If you’re a horse riding junkie or someone who loves to spend their time around equines, chances are you’ve interacted with male horses at some point in your life.
You’ve heard some people call them colts or stallions, others sires, and some gelding, and perhaps this has always gotten you wondering, “Really, what is a male horse called?”
Male horses can go by all of the above names, for sure; it all depends on their age and ability to breed. Keep reading to understand the various terms used to refer to male horses and when to use them.
Table of Contents
Terms Used to Describe a Male Horse
As mentioned above, there are several names used by equestrians to describe male horses of different ages and breeding abilities. They include:
Stallion refers to any male horse over 4 years old, who has not been gelded (had their testicles removed), meaning, they are perfectly able to reproduce.
Because stallions tend to be more aggressive, and therefore, more difficult to ride, they are often not kept for pleasure.
Also, due to their hostile behavior, these animals are not left to interact freely with other horses because they may carelessly breed the mares (female horses) and attack the geldings.
If you plan on domesticating stallions, you will require high-quality fences to prevent them from breaking out and mixing with the mares. Otherwise, you will end up with much more horses than you ever wanted.
Stallions become sexually mature and able to breed at the age of 3 or 4. Some, however, are capable of breeding as early as one year old. Breeding stallions must be keenly and frequently supervised when they are mated with other horses to make sure they are not harming the geldings.
Are all male horses born stallions, you may ask?
Yes, most healthy male horses are born with the ability to reproduce, but not all should be used for reproduction. Male horses that have extremely bad temperaments, genetic problems, or those who are not capable of producing high-quality descendants shouldn’t be allowed to breed.
If your male horse is sexually mature and you want him to mate with the mares, talk to your vet first. They will examine him and tell you whether you should allow him to breed.
A gelding is a male horse that has been castrated. Unless you will be using your male horses for breeding, they should always be castrated. It helps them develop a calm temperament, which makes them easier to handle.
The recommended age for gelding is before the horse has hit12 months, once the testicles have descended into the scrotum. The sooner you can do it, the better because it will prevent the animal from retaining the more aggressive stallion-like behavior.
Like in humans, the testicles in horses produce testosterone, the hormone responsible for triggering the aggressive and dominant behavior in stallions. And as we stated, hostile stallions are usually difficult to work with and can be a danger both to other horses and anyone handling them.
Geldings are the best horses to ride for people who are just getting started with horse riding. Not only are they safer but also quieter and more well-behaved.
Gelding is a very easy procedure usually performed by a veterinarian. First, the vet sedates the horse, then depending on whether the animal will be castrated standing up or lying down, they administer a local or general anesthesia. They then make an incision and remove the epididymis, testicles, and a part of the spermatic cord.
After the procedure, the horse usually heals on his own. However, it is important to make sure that he exercises lightly, the incision area stays clean, and any antibiotics are administered as instructed by the vet. Here is a short video that explains the gelding process.
It is imperative, however, to note that not all horses have their testicles descended to the scrotum, a condition known as cryptorchidism. A horse with this condition is called a rig or ridgling, and because castration is not possible for them, such an equine may retain most of the qualities found in stallions, and should, therefore, be treated like a stallion.
Although rigs are not capable of breeding, the presence of testosterone often causes them to be aggressive, which makes them an unsuitable choice for beginner riders.
The word sire is used to describe the father of a horse. Once a stallion has bred with a mare and produced a foal, they automatically become a sire.
Sire is only used to describe a male horse. A female horse that has produced an offspring cannot be a sire; she is often referred to as a dam.
Sires are also sometimes called studs. Studs are ungelded male horses solely domesticated for breeding. You may have heard a horse owner say that their sire is standing as a stand, and wondered what they meant. Well, they simply meant that their stallion is currently ready to breed. Most people with studs will almost always charge a fee to breed your mare to them.
Quite often, people will spend time and resources looking for the sire of a specific bloodline. This is because most people want their mares bred to stallions who have unique traits that they would like the resulting progeny (offspring) to inherit.
With today’s advanced science and technology, a sire can have progenies all over the world. In racehorses, especially, a stallion with good racing genes can be bred with a dam to sire the desired progeny without the two horses having to meet face to face.
Most people use the word colt when referring to a young one of a horse but this is not really the correct term to use to describe a young horse. When you are not sure whether the baby is male or female, the proper term to use would be “foal”.
All colts are foals but not every foal is a colt. A foal can be a colt (male) or filly (female). A colt is strictly an ungelded male horse that is below 4 years of age.
When the colt is very young, it can be called a colt foal. Once it has been weaned, many people start calling it a weanling colt. The name changes again when the foal reaches one year. At this point, you will hear most people call it a yearling colt.
After one year or two, the colt may be called a stud colt if it is not castrated, or a gelding colt if it has been castrated.
Like most male mammals, colts usually grow a little faster than fillies, especially if they were castrated when they were younger. This is because, with gelding, the foal’s reproductive growth is refocused on other areas of its development.
In horse racing, however, the word colt is strictly used to describe a young male horse that is between 2 and 5 years of age. Once they are above 5 years old, a colt becomes either a stallion or a gelding.
How to Tell the Differentiate Between a Male Horse and a Female
It can be a little difficult to tell a male horse from a female at first glance. However, male horses will have distinct characteristics that will set them apart from their female counterparts.
When it comes to a stallion, for instance, you will see the horse’s penis and testes underneath their belly near his hid legs. These can easily be spotted even by a person who has no prior knowledge working with equines, especially if the animal’s penis is not retracted. But a stallion’s penis can still be seen even if it is withdrawn into the sheath.
Things will be a bit different for a gelding, though. Because geldings have been castrated to remove the testicles, if you look on their underside, you will see a penis but there won’t be any testes.
Female horses, on the other hand, will not have any of these reproductive organs. Instead, the underside will have an udder, usually with two teats. Also, if you lift her tail, you will see two openings; the anus, which is part of the digestive system, and the vulva, which is part of the reproductive system.
Interesting Facts About Male Horses
- Male equines have more teeth than females.
- Gelded horses are usually the most preferred by riders because they are much easier to handle.
- Colts tend to be shy at a younger age.
- Colts often grow faster than fillies.
- In most cases, stallions are not allowed in shows with kids and women because they can be dangerous and unpredictable.
The different terms used to describe male horses can help reveal many aspects of the horse’s life such as how old the animal is, whether they are a father, or whether they have been gelded or not.
A stallion is an uncastrated male horse above the age of 4 years. If he has fathered a foal, he is called a sire. If a male horse is castrated, he is called a gelding. But below the age of 4, all male horses are referred to as colts, whether they are castrated or not.