Last updated: August 24, 2023
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When I initially purchased a Thoroughbred colt, I hoped he would flourish into a successful breeding stud. However, before running his first race, the trainer recommended that he be gelded. I wasn’t sure what to do, so I decided to research geldings to learn more to make an informed decision.
So, what is a gelding? In the world of horse racing and equestrianism, geldings are male horses that have been castrated, removing their ability to reproduce. While it may sound cruel, there are actually many benefits to gelding a horse, both for the animal and its owner.
For racehorses, in particular, being gelded can greatly improve performance and focus. Let’s explore the journey of a horse from stallion to gelding and explore the theories behind this procedure. Also, at the end of the article, I’ll let you know what happened with my colt.
Gelding: A Horse’s Journey from Stallion to Gelded
Geldings start off as stallions or male horses that haven’t been castrated. Stallions can be challenging to manage due to their strong instincts to mate and assert dominance. Their behavior can become unpredictable, making them difficult to train or handle.
This is where gelding comes in. Gelding a stallion involves a surgical procedure to remove the horse’s testicles, effectively putting an end to their reproductive ability and hormone production. Once a stallion has been gelded, he becomes a gelding.
Why choose to geld a horse?
There are several reasons why gelding a stallion might be a good option. For one, gelded horses are generally more predictable and easier to control than their stallion counterparts. Their temperament is generally much calmer and more consistent, making them better suited for equestrian sports and racing.
Without the influence of hormones that drive their need to mate and assert dominance, geldings can focus on training, offering a more enjoyable and safer experience for jockeys and trainers alike. Secondly, gelding can help address specific behavioral issues in male horses.
If a stallion is consistently aggressive, difficult to handle, or presents a danger to its riders or handlers, gelding may be the right solution. It is worth noting that gelding is not a guaranteed fix for all behavioral issues, and it’s essential to consult with a professional before deciding to geld a horse.
It’s essential to remember that gelding is a permanent procedure and should not be taken lightly. Owners should carefully consider their horse’s needs and consult with a veterinarian and other professionals before making the decision to geld a stallion.
While geldings can make excellent racehorses and sports horses, it’s essential to understand the factors driving this decision and weigh the benefits and drawbacks for your specific horse. Understanding what a gelding is and the reasons behind gelding horses can help provide insight into the world of horse racing and the equestrian industry as a whole.
Gelded horses, specifically racehorses, often benefit from improved performance, focus, and ease of handling – critical factors in achieving success on the track. However, the decision to geld a stallion should not be taken lightly and requires thorough consultation with professionals to ensure it’s the right choice for the individual horse.
The Gelding Procedure: How Horses are Transformed
The gelding procedure is crucial in transforming a stallion into a gelded horse, effectively ensuring that the horse’s behavior is more manageable and suitable for various equestrian activities. This process involves the surgical removal of both testicles and is referred to as castration.
When performed correctly, the gelding procedure can offer numerous benefits to the horse and its owner, especially in the context of racehorses who may be gelded to improve their performance on the track. Let’s take a closer look at the intricate process of gelding and the reasons behind this pivotal decision.
The gelding procedure begins with an examination to check for cryptorchidism, which is the disorder of one or both testicles failing to descend into the scrotum. This step is essential, as retrieving cryptorchid testicles requires a more complex surgery than standard castration.
Once it’s confirmed that both testicles are present within the scrotum, the gelding procedure can proceed. The actual procedure involves the horse being sedated and anesthetized to minimize pain and discomfort.
The veterinarian then begins by making an incision in the scrotum, allowing access to both testicles. Once the testicles are exposed, they are removed using either an emasculator or by severing the spermatic cord, which is responsible for blood supply and sperm transport to the testicles.
After the testicles have been removed, the veterinarian may choose to close the incision with sutures or allow it to heal naturally, depending on the specific situation and the horse’s overall health. The process of gelding can take anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour, depending on various factors such as the horse’s size, cooperation, and the expertise of the veterinarian performing the procedure.
