please note that this article contains pictures which might not be considered appropriate if you do not like to see blood. Do not scroll down
.. Then the man with the big Mercedes comes with a sharp knive, a bucket with rattling metal and all you remember was this needle in your neck and … waking up with very stiff legs. Hangover? No, you just became a gelding.
As much as I like foals, I do not like foals which are a child of mother and son.
The reason for writing this “blog/info-report” is that I have not found many articles that described what I could expect when a horse is castrated (or I just used the wrong keywords). Also this very often practiced operation seems to be rather “kept quiet”. However, if you look at a stable or riding school, how many mares do they have, how many geldings and how many stallions?
The operation itself has a rather big impact – it is almost the same as bringing your mare to the stallion or a foal being born. The decision to have this operation done was not easy, but inevitable, as I wanted to keep both of my horses, together (and still have only 2 next year).
A bit of background about stallions in nature
As young stallions grow older, they are normally sent out of the herd by the leading stallion from the “harem” of mares. The leading stallion does this before they get interested in his mares, thus also their mother, at the age of 2, sometimes 3. The young stallions gather together and form their own group of bachelors, also lead by a leading stallion. From time to time this group of bachelors meets the “harem” group and it can happen that the stallions challenge the leading stallion. Most of the times this goes without much problems as they are too young and unexperienced to be able to win from the leading stallion.
The “civilized herd”
In a “civilized” herd like ours however, with 3 geldings, 1 mare and 2 2y old stallions separation of the group is not really an option. As spring is kicking in, the behaviour and interest of the mare and the two stallions quickly changed and the 2 stallions became mature. As there is no place to “send them away” from the group nor to keep them separated, castration is a commonly used option to cool down the stallions in their behaviour, make sure they can not reproduce. This enables them to be taken back in the group again and they won’t climb fences to be close to interested mares, either on their stable or on neighbours’ stables.
Preparation for the operation
What I heard from the vet, horses under 3 years of age can be castrated while standing, older horses should be castrated while they are lying on the ground.
Before the operation:
* Make sure that you have a box per horse free that is going to be treated. They will have to stay in there for 3 days
* They should have water, but no food the day before.
* The “operation area” should preferably have a wall where the sedated horses can lean against, and a solid floor.
* The horse should have had his tetanus shots before. If this is not the case, this can be done after the operation as well.
* Make sure that there is someone that can stand helping the vet while he is operating in this sensible area, can deal with horses and is able to see a lot of blood.
The operation itself
The operation itself is actually very quick.
After the vet gives the horse an injection in his neck with a mixture of anaestethics, the horse starts to stumble on his hoofs and falls over- towards the wall if all goes right. With nervous horses the dose is higher, as they are more sensible to things around them.
The horse should be just able to stand and not lower his head too much. A tap on the nose keeps them awake and gives you a rough indication how “far away” they are.
When the first narcose works well enough, the vet cleans the area he is going to work on with an antiseptic spray. Also he gives two local injections with a very big needle, ca. 8cm long (which even I felt)…
It becomes visible when the local anaesthetic works, as the penis showly comes out of its sheath where it normally resides in. From here on the vet has to act quickly, as he does not want to give the horse more drugs than really necessary.
from left to right, bottom bit: Top: penis, bottom: hand of the vet, the testicle itself, the epididymis (small and at the right top of the testicle) and at the right side the scrotum, just below the thumbnail of the vet.
The first cut is made on one of the two sides of the scrotum. These are like 2 separated bags which contain the testes, the balls of the stallion. This cut should be just big enough to get the ball and the epididymis come out of it. On top of the ball the epididymis is attached to the body with the spermatic cord and some veins.
adding the clamps
After the vet has taken out the ball and the epididymis, he puts 2 clamps on the spermatic cord and the veins. These are being closed with knotting a strong surgical suture which dissolutes after a while.
The result after both balls are removed
After this the knive is used to cut the spermatic cord and veins, and this releases the ball.
The whole procedure is repeated at the other side, and at the end he horse stands with 2 cuts in his scrotum and only the spermatic cord and veins-leftover.
scrotum cleaned on the inside
The vet has now cleaned the inside of the scrotum with antibacterial liquid and is prepare for the next bit, the closure of the 2 cuts.
closing the 2 cuts
The closure is done with no more than a ‘tacker’. There is going to be a lot of liquids produced by the body to get rid of any possible diseases, and a lot of blood will have to come out (in a slow pace). Therefor it is better to keep the wound half open, to let as much as possible pressure out of the affected area.
after ca. 15 minutes
Shortly after the operation it already starts to get swollen. As you can see the penis is not completely retracted yet, the local anaestethic still works, however the horse is completely awake.
Post operation must-do’s
* As long as the local anaestethic works, the horse is not allowed to eat. I think this has got to do with the function of the abdomen which might not process food in this area as well, probably resulting in a colic.
* Do however not forget to give your horse loads of fresh water to drink. He needs loads to keep the wound clean by producing a lot of lymph (‘internal body cleaning liquids’)
* Walk 3 till 5 times a day a short (15-30min) but steady round with your horse. Do not let him act silly, play, jump or run, as the clips might pop out and the wound opens up too much again.
* Keep in mind that after the operation the ‘stallion’ still has the option of “his last lucky shot”, by sperm that might be stuck somewhere on the way out, in parts not taken away by the vet. They do not survive longer than about a week, so keep the mares away for at least 2 weeks to be sure.
Do not panic:
* It will keep on dripping for at least 5 days, about one drop per second. The hind legs of your horse are going to be very red and bloody for a few days at least. Mine just *loved* it when I cleaned the crusts of dried up blood from his hind legs. Normally he would not stand still, but cleaning his hind legs was a great relief for him.
* It also might happen that blobs of blood come out, a few days after the operation. They look like liver or kidneys, are dark red and wobbly. I had found one during our walk which was as big as my hand. I have solved this blob in water to see if there was any other structure than just blood in there, but there wasn’t, so things look good.
* Very important is to keep an eye on the overall behaviour of the horse. If he is keen, active, he is doing fine. If he becomes timid, slow, and might have a fever, do call the vet immediately!
* The swelling should disappear slowly, at this moment I can not say yet when it is completely gone, but I hope that it will be soon!
At this moment the boys are happily walking around in their bit of the paddock. They will be fully reunited with their group again soon, will not endanger the ladies and be (more) accepted by the others, as they become a bit more timid and (smelling) less “agressive”.
A video of the operation, after the local anaesthetics till the removal of the testes on one side below.