Operation Gelding
A mother-daughter duo hosts clinics to keep horses and their families safe and healthy at a low cost
By Casey Kelly-Barton
Photos by: Brad Tollefson
They start arriving at the vet facility at 8 a.m. from backyards and family farms around North Texas horse country. Horses and the occasional donkey—some calm, some keyed up from their first trailer ride, and a few acting like unruly stallions—are led off their trailers by their owners and met by volunteers. They’re then sedated by a veterinarian, gelded, and watched for half an hour before they’re walked out with care instructions for their owners.
Kaye Garrison helps check in the patients while her daughter, Lacey Edge, and a group of volunteers tend to the horses. By the time the clinic wraps up five hours later, the volunteers, vet techs, and vet are tired but satisfied with their work. Twenty animals have been gelded as part of a national program to reduce unplanned breeding and horse abandonment.

This is an Operation Gelding clinic, one of more than 150 free or low-cost gelding events that have been held around the U.S. over the past eight years, run by volunteers with funding from the United Horse Coalition (UHC; previously the Unwanted Horse Coalition). This particular clinic in the suburbs of the Dallas-Fort Worth area is the pet project of Kaye and Lacey, who hosted their first Operation Gelding clinic nine years ago, when Lacey was 13 years old.

Lacey Edge has volunteered with her mother at Operation Gelding events for nearly 10 years.
Kaye’s and Lacey’s involvement started when they were looking for a 4-H project for Lacey. “We found out about Operation Gelding through the American Quarter Horse Association and met a lot of people doing horse rescue,” Lacey said. That was an ideal match, because “Lacey is a ‘rescue’ person with a passion for horses,” Kaye says. Each year since 2010, with the exception of 2017, the mother and daughter have worked with Dr. C. G. Freeney of Flower Mound and groups of volunteers to geld a total of 100 stallions.

Lacey is currently an equine industry and business major at West Texas A&M University. She also fosters and re-homes stray dogs and cats. During Operation Gelding clinics, Lacey supervises the horses and does some of the gelding under the vet’s supervision. “I don’t like to see animals suffer and I can’t adopt them all so this is how I can help,” she says.

Lacey tends to horses and tack at each event
Lacey tends to horses and tack at each event
Graduating West Texas A&M University
Kaye Garrison volunteers with daughter Lacey, an equine industry and business major at West Texas A&M University
Horse at riding competition
Lacey’s passion extends to riding competitions
“They are lovely folks, and Lacey has always been passionate about this work,” says Julie Broadway, president of the American Horse Council, which serves as the umbrella organization for the UHC. Kaye and Lacey “play a pivotal coordination role by finding volunteers, handling the logistics, finding the vets and vet techs” for each clinic that they host, Broadway says. The UHC has gelded more than 2,300 stallions nationwide thanks to this type of volunteer support since 2010. That’s when the group founded Operation Gelding to help families who were struggling with horse-care costs.

“After the recession hit, we started hearing stories about a growing number of people abandoning or surrendering their horses,” Broadway says. The cost of keeping a horse varies, but figures from The Horse magazine and the University of Maine put the typical yearly expense of horse ownership at a minimum of $2,400 to $3,600 per year. Unplanned breeding added to post-recession financial strain for many families.

The cost of gelding, which can range from $100 to $300, was and still can be unaffordable for some horse owners. To pay for Operation Gelding clinics, the UHC uses donor funds to issue vouchers for families who want to geld their horses. The vouchers help cover some of the cost that vets incur when they volunteer with the program, and they make it possible for families to afford the procedure.

Besides the costs and risks of unplanned breeding, there’s another important reason to geld stallions: safety. For the average backyard horse owner, “stallions are dangerous to you and those around you,” Kaye says. The American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) agrees. On its website, the AAEP states, “stallions are constantly exposed to testosterone and can be aggressive and potentially dangerous to other horses and people.” Gelding, especially done early in life, reduces aggression, makes the horse easier to handle and train, and makes it less likely that the horse will be abandoned for bad behavior later on.
Lacey wants families with horses to enjoy their lives together, which means gelding as many backyard stallions as possible. She says she and her mom plan to keep holding a clinic each fall in North Texas “as long as Dr. Freeny will do it” because “there are already so many unwanted horses, and backyard horses don’t need to breed. They can be outstanding pets in other ways.”

Lacey also encourages other horse lovers to get involved by hosting clinics of their own. “It’s super easy to do,” she says. “Find a great vet who’s willing to donate their time, get one person who’s good with horses and one who’s good with people” to promote the event, set up the schedule, and organize volunteers. “The more clinics, the bigger the impact.”

For more information about Operation Gelding clinics, contact the UHC at 202-296-4031 or uhc@horsecouncil.org.
About the Writer

Casey Kelly-Barton is a freelance writer based in Austin, Texas.

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