Calming a Mustang Stud

Most geldings are less energetic and strong-willed than stallions. So, people often describe them as "quieting down." However, castration alone will not fix "wild and spooky."

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Q. Last fall I adopted a wild mustang stud. It is my first horse. Should this guy be fixed? Will it calm his wild and spooky attitude? Can you tell me how you do it? I want to start training him this spring.

Will, Alabama

A. Having your mustang stallion fixed is probably a good plan, particularly since he is your first horse. Let's start with what it is and how it is done. The horse "fixing" procedure is known by many names. The most popular in this country are gelding or cutting, or the medical term castration. The procedure involves surgically removing the testicles. It is a veterinary procedure that can be done on the farm, in most cases. Depending on factors the veterinarian will carefully consider at the time, gelding can be done either under heavy sedation with the horse standing or under brief general anesthesia (asleep and lying down). Once the horse is sedated and prepared, the actual surgery usually takes only a few minutes. Again, depending on the age of the horse and the farm conditions, the veterinarian will recommend observation and aftercare for discomfort and swelling. This can include medications, as well as daily hosing of the scrotal area and hind limbs. Recommendations also will likely include light exercise in as clean and insect-free environment as possible. Your veterinarian will explain the risks and the specific care for your horse and farm situation.

Now, what can you expect behavior-wise from your gelded mustang? Removal of the testicles eliminates the major hormones that drive male sexual and aggressive behavior. So, after castration, the behavior of most horses changes. The horse generally will show considerably less interest in fighting with other males or herding and breeding mares. Geldings vary in just how much stallion-like behavior they retain. For example, some will still herd, tease, and mount mares as if they were a stallion.

Most geldings are less energetic and strong-willed than stallions. So, people often describe them as "quieting down." But your question about your mustang's "wild and spooky" behavior raises an important point. Castration alone will not fix "wild and spooky." A mare which has no male hormones can be just as wild and spooky as a stallion. Taming will require gentle, non-threatening handling that builds trust between the horse and people and acclimates it to all the new sights and sounds of a domestic farm. A single wild mustang is especially vigilant and reactive to everything in its new environment since he can no longer rely on herdmates to share the job of looking out for and responding to danger.

You might have heard of some of the horse training or "starting" techniques that are particularly helpful with previously wild or unhandled horses. Variations have been popularized by Pat Parelli, John Lyons, Monty Roberts, Linda Tellington-Jones, and others. Basic round pen work described by most of these trainers is a very good way to start with an unhandled or wild horse. Any of the gentle training or starting methods are a good way for a first-time horse owner to get organized. Your veterinarian might be able to recommend someone locally who could mentor you with your mustang. I imagine it would be helpful for you to have someone show you step-by-step how they succeeded with taming and training a mustang. If you have access to the Internet, you can likely find resources specific to mustang taming and training.

About the Author

Sue McDonnell, PhD, Certified AAB

Sue M. McDonnell, PhD, is a certified applied animal behaviorist and the founding head of the equine behavior program at the University of Pennsylvania's School of Veterinary Medicine. She is also the author of numerous books and articles about horse behavior and management.

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