Why Do Some Geldings Act Like Stallions?

Some male horses, even when gelded, can act like intact stallions. These behaviors can cause issues when the horses are turned out or when they are being handled in the barn.

As most stallions are kept only for breeding purposes, the majority of horse owners have no experience with them or their hormone-driven behaviors; eliminating these behaviors is a driving force behind having a male horse castrated.

Gelding a horse removes his testes, eliminating the source of testosterone, but some of the greatest effects of testosterone occur when the horse in utero, where the fetus’ testes pump out a plethora of male hormones. This early influence may cause geldings to act like stallions, fighting with other geldings, mounting mares, acting aggressively with people, attacking foals or herding mares.

Interestingly, many geldings that exhibit stallion-like behavior are in their teens, though it’s unclear why they act this way more than their younger counterparts. One theory is that a tumor on the geldings’ pituitary glands secrete extra hormones. Another theory suggests that the increased confidence and social rank that comes with age may encourage the stallion-like behavior.

Some geldings may act stud-like because they were not gelded completely; they may have a retained testicle that has failed to drop into the scrotum. A blood test can determine if the horse has a retained testicle, which can be removed surgically.

Stallion-like behaviors can include:

  • Fecal marking. Some geldings will pass manure on other horse’s fecal piles as a way of making others aware of his presence. Stallions in the wild do this as well.
  • Flehmen response. A horse raises his head, curls his upper lip and inhales to better smell mares he is near. This is a harmless action, but can accompany more troublesome actions.
  • Mounting mares. This can be a dangerous as mounting can injure the mare or the gelding if he is the recipient of a kick.
  • Fighting. A gelding acting stallion-like may fight off male horses to keep them away from “his” mares, potentially injuring himself or other horses in the process.
  • Herding or guarding mares. A gelding may continuously move mares away from people or other horses in the field, keeping them just out of reach.
  • Acting aggressively with people. Anyone working with or near a gelding exhibiting this behavior will be at risk of being bitten, charged or struck, especially if mares are present.

Read more at Horse & Rider.

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