Castration, also known as “gelding”, involves the surgical removal of the horse’s testicles. Gelding is often used as a means to modify a horse’s behavior. Vocalization, fractious behavior and sexual interest are frequently the undesirable characteristics associated with an intact horse. Castration makes a male horse more suitable for a greater range of uses. This procedure eliminates the production of the male hormone testosterone, allowing for the male horse to be more compliant especially on mixed gender farms. Most horses are castrated around 12 to 18 months of age. This procedure is most often performed on the farm. Prior to castration, the horse should be familiarized with the type of handling he will receive before, during, and after the procedure. These handling techniques include being halter broke, acclimated to the water hose, and trained to the lunge line or round pen. Tetanus immunization is recommended before the procedure.
Castration can be performed standing using tranquilization and local anesthetic or using short acting general anesthesia and laying the horse down. The surgical site is prepped, two incisions are made into the scrotum, and the testicles are exteriorized and removed with an instrument called an emasculator. The incisions are left open to aid in drainage and to prevent excessive swelling and infection. The horse is then allowed to recover from the tranquilizer and/or anesthesia.
Although the procedure is considered routine, complications can occur. The most common complications are excessive hemorrhage (bleeding) and swelling. Other more serious complications include infection and herniation of the abdominal contents. Notify your veterinarian with any questions or concerns.
To help decrease the likelihood of complications proper aftercare is critical. The aftercare is focused on physical therapy, postoperative antibiotics, and anti-inflammatories. These medications aid in healing but do not replace good physical therapy. Physical therapy is the most important part of aftercare and consists of exercise and hydrotherapy. This will help decrease swelling, remove discharge, and should be continued until the area is completely healed.
Although castration is a short, routine procedure, proper preoperative preparation and adequate aftercare are critical for a good outcome.