If you haven’t checked out Stephanie’s blog, you should. There’s always something interesting at Hand Gallop! From product reviews, to interviews, to by-the-number weekend accounts–I love how she shares her adventures! I feel like her horses, Moe and Gina, could live at my own barn I know them so well. Stephanie was kind enough to document her annual sheath cleaning with Moe and share it with us!
Sheath cleaning is one of those necessary (albeit completely disgusting) jobs that come with owning a gelding. How necessary? Well, that’s debatable. A 2014 study carried out by Delaware Valley College seemed to indicate that sheath cleaning increased bacterial growth. The American Association of Equine Practitioners doesn’t recommend cleaning except “when a horse has suffered a laceration in the area, has undergone surgery to remove a cancerous growth, has a skin condition from equine herpesvirus or has squamous cell carcinoma.” Other vets have observed lameness caused by an uncomfortably dirty sheath.
The sheath becomes dirty when smegma- a mix of dead skin cells, dirt, and gland secretions- build up on the penis and in the sheath itself. Smegma varies in texture from thick and waxy to dry and flaky. Enough of it can build up in the horse’s urethra to form a bean, and make it difficult or painful for him to urinate. Cleaning the sheath can help make the horse more comfortable.
Personally, I’ve always cleaned my horse’s sheath annually. Many people choose to have their veterinarian do this (especially when the horse is already sedated from something like dental work), but it isn’t difficult to do yourself.
I clean it when the weather is warm and I have an hour to so to devote to the process. You only need a few things to clean a sheath- latex gloves, warm water, and a cleaner.
There are a variety of products available for cleaning; I’ve used Excalibur, HWTB’s Winky Wash & Udder Stuff, and plain old Ivory soap. You’re looking for something that will cut the greasy smegma and make it easier to remove. My least favorite of these products is Excalibur, which is a goopy gel. It’s difficult to get the product into the sheath, and I always feel like I waste most of what I’m using. Winky Wash & Udder Stuff has a lotion-like texture, which makes it fairly easy to apply. Ivory soap is very easy to use; it’s also cheap and easy to find.
To get started, choose a time when your horse is relaxed; the day a new horse arrives at your boarding barn and is pacing the fence line screaming is not a good day for sheath cleaning. Some horses will drop their penis when they’re relaxed; others won’t drop it without the influence of sedation.
Fill a small bucket with warm water and put on your latex gloves. (I usually wear one latex glove on my cleaning hand and keep one hand ungloved to handle bottles or treats.) Stand at your horse’s hip, out of the way of a kick. Moisten the sheath using a clean towel or sponge or a hose turned onto a gentle stream. Next, apply cleaner to the sheath. If you’re using soap, rub the bar between your hands to create lather. If you’re using a product like Excalibur or Winky Wash, squirt it into your hand, then gently rub into the sheath.
You’re looking to gently scrape off accumulated smegma. This can be a long process, depending on how dirty the sheath is, if your horse will drop down, and if your horse attempts to kick at you. Moe is very tolerant, but if I clean too aggressively, he lets me know by picking up his hind leg. When that happens, I stop cleaning, reassure him, and then resume.
You also want to remove the bean if one is present. If your horse has dropped his penis, you can find it in the tip of his penis fairly easily and gently squeeze it out. If he keeps his penis retracted, it’s more difficult to find the bean- you’ll have to really get your hand in the sheath and gently prod in around to find it. Beans are usually firmer and in a more cohesive shape than smegma accumulation- