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Cryptorchidism occurs when one or both of the testicles in a colt do not descend into the scrotum. This condition can occur in the male of any species, but it is often noted in specific lines of horses, so it is likely to have a genetic or inherited component. When a colt's testicle or testicles do not descend the colts is called a ridgling or rig, or may also be known as a high flanker if the testicle is located just above the scrotum under the skin.
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In all male fetuses the testicles are first developed in the abdominal cavity, then at about the second week of development they move down through the inguinal canal, through two sets of inguinal rings, into the scrotum. The rings are muscular areas that help to move the testicles down into the scrotum. In some male fetuses, through hormonal, mechanical and developmental reasons either one or both of the testicles do not move into the correct location. In most male foals (colts) the chance of either the right or left testicle not descending is about equal, but the chances of the left testicle being left in the abdomen are far greater, while non-descended right testicles are more likely to be found in the inguinal canal.
The reason that cryptorchidism is a problem for both stallions and geldings is threefold. Testicles that do not descend will not produce viable sperm as the temperature will be too high for proper sperm development and motility, so a stallion will have fertility problems. In addition the retained testicle is much more likely to become diseased or develop tumors, both with serious health considerations for the stallion.
Stallions or colts that are incompletely castrated and have a retained testicle will also have the same risks of developing tumors or health associated issues. These geldings, once castrated, will continue to show signs of stud like behavior including attempts to breed as the retained testicle will continue to produce testosterone. This means that the gelding will continue to use hormonally driven behavior just like stallion including mounting mares and becoming aggressive and difficult to handle around mares in season. Many stallions that are allowed to breed and are castrated later in life or "cut proud" will also continue to show some stallion like behavior, this is not necessarily an indication of cryptorchidism.
Vets that castrate colts will immediately check to ensure that both testicles are descended before proceeding with the process. When one testicle is not descended surgery will be required to enter the inguinal canal or abdomen to remove the retained testicle. As any surgical procedure is more risky for the colt, it is important to carefully consider your options with regards to this process. Most vets strongly recommend removing the retained testicle to ensure that it does not become problematic as the colt matures.
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