Following the gelding procedure, the horse will require regular monitoring and aftercare to ensure proper healing and recovery. This may include administering painkillers, antibiotics, and anti-inflammatory medications as prescribed by the veterinarian. Horse owners should also closely observe the gelded horse for any signs of infection or complications in the days following the procedure.
Post-Gelding Horse Care and Complications
Recovery time is between 10 and 20 days. Of course, they will be sore and will have some swelling. In some instances, there will be bleeding caused by the horse aggravating the surgical site by knocking off the scab.
Be sure to keep a close watch on your horse in the days following his surgery and notify the veterinarian of any complications. It is best to keep the horse in a stall overnight and turn him out alone in a paddock the next day.
After that, he should be fine to turn out in a pasture with other horses. Remember to regularly examine the incision for any heat or swelling that extends into the leg. Aftercare for your gelded horse is crucial, as, like any surgical procedure, gelding can involve some complications. Although the operation itself is relatively straightforward, aftercare is essential for ensuring a healthy and happy horse.
To offer the best care possible, it’s crucial to follow your veterinarian’s instructions post-gelding. Typically, these guidelines will include keeping the incision clean and checking the horse’s vital signs regularly.
Some vets may also prescribe pain medications and antibiotics to help minimize discomfort and ward off any potential infections. In addition to maintaining good hygiene and following your veterinarian’s instructions, there are some specific ways that horse owners can help male horses adjust to their new gelded status.
For instance, offering your horse a well-balanced diet, providing ample opportunities to exercise, and giving them mental and emotional stimulation can go a long way towards ensuring a smooth transition following gelding.
Finally, it’s important to remember that although the idea of gelding may seem daunting for some horse owners, it is a practice that is both safe and beneficial to horses in most circumstances. Understanding the gelding process and the post-gelding horse care your male horses need is crucial for their overall health and well-being.
Testosterone levels post-surgery.
After his short recovery period, he should be ready to return to his training with a new attitude. The drop in testosterone levels occurs relatively quickly, usually within 48 hours after surgery. However, depending on the age at castration, it could take up to six months before all stallion-type sign has left.
After surgery, horses have been known to continue to act in a studdish manner; when this occurs, the horse is said to be “proud cut.” People once believed a portion of the testes was left inside the horse, thus continuing to produce testosterone and leading to the continuation of stud behavior.
However, with the advances of today’s technology, it is unlikely that horses exhibiting stallion-type tendencies are the result of the failure to remove all the testis. Some veterinarians now believe that the horse’s body has hyperactive glands, which could be the source of testosterone leading to the “proud-cut” behavior. It could also be that the horse does not have proper training and behaves unruly.
So, why are racehorses gelded? There are various reasons why horse owners and trainers may choose to geld a stallion. In many cases, it is done to improve the horse’s performance on the track. As a gelded horse, the animal has fewer interests in breeding and focuses more on training and competing, making them more reliable in a racing setting.
Additionally, gelded horses are often easier to handle and train, as they exhibit less aggression and territorial behavior compared to stallions, making them more approachable and safer for their handlers. Beyond the racetrack, gelding can improve a horse’s quality of life in general.
Gelded horses tend to have a calmer disposition, offering a safer and more enjoyable experience for their riders and handlers. This is particularly true in social settings, such as trail riding or group lessons, where stallions may become easily agitated or aggressive towards other horses.
It’s worth noting that while gelding does offer numerous benefits, it should always be considered a permanent decision, as the procedure is irreversible. In conclusion, the gelding procedure is a transformative journey for a horse that involves the surgical removal of both testicles and is commonly performed to improve their behavior and performance.
This procedure is particularly prevalent in the racing industry but offers benefits to horses and their owners in a variety of equestrian pursuits. Properly performed and managed, gelding can lead to a more manageable and enjoyable equine companion who is more focused on their training and performance.
The Optimal Age to Geld a Stallion.
The optimal age to geld a stallion can vary depending on the individual horse and the goals of the owner or handler. In general, horses can be gelded as early as a few months old, usually once they’ve been weaned from their mother and their testicles have dropped.
