sites some more and flushed an antiseptic solution into the area, with instructions to hose it 2 x day, and MOVE him and keep it open. I hope the owner follows the instructions this time. Right now he has a large amount of scarring in the area of the cords. By the way, the last three castrations I did for the relatives of this owner had NO complications (one was a much older stallion), as instructions were followed.


  3. thank you for the warning but in our case our 2 yr old colt was casterated yesterday 7-17-08 he was under general anasthisa and when he came out of it we thought all was well when he stood up and took a few steps it happened his small intestines fell out, we put him out again and tried hardto get them in the vet said his ring was to large,after the vet got them in and stitched him upwe got him to his stall, at 10pm he appeared to be in shock cold and sweaty shakeing at 3 am he past away ,i have been in the horse bussiness for37 years and have never ever seen this so please be aware and anything can happen Sue in NY

  4. I'm so sorry to hear your story, it sounds like you took every precaution, even taking him to a facility. As much as we try to ensure their safety, chance plays a role, sometimes with heartbreaking results. My deepest sympathy...

  5. Just had my colt gelded yesterday,well not as it happens.Had a differnt vet as mine on OE.Not being very experienced with these matters i trust the vet to know what he is doing.Knocked him out first,no exam,then removed one testicle and said he is a rig and will have to come in for surgery in a couple of weeks.Well after that i called a friend ,as most upset and she said said well known vet should have checked first and should not have even started if only one down.So im feeling realy annoyed about this.What to do now,could it have disserpaired once he started,was it never down,will it poss come down now if left??? help please oh and he is 9 months old.

  6. Well, that's pretty negligent of the vet not to check, and I'd try to negotiate with him on the cost of your (unnecessary) field surgery.

    Perhaps a different vet could advise you about waiting vs. not waiting. At 9 months old it's possible it would drop but again, we don't know what condition your vet left the external structures in.

    What clinic would you take this youngster to -- could you call them and get a consult on the best course of action? I'm very sorry to hear of your troubles...

  7. Thank you Stacey,yes i feel it is as well.Rather gutting.My vet is not back till 26th Sept and i think i should wait for him.Had him for years and one of the best.Just wanted it done now b4 show season was on the way and he was getting rather full of homself.If only i could turn the clock back...Would you say cant have been there in the first place,or was and moved?? sorry if i seem a little thick in this dept lol.Yes i certainly dont think i should be paying for all of this job.

  8. I have a beautiful 5 year old black and white stallion that is booked to be gelded in a few days. I don't want to have any more foals but I am having mixed feelings on this. I am concerned about his age and the fact that I work full time and may not be able to spend enought time with him after surg. Perhaps he would be better being sold as a stallion rather than having him gelded, what do you think?

  9. Alright. I need some help. I'm planning on buying a horse from a broker that is about to take him to auction. He is a two year old stallion and its unknown if he's even halter broke. I am planning on stabling him at a family farm at which an older mare lives. If i geld him will it ever be possible for him to be turned out with the mare? An elderly lady watches the barn and the horses and I don't want him being any trouble for her. I'm planning on halter breaking him asap, but I wont be able to buy him if he can't ever be turned out with this mare.

  10. I am a very heartbroken small breeder, I just sent my Arabian Warmblood Colt to the breakers to be broken in, he was 3yo. Unfortunately he wasnt handling being kept amoungst other breakers including mare/fillies despite being fine at home paddocked next to my mares, and going out to play with the gelding! So we decided to geld him. BAD DECISION for us!!! He was gelded at the breakers by my local vet at 8am and by 10:30am his intestines came through, the vet was a long way away by this stage and he didnt return till 12:10, by this stage it was too late it had turned into an absolute disaster not able to keep him up on his feet and the risk of infection unavoidable with the intestine contents covered in dirt, he was put down shortly after the vet returned. Not a simple procedure as we thought and we have had lots of horses gelded over the years some up to 6years old! Absolutely devastated that we had to loose our special boy through this procedure, what i know now, I would never have gone through with it in a farm environment.

  11. I know of another recent sad loss -- a horse with an undescended testicle went to a clinic for surgery. Something went wrong and he colicked and died.

    I'm so sorry for your loss anon...

  12. Hi - I had my 3yo colt gelded 9 days ago. All went well for the first 2 days and he was his normal self. Then on day 3 he went off his feed, lethargic and had a temperature. I got penicilling injections twice a day for 3 days, plus have continued to walk/lunge him twice a day and the incision site was reopened. All good again after that, now today his temp is 38.9 again, not much interest in eating and he's lethargic again. My question is - is penicillin again going to make his infection better for good or is this going to keep happening (re-infection)? The wound keeps closing despite hosing it and the exercise...

  13. I had my 3 and a half year old thoroughbred race horse gelded two and half weeks ago. After the operation he seemed fine but a week after he got gelded his temperature had dropped and his PCV levels also dropped. So he has been at the Vet clinic ever since, about 10 days so far.
    His PCV levels have been going up then down for the last week.
    We gave him a 8 liter blood transfusion 4 days ago which helped his PCV level go back to normal but they are back down to 14today which is VERY low.
    No Vet in the whole of Australia has any idea why the bleeding hasn't clotted and stopped.
    We cant even operate and go try look for this needle in a hay stack because if we had to operate on him now he wouldn't come out of the operation alive.
    His temperature is fine and has been for the last week or so.
    Has anyone heard of this before, after having their horse gelded?
    Fingers crossed and God willing he keeps fighting.

    P.s. If anyone has any information please email me at:

    Thanks ALL

  14. It is in reality the perspective of the people which will decides irrespective of
    whether a weight loss program will work or otherwise.
    In all the years that an HCG diet in Oak Lane has been used,
    no negative side effects have been reported. It also reduces the food cravings and regulates
    the sugar level in the human body.

    My homepage ... weight loss with hcg diet


Hi Guys, Your comments are valued and appreciated -- until recently I never rejected a post. Please note that I reserve the right to reject an anonymous post.