Operation Gelding

Through this innovative program, the Unwanted Horse Coalition gives groups a way to host low-cost gelding clinics and help prevent the problem of unwanted horses.

Unwanted horses, rescues…they’re hotly debated topics in the equine industry. As the cost of horse-keeping rises, and the industry continues feeling negative economic effects, the issue of overbreeding and “surplus” horses has reared its ugly head. The options for dealing with an excess of horses after the fact is not always so pretty, so solutions involve horse owners and breeders taking responsibility and looking in their own backyards to improve the situation. Meanwhile, recently formed organizations like the Unwanted Horse Coalition (UHC) help educate equestrians and prevent “unwanted” horses from happening.

The UHC is a broad alliance of equine organizations that have joined together under the American Horse Council. Their mission is to reduce the number of unwanted horses and improve their welfare through education and the efforts of organizations committed to the health, safety, and responsible care and disposition of these horses. The UHC seeks to provide education for existing and prospective owners, breeders, sellers, and horse organizations about the long-term responsibilities of owning and caring for horses, as well as focusing on the opportunities available for these horses.

So-called “unwanted horses” may be sick, injured or old. They may be unmanageable, unridable or dangerous, or may have otherwise failed to meet their owner’s expectations. In many cases, unwanted horses are healthy horses that become more burden than blessing to their owners because of financial limitations, time constraints, or other factors.

Addressing the issue

Over the last decade, the horse industry has undertaken many new and successful initiatives to address the issue of unwanted horses. Adoption programs, education about responsible ownership, and increased rescue and retirement options have all helped create a better life for horses that were previously without a caregiver. However, despite the equine industry’s best efforts to educate its members, tens of thousands of horses end their days without a job, unneeded, unusable and unwanted. Although no one knows for certain exactly how many unwanted horses currently exist in the United States, we do know the number is too high for the resources available for them.

The biggest challenge the equine industry faces is involving all equine-related organizations, associations and events in the effort to solve the unwanted horse issue. The UHC’s current efforts in spreading the word through educational materials, news and programs is an attempt to get more organizations thinking about and understanding the issues at hand.

The Operation Gelding program

One way the UHC does this is through its highly successful Operation Gelding program. Initiated in August 2010, Operation Gelding provides funds and materials to assist organizations and groups that wish to host low-cost or free clinics where horse owners can have their stallions castrated by a certified veterinarian. The impetus for these clinics is that the castration of a stallion will help prevent overbreeding, reducing the number of unwanted horses being bred.

Castration also produces a gentler horse that is more ridable, trainable, salable, and adoptable, which means they can be used in several careers. Gelding is critical in controlling the equine population and should be considered for that reason alone. In addition to preventing overbreeding, gelding is a practice that has long been used to improve breed quality and correct behavioral issues.

To geld or not to geld?

Responsible breeders carefully consider multiple factors when selecting horses for breeding. These include health, soundness, conformation, athletic ability or performance history, disposition
and pedigree. Not all horses should be bred.

In gelding a horse, the veterinarian removes the testicles which produce the hormone testosterone. This is the hormone responsible for sperm production as well as aggressive, sometimes dangerous behavior, including fighting and mounting. Left intact, a mature stallion may become progressively more difficult to manage and train as he gets older.

In most cases, geldings are preferred over stallions for pleasure riding and competition because they are typically calmer, easier to handle, and more tractable. It is for these reasons that a gelding is also more likely to be adopted out of a care facility.

Gelding a horse that isn’t an attractive commercial breeding prospect may ensure his viability in an alternate career. A stallion or colt with no commercial use as a breeding animal is an unattractive proposition for a new owner for several reasons:

• The owner faces the costs of gelding surgery in addition to the other expenses required to prepare the horse for a new career.
• Stallions require specialized housing, fencing and turnout.
• Farm owners and individual horse owners have potential legal exposure for the actions of their animals.

Many prospective buyers are not equipped to house or manage a stallion and therefore may overlook an otherwise suitable horse.

Hosting a gelding clinic

The UHC provides the information and forms necessary to conduct a clinic, along with seed money to defray the costs. Funds of $50 per horse gelded, with a maximum of $1,000, will be awarded to participating groups once in a 12-month period. Any organization or group is invited to participate in the Operation Gelding program. The UHC wants to involve as many people as possible. Past groups have included veterinary schools, equine rescues, and 4-H clubs, among others.

Kaye Garrison of the Denton County Veterinary Science 4-H Club, along with her daughter Lacey, have hosted five Operation Gelding clinics since the program began in 2010. “Operation Gelding has given us the means to assist stallion owners in North Texas who cannot afford the cost of castration,” says Kaye. “With over 50 stallions gelded, we believe we have had an impact on unwanted horses in our area, and saved them, in some cases, from the heartache of neglect and abuse.”

When it comes to unwanted horses, gelding is an important solution for everyone to consider. Responsible horse owners who prevent their animals from reproducing can significantly reduce the number of unwanted horses, resulting in improved welfare and resources for the entire equine population.

For more information about conducting a clinic and getting involved in Operation Gelding, contact Dagmar at dcaramello@horsecouncil.org or 202-296-4031, or visit unwantedhorsecoalition.org.

Previous articleSustainable land, healthy horse — Part 1
Next articleThe Canadian Horse
Dagmar Caramello has a lifelong passion for horses. In 2011, she graduated from Penn State, majoring in English and minoring in Equine Science. In addition to training and competing her own horse, Dagmar took on a fulltime position galloping racehorses at the Bowie, Laurel and Pimlico racetracks. In May 2014, she joined the American Horse Council as the Director of the Unwanted Horse Coalition. Her responsibilities include overseeing communication efforts between the UHC and the greater equine community, working closely with UHC members to enhance the organization’s current and future efforts, and establishing and cultivating relationships with new UHC members and donors. Dagmar continues to train her four-year-old retired racehorse and is an advocate of the Thoroughbred breed.