You can read Part
. There wasn't supposed to be
a Part 3 but let's just say it bears out the truth of the expression.
This post is about the agonizing decision
of whether or not to geld my Friesian stallion.
A lot of people seem to think this decision should be easy, that of
course I would geld him, but it's not a simple decision at all. It's irrevocable so it's not a decision to be
made lightly or for temporary convenience, and it means giving up a significant
lifelong dream and goal.
From the time I was a horse-crazy kid, I
always assumed I'd have a stallion someday.
From the Black Stallion and other stories, from seeing famous horses in
racing and other sports, even from collecting Breyer horse models, I saw that the
most beautiful horses, the ones with the strongest bonds with their owners, the
ones with presence and speed or talent or intelligence were usually stallions.
I realised it would be challenging to keep
a stallion but when I became involved in the Friesian world, I saw that the
performance horses at expos and demos and in competition were mostly
stallions. The first Friesian I met in
person was a stallion; he was an ambassador for the breed and you could plop a
toddler on his back, and I met women who had Friesian stallions as
pets with no intention of ever breeding them.
I also saw Friesian stallions ridden or driven with other stallions, and
with mares. Some lived in bachelor herds
or with barren or pregnant mares or gelding friends rather than being stuck
alone (which is cruel for a herd animal).
Friesian stallions weren't as difficult as stallions of other breeds;
their sweet temperaments made them seem as safe and tractable and
easy-going as geldings of other breeds.
When I finally got my dream Friesian,
thanks to the generosity of a horse-loving relative, I wanted to keep him
intact for two reasons:
1) Type: He is a baroque-style Friesian, sired with
frozen semen from a long-dead baroque-style approved stallion. I love the baroque Friesian and they are
rapidly dying out because a more modern style is taking over the breed. The breed registry (I realise this will bore
Friesian people, but I am also writing for an audience that doesn't necessarily
know or care about such things) is only approving modern type Friesians because
that is what the market is demanding at present. My plan was to present him at keuring and
give him his chance at approval, knowing that it was unlikely due to his type,
but I felt strongly that he should be given a chance. If he was not approved, the plan was to have
all of the same tests done on him that are done on approved stallions and, if
he passed, to make him available to those Friesian lovers like me who don't
want the baroque style to die out. There
are quite a few of us, and no stallions to breed to anymore (and few baroque
mares left as well). When I tell Friesian
people this, some protest that I am wrong and send me photos of approved
stallions that they call "baroque".
And this frustrates me because they are far from baroque, and have no
hair anymore. It make me heartsick to
see what has happened to the breed. So,
I have felt not just a personal preference for keeping the baroque style alive
but also an obligation to the breed and to other baroque style aficionados.
2) Looks: Even if he were never
bred (and, just to make this doubly clear, I would never consider breeding him
if he did not pass the rigorous health tests that approved stallions must
undergo—I am not a general advocate of breeding to unapproved stallions and my
ONLY reason for considering it is the fact that the registry has made it
necessary to do so to get a baroque Friesian), only stallions have the Friesian
look—the hair, the presence, the hair, the high-stepping, floating gaits, the
hair. Unlike in other breeds, you would
never mistake a Friesian mare or gelding for a stallion, in person or in
photos. When horses lose the
testosterone, they lose the hair. With
most breeds, you can't tell the difference but it's very obvious in
Friesians. I know many people who have
Friesian stallions that they have never bred and have no intention of breeding
but they keep them intact for the look.
Since Friesians are like giant Labradors, the fact that they are
stallions appears not to be an issue in terms of safety and handling.
Given the above, why is there any question of
gelding him at all? Well, as Robert
Burns noted so memorably, "the
best-laid schemes o' mice an' men gang aft agley".
His height: As I stated above, even though the registry
is not approving baroque-type Friesians anymore, I have intended to give him
his chance. Colts can go to be judged
starting at age 3 but they must have a minimum height of 15'3". Silas was a good-sized foal and weanling and
a normal sized yearling. At 18 months old,
he reached 14'2"….and there he has stayed.
I couldn't bring him to the keuring at 3 because he was still 14'2"
and I can't bring him now at 4 because he is still 14'2". By the time he reached age 2, I was beginning
to worry about his height but thought he'd inevitably have a growth spurt
soon. When he never did, I consulted
many vets, and the Fenway Foundation, and had tests done. The collective opinion of all the experts
that have examined and tested him is that it's a mystery. His conformation and movement are not only
correct, they are excellent. He is as close
to perfect as anyone could dare hope for except for looking like you left him
in the dryer for too long and he shrunk.
He is not a dwarf and his hormones and everything else are normal. It's just that people keep asking me jokingly
if I got a Fell pony by mistake.
Friesians grow until they are 7 and I desperately hope he will get
taller but there's no magic formula to make that happen. If I feed him more, he just gets wider. If he does grow, it seems unlikely he will
grow enough to reach 15'3" and ever be able to be presented at
keuring. Also, I am 5'9", so my
dream of riding him in costume in exhibitions is already shattered because I
will look ridiculous on a pony. I am
aware that gelding increases height but, based on my research, that is only true
when gelding occurs as a foal. It's too
late for gelding to increase his height now.
But this is the main reason to geld him:
Even if he is otherwise perfect, he is too small for anyone to want to
breed to him and too small to be shown as a magnificent Friesian stallion.
His hormones: Until mid-March,
when he was nearly 4, he lived in a big pasture with a herd of geldings. He also had the best temperament you could
ever wish for, even in a breed known for good temperaments. The fact that he had no clue that he was a
stallion made it easy to keep him as a stallion. But that abruptly changed when the mares at
his barn went in season this past spring.
