What Is a Gelding?

Gelding horse with owner
Martin Deja/Getty Images

A gelding is a castrated male horse, donkey, or mule. Unless a horse is to be used for breeding purposes, it should be castrated. Gelding can make horses more even-tempered and easier to handle. A stallion who is gelded later in life may retain more aggressive stallion-like behavior.

Optimal Age for Gelding a Horse

A colt may be gelded before it is one year old -- as soon as the testicles descend into the scrotum. Many owners feel that the earlier, the better so that the colt does not develop any stallion-like behaviors. The testicles produce testosterone, and it’s this hormone that governs stallion-like physical characteristics such as a crested neck and the sometimes aggressive and dominant behavior that could be a danger to other stallions or geldings, and to anyone handling the horse. Geldings also usually have little interest in mares. Others like to leave gelding until later, believing that the future gelding will have a more flashy physical presence.

Geldings vs. Stallions

Geldings may grow slightly taller than they would if they were left stallions. Geldings are preferred by some riders who dislike that mares can be moody during their heat cycle. If a beginner has to choose between a stallion and a gelding, the gelding is by far the safer and wiser choice. Besides making a safer, quieter and more well-behaved riding horse, gelding serves as an effective way to avoid unwanted offspring and ensure that only the best horses are kept for breeding purposes.

In some cultures, all males were left un-gelded, but the circumstances that they lived under was much different than that of our modern riding horses. Now, it’s possible but rare to find groups of stallions kept together or turned out with mares. In many cases, hard work and poor nutrition accounts for the quietness of horses kept in groups but not gelded.

Gelding Procedure and Care

Gelding has been carried out for centuries, and written work by Aristotle mentions gelding as early as 350 B.C.E. Gelding is a relatively simple procedure carried out by a veterinarian. The horse is sedated, and local anesthesia is administered for a standing castration, or a general anesthesia is used if the horse is to be castrated lying down. The procedure involves removing the testicles, epididymis, and a portion of the spermatic cord through a small incision.

Caring for the horse after gelding usually includes allowing the horse light exercise, keeping the incision area clean, and administering antibiotics. Complications following gelding are very rare. If the surgery is done in a clinic, where the incision is sutured, there is even less chance of complication, although the procedure may be more costly. After gelding, the horse normally heals quickly, and any "stallion" hormones recede within a few weeks.

The cost of gelding varies greatly depending on location, but a rough average for the procedure, assuming there are no complications is about $250.00. The cost of antibiotics may be extra. You may need to hand walk the new gelding for a few minutes each day and keep an eye on the incision for signs of swelling. Keeping the flies away and keeping the area clean is also important.

Cryptorchidism in Horses

One problem that can occur is the possibility of an undescended testicle and horses with this condition are called Rigs or Ridglings, and it is known as cryptorchidism in horses. These horses may retain many stallion-like qualities and must be handled like a stallion. Because they only have one testicle does not mean that it will only be partially stallion-like. Although rigs may not be able to reproduce, the presence of male hormones often makes the horse unsuitable for a beginner.