A Guide to Cleaning a Horse’s Sheath
Horse ownership is full of surprises. One surprise I didn’t know about until I bought a male horse was…sheath cleaning. Yes, that’s right. Male horses need their nether regions cleaned on a regular basis. I bet you can tell just how shocking this surprise was!
How do you clean your horse’s sheath? To clean a horse’s sheath, you’ll need rubber gloves, a bucket of warm water, a sponge or a towel, and baby shampoo. You’ll need to use baby shampoo and warm water with a sponge to remove debris from in your horse’s sheath. If your horse will relax and drop their male parts, you can remove debris from there as well. Lastly, and if you are confident enough, you can check and remove any debris that has built up in the urethra.
While some may debate whether sheath cleaning is necessary, I’ll make sure that my gelding’s sheaths are cleaned and checked at least once a year. To get a step-by-step guide to cleaning your horse’s sheath, keep reading!
How To Clean Your Horse’s Sheath
When you go to clean your horse’s sheath, you will need to know where to start. It is important that your horse is relaxed and tolerant of this type of handling. If, at any point in the process, he becomes too agitated to allow you to safely continue, It’s best to stop and seek the assistance of a veterinarian. If you’re able to clean it yourself, here are the steps you will need to take:
- Wear gloves. Because, well, why wouldn’t you? As for what kind of gloves – try vinyl instead of latex to avoid potential skin irritation. I personally think that dishwashing gloves work great.
- Do not stand by your horse’s back legs. The safest spot to stand is near his shoulder; this will protect you should he try to step away from you in the middle of the procedure.
- Grasp the head of the penis. This is easier if the penis is already dropped from the sheath. If it isn’t, you can attempt to coax it out by putting your hand into the sheath and grasping the head while gently pulling downward. If he still will not drop voluntarily, try massaging the belly around the sheath. Using warm water to clean will also help compared to cold water
- Once you are holding the penis, use a towel or sponge to wipe off the excess debris. If your horse’s sheath looks good, this may be all that is needed.
- If there is an excessive amount of stubborn debris build-up, you may need to use a bit of mild soap or de-greaser made specifically for equine sheath cleaning. Do not use antibacterial or antiseptic soap – you want to preserve as much of the beneficial bacteria as you can.
- Inspect the penis and sheath. Since you’ve got hold of it, you would be wise to visually inspect the area to make sure there are no tumors, lesions, or other growths. This is important and one of the best arguments there is for routine sheath cleaning.
- Clean inside the sheath. Stick your towel or sponge up into the sheath and gently move it around. Debris should fall out of the sheath. Once the debris has stopped falling out, the inside of the sheath should be clean. Rinse the sponge in between to remove debris that has stuck to it.
- Rinse the entire area clean with warm water. You do not want to leave any trace of soap or other introduced substances on the penis or in the sheath, as this can lead to discomfort and irritation.
- If you are comfortable, check for beans in the urethra area. A bean is when debris gets stuck together and causes uncomfortable pressure around the urethra. To check and remove beans, locate the urethra. Beans will be in the folds of skin that surround this area. Gently use your fingers to work out any bean you find.
OK, this may be slightly disturbing, but one way you can help your horse drop so you can clean them is to help them relax through massage. To learn some really simple equine massages, check out my article Easy Massages to Try on Your Horse.
While the instructions are fairly straight-forward and the process can be a quick one, here are some additional tips to keep in mind:
- Make sure to check in every fold. The urethral diverticulum is an area that is hard to see but can harbor the most smegma beans. This is near the tip of the urethra.
- Do not scrub – I repeat, don’t scrub. You will want to be as gentle as possible and use only your gloved hands. Don’t use scrubby sponges, clothes, or anything that can exfoliate (and irritate) your horse’s delicate skin.
- Be aware of the weather. Your horse may be more relaxed on a sunny, calm day. Don’t choose a windy day to try sheath cleaning for the first time.
- Don’t clean your horse’s sheath any more often than absolutely necessary. Horses don’t really want their healthy sheaths messed with. It can be uncomfortable and even irritating if it is done more often than needed. Cleaning the sheath too often can also remove beneficial oil and bacteria that keep the area healthy.
Should You Routinely Clean Your Horse’s Sheath?
What happens if cleaning a horse’s sheath disturbs you too much? Do you have to clean your horse’s sheath? Here are some arguments against sheath cleaning:
Natural Oils Being Removed
The horse’s penis produces a waxy substance called smegma that is comprised of shed skin cells and natural oils. This substance is vital to the health of the reproductive organs; it acts as a natural lubricant that keeps the skin supple and healthy and also works to inhibit the introduction of foreign bacteria while preserving the health of the beneficial bacteria. Removing this substance, and the beneficial flora along with it, can cause more harm than good.
Of course, too much of a good thing can be a problem. Some horses produce more smegma than others, and in these cases, the smegma can build up to the point that it forms small (or large) lumps inside of the sheath.
These lumps, called “beans” because of their shape, can cause discomfort, or even pain, unless it is dislodged and removed. Negative behaviors in horses have even been tied to discomfort caused by a bean. The only way to determine if your horse does have beans lodged in his sheath is to physically inspect it.
Feral Horses Don’t Get Sheath Cleanings
There are large populations of wild and feral horses in the world – so many in the United States that the government regularly rounds them up for auction to manage the population and its effect on the ecosystem. Some argue that since feral horses never have their sheaths cleaned, the procedure is not only unnecessary but also harmful to reproduction; stallions in the wild are documented as having an average 85% conception rate, while domestic stallions have a conception rate of closer to 70%.
Proponents of routine sheath cleaning point out that horses in the wild are not gelded. While all male horses produce smegma, geldings do tend to produce it in slightly greater volume than their intact brothers – this is believed to be due to the less frequent extending of the penis in geldings.
A Vet Can Perform a Sheath Cleaning
The good news is if you aren’t comfortable cleaning your horse’s sheath, a vet can do it for you! While I’ll clean my horse’s sheath if I notice that it’s dirty, I always have a vet check that area and check for beans when my horses get their annual vet exams.
Sheath cleaning is a relatively inexpensive service to pay your vet to do. You can also schedule to have it done at the same time your horse gets its teeth floated; that way, your horse is already sedated, and you don’t have to pay extra for extra sedation.
Do you find that your horse is tossing their head more than usual? This could be a sign of an underlying problem. To learn more, visit my article Why Horses Toss Their Heads (and What to Do About It.)
Sheath Cleaning Gets Easier Each Time
While this is surely a lot of information to take in, cleaning your horse’s sheath will become easier every time you do it. You’ll get to know when your horse is due for a cleaning, and your horse’s tolerance to the procedure will increase as well. while the process may seem daunting if you’re doing it for the first time, trust that you’ll gain confidence with each procedure.
Another aspect that horse owners only learn through spending time and getting to know their horses is when a mare is in heat. Some mares don’t show any signs of being in heat, while others will. To learn the signs of a mare is in heat, visit my article How to Tell if a Horse is in Heat: Complete Guide.