This is often done if the horse is not intended for breeding purposes. Gelding at a young age can prevent the development of some of the more aggressive or challenging behaviors that stallions might display as they mature.
However, if a horse is intended for breeding or if its development is being watched to see if it would make a good stallion, the gelding process may be delayed until the horse is several years old. It’s important to consult with a knowledgeable veterinarian when making the decision to geld a horse.
Geldings vs. Stallions: Exploration of the Differences
Geldings and stallions are often compared, especially in the world of horse racing and equestrian sports. But what exactly are the differences between these two types of horses, and why is one type more prevalent in racing than the other?
First, let’s define geldings and stallions. A gelding is a male horse that has undergone a surgical procedure called castration, making them incapable of breeding. This surgery is performed to manage the horse’s behavior, making them more docile and easier to handle.
On the other hand, a stallion is a male horse that hasn’t been castrated and is used primarily for breeding purposes. Stallions are known for their fiery spirit, strength, and determination, traits that can make them more challenging to manage than geldings.
But why are racehorses gelded? There are several reasons why a horse may be gelded, and most of them revolve around making the horse more manageable and easier to train. Geldings typically have more consistent temperaments, which can be helpful in a racing environment.
They’re less likely to be distracted or difficult to control, particularly during high-pressure situations. Compared to a stallion, a gelding is much less likely to engage in aggressive or unruly behavior. Stallions can be more high-strung and challenging to handle, making it more difficult for trainers and jockeys to establish a consistent training routine.
Since geldings don’t have the same hormonal urges that stallions do, they’re often easier to keep focused and calm, both on and off the racetrack. Another reason why racehorses are gelded is to address physical issues that may impact the horse’s health or performance.
In some cases, a male horse may have undescended testicles (a condition known as cryptorchidism), which can be painful and lead to behavioral problems. By gelding the horse, trainers and veterinarians can help alleviate any pain and ensure the horse has a better chance of excelling in its racing career.
Of course, gelding a horse also means it won’t be able to breed, so why are some stallions left intact? Stallions are primarily used for breeding purposes, and sometimes their racing careers are secondary to their role in perpetuating successful bloodlines.
A top-performing stallion can become a valuable asset in the world of horse breeding, potentially producing offspring that inherit its speed, endurance, and other desirable traits. However, it’s important to remember that not all stallions are suitable for breeding, and not all geldings have the ability to race at a high level.
Some geldings have impressive racing careers, while some stallions struggle to find their footing on the track. Ultimately, the decision to geld a horse depends on the individual circumstances of the horse and its trainers.
In summary, geldings and stallions serve different purposes in the world of horse racing and equestrian sports. Geldings, with their more predictable temperaments and ease of handling, make excellent racehorses and are often the preferred choice for trainers who want a consistent and focused athlete.
Stallions, while more challenging to manage and train, can be valuable breeding assets and may also excel on the racetrack. The decision to geld a horse is based on factors like temperament, health, performance, and breeding potential, all of which contribute to the fascinating diversity found within the world of equestrian competitions and horse racing.
Below is a helpful YouTube video explaining the differences between Mares, Geldings, and Stallions.
Stud colts are often kept apart from other horses. The bad behavior of a stud colt leads to dangerous conditions for the other horses and the handlers. Ungelded colts commonly will have to be kept apart from other horses.
Stud colts can also develop heavy muscling and a thick neck which causes more weight on the front end and slows them. However, horses gelded early may be more proportioned and grow taller than they would have if left as a stallion.
Also, a gelding stays sound longer than its stallion counterpart. The reason could be because of their proportionate size. (See below Notable Racehorse Geldings)
It’s medically necessary to castrate some horses.
Besides behavioral issues, sometimes there are medical reasons a horse needs to be gelded. When a horse’s testis fails to drop into his scrotum, it is known as a condition called “Cryptorchid.” This condition can lead to walking and running problems.
If a horse sustains an injury, he may need to stay in his stall for an extended period to recover. Stud colts may not take well to the downtime and cause further damage. Gelding a horse in this situation allows him to recover calmly from his injury.