Like an adolescent boy who wakes up one day with sticky sheets and a
deeper voice, Silas suddenly became very interested in girls. Since he didn't have access to them, like
incarcerated men, he humped what was available: the none-too-pleased geldings. This led to his removal from the herd and
subsequent difficulty in figuring out where to put him at a stable that doesn't
have the facilities to accommodate a second stallion (the owner has her own). Like teenagers of all species, when puberty
kicked in, he underwent a Jekyll & Hyde-like personality transplant. I would now classify him as dangerous, and I
won't handle him solo for my own safety.
He settles down to work, and he is NOT mean—he is still the same sweet
boy under the raging hormones—but he is so excited by other horses that he can
accidentally harm people. After being so
easy to lead he'd follow anyone like a lamb, you now need a whip in hand as a
precaution and he rears and pulls and screams and when you finally get him in
the cross-ties, he fidgets and calls and tries to bust out to get to any other
horses he can see or hear. He's not
trying to be bad or evasive or hurt anyone; he is just controlled by his
hormones now. And I am not exaggerating
when I say this happened almost literally overnight.
His happiness: Silas loved living outside with the
geldings. He hated being cooped up in a
stall and he hated being separated from other horses. To some extent, it was good for him to get
used to a stall and to get used to being by himself—he was too herd-bound. But having lived with other horses all his
life, he is very social. He loved his
friends (even if they didn't always love the baby who wanted to play all the
time) and he loved living outdoors. I
never intended to condemn him to a stallion's life of living alone. When he was purchased for me, I was
underemployed and the arrangement of him living 250 miles from me, with my
friend's geldings, was meant to be just temporary. I intended to board him closer (and
eventually have my own farm) and to have a gelding buddy for him to live
with. I also intended to handle him
daily so that by the time the hormones exerted themselves and he became an
obnoxious teenager, we'd have a bond and he'd respect and trust me. As a first-time horse owner, I would not have
bought an adult stallion. But raising
one from a foal would give me a chance to get to know him and acquire skills
that would keep me safe by the time he grew up.
My money situation did not improve.
In fact, it got worse: my partner left me two years ago, when Silas was
two, and my living expenses doubled. A
year ago, I began freelancing and my income is both insufficient for even my
basic living expenses and erratic. I
also expected to be out of debt by the time Silas grew up and instead I am in
more debt due to long periods of unemployment when I lived on my credit
cards. Due to severe OCD-induced
procrastination and a total lack of a work ethic, I am in some respects
unemployable, which limits my income potential.
So, I have never been in a position to move him closer, nor have him in
regular training, nor see him often enough to build a bond or increase my
confidence and skill to the point of being able to handle him now that he is an
adult stallion. If he were gelded, he
could go back out in the field with his buddies, which would take the strain
off my friend who is keeping him for me for free, it would make him easier and
safer to handle, and make him easier to board if I ever have the money to bring
him closer. He would no longer be alone
nor be driven crazy by his hormones.
Given those reasons, why is there any
hesitation in gelding him now? Well,
gelding spells failure. It means I
failed to acquire the money to raise him properly—to handle him, have him trained,
build a bond. It means I have failed to
help the baroque type stay alive. It
means I give up my dream of ever taking him to a keuring or ever having an
announcer say that I am entering the arena to perform a musical freestyle on my
Friesian stallion. It means giving up my
Finally, I fear that I have a simplistic idea that gelding him will fix
all of his new temperament issues but he is still a young horse. He will still have the attention span of a
gnat with ADHD and he will take about 12 months to settle down from the
gelding—by which time, with regular handling, he might have settled down
anyway. I don't want to cure a headache
by decapitation. Gelding is irrevocable. If he grows, if he settles down, if he turns
out to be magnificent—his movement and balance are remarkable and he is showing
a talent for performance that is lacking in the baroque type; when asked if
they'd ever approve a baroque-type again, a Dutch judge said "show me a
baroque Friesian that can move like a modern one, I have no prejudice against
them, they just can't do the movements with their build"—I don't want to
spend the rest of my life regretting it.
I feel like I am rushing into it because I am scared to handle him right
now but he will still be a bratty teenager, even when gelded. I also feel I am rushing into it because of
short-term money issues. If I find a
rich husband, I don't want to have implemented a permanent solution to a
short-term problem. It's a HUGE big deal
and it violates everything I ever intended or expected about owning a
Friesian. If his hair thinned, if his
temperament didn't go back to his old self, if he reached 15'3", I know I
would regret it bitterly for the rest of my life.
I have sought advice from my Friesian
acquaintances around the world and I have deeply appreciated their honest,
heartfelt, and difficult answers. Some
of them have tried to assure me that gelding him so late means he will retain
some of the hair, but there is no way to know for sure; it is a risk. Geldings do not have comparable hair as a
Finally, there is the issue of
bonding. We haven't spent enough time
together to form the bond that I want to have with him but, when he was
younger, he seemed to be attached to me and focused on me when I visited. Now, he's all about other horses and pays no
attention to me. I realise every parent
goes through this with their teenager.
But I feel that I am counting on gelding to bring him back to me, to
make him focus on me. That seems selfish
and pathetic, and there is no guarantee that gelding will do that. I am just counting on him being less
distracted without the testosterone and that seems logical but may be wishful thinking.
Since this has all come up so suddenly
since spring, I was planning to send him, as soon as I could afford it, for a
few months of driving training, to buy time where he is not driving my generous
friend nuts and where he would be in full-time training, learning some stallion manners. But this is now complicated by the fact that
the farm where I was intending to send him just had a devastating fire, so it
is unlikely they will be in a position to train him for the foreseeable future.
So, here is what I am planning to do: 1) Get him tested for genetic diseases; 2) If
he passes those tests, get him collected so I at least have some baroque semen stored
if he does turn out to be worth breeding in future; 3) Then it looks like,
unless something changes drastically, I will have to geld him.