Castration may not be the best place to introduce yourself to a horse.
The emotional nature of horses is shaped by many events in their lives and for about 50 per cent of our horse population, castration is one. The events surrounding castration are significant to the healthy physical and emotional development of a well-adjusted gelding. Horses are experiential learners and first impressions have a powerful effect. Therefore castration may not be the best place to introduce yourself to a horse. Gentle handling of a colt and familiarity with haltering and leading will minimize drama of castration.
Although horses can be castrated at any age, most are castrated as yearlings. The reason for this is simply the emergence of unwanted stallion-like behaviour. Removal of both testicles usually abates this behaviour. The horse’s age at the time of castration plays a factor in residual stallion-like behaviour. Stallions which have been in a breeding program are much more likely to retain studdish behaviour than those gelded as yearlings. For this reason castration at a younger age is seen as ideal.
The age at which a colt is castrated also influences the overall look of a gelding. Circulating levels of testosterone that accompanies sexual maturity signals closure of growth plates. Colts gelded before the development of stallion-like characteristics tend to become taller and leaner.
A castration can be performed in a number of different ways, and each veterinarian will have a different preference. The most basic requirement for a normal castration is two testicles descended into the scrotum. If one or both testicles are “missing” then the horse is considered a cryptorchid. A cryptorchid castration requires more extensive surgery than a routine castration.
Routine castrations are performed under anesthesia with the horse standing or lying on his side or back. Most often castration incisions are left open to drain and heal from the inside out. For this reason it is of advantage to castrate a colt in the cooler weather of spring or fall when fly activity is minimal.
It is normal for a small amount of blood to drip from the incision site. It is also normal and expected for a certain amount of swelling to develop. Followup care after surgery is extremely important. The horse needs to rest quietly for 24 hours. After that time it is imperative that he has exercise to keep his incision sites open and draining.
In most cases, the effects of residual testosterone in the horse’s body will last approximately six weeks. So unfortunately you will not see an immediate attitude adjustment in unruly horses. Geldings which continue to mount mares or behave aggressively are referred to as “proud cut.” If you have a “gelding” which acts like a stallion there are two possibilities. The horse might have a retained testicle high in the flank or abdomen that is still producing testosterone. This can be determined by a serial blood test. However it is also possible that your horse is a true gelding with no testosterone-producing tissue, yet showing stallion behaviour.