Why Do Racehorse Trainers Advise Gelding a Horse?
Now let’s focus on racehorses: Why are so many racehorses gelded? Geldings, as we’ve mentioned, tend to be more focused and easier to manage due to their predictable behavior. This is a significant advantage for racehorses, which require intense training and attention to detail to perform at their best.
Gelded racehorses are easier to train, often responding better to their jockeys’ cues, which can ultimately lead to better results on the racetrack. Besides their focus and ease of handling, geldings may also experience some physical benefits from the procedure, which can translate to better racing performance.
Removing a horse’s testicles reduces the production of hormones that can lead to muscle and joint stiffness. As a result, gelded horses tend to be more flexible and agile, which are key assets in horse racing. Moreover, gelding a horse can lead to improved overall health, as it eliminates the risk of testicular cancer and other reproductive system-related issues.
Once a horse is gelded, its ability to sire foals and pass on its genetic material is permanently eliminated. For this reason, potential champion stallions are often left intact. Luckily this year, we have two colts in training that are working nicely and haven’t exhibited stud behavior. Hopefully, this will continue, and we can avoid castrating them.
Notable Racehorse Geldings
While geldings are sometimes less desirable than stallions, they can actually make great racehorses. Geldings are typically more focused. easier to train and more even-tempered than stallions.
- Kelos– Was the horse of the year five times in a row. He started 63 races, winning 39 and earning over 2 million dollars (this was in the 1960s). He raced for eight years. Died at 26 years old. Voted the #4 racehorse in the list of top 100 racehorses.
- Forego– Three-time Horse of the Year Winner; He finished fourth in the Kentucky Derby. He started 57 races with 34 wins and almost 2 million in earnings. He lived to be 27 years old; he broke his leg and was euthanized.
- John Henry– Two-time Horse of the Year Winner, Started 83 races with 39 victories earning over 6.5 million. John Henry is the oldest horse to win the Arlington Million stakes race. Died at the age of 32. He was listed as #23 in the top 100 horses of all time.
- Mine That Bird– won the Kentucky Derby, finished second in the Preakness, and third in the Belmont Stakes. He made 18 career starts earning $2,228,637.
- Funny Cide– He became the first gelding to win the Kentucky Derby; since 1929, he went on to win the Preakness before finishing third in the Belmont. Funny Cide made a total of 38 starts earning $3,529,412
Besides being all geldings, notably, all the horses had long lives and long racing careers. The long life of these horses supports the theory that geldings seem to live longer, healthier lives.
What Happened to My Horse?
We listened to the advice of our trainer and had our horse castrated. Before he was gelded, he was mean and unruly; afterward, he was mean. He was always a bit hard to handle, but he became successful on the track and had a long racing career. I ended up losing him in a claiming race.
Conclusion: What is a Gelding?
At its core, a gelding is a neutered male horse, transformed through a choice that often aims for calmer behavior and easier management. This decision to geld showcases the balance between nature’s course and human intervention. As we wrap up our exploration on the topic, it’s clear that understanding the essence of a gelding provides deeper insight into the diverse and fascinating world of horses.
How many geldings have won the Kentucky Derby?
Only six geldings have won the Kentucky Derby; however, there have been 108 geldings qualified to run in this prestigious race. Although geldings may not fare well in the Derby, they represent themselves well in most other races.
What can retired gelding racehorses do?
Geldings retired from racing can be trained in other equine activities. Thoroughbred geldings are often used in dressage and jumping. Quarterhorse geldings can be used as barrel horses, cutting horses, or trail-riding horses. Some former racing geldings are turned out to pasture to enjoy their life as a horse.
Meet Miles Henry
An avid equestrian and seasoned racehorse owner, Miles Henry brings his extensive experience to the equine world, proudly associating with the AQHA, The Jockey Club, and various other equine organizations. Beyond the racetrack, Miles is an accomplished author, having published various books about horses, and is a recognized authority in the field, with his work cited in multiple publications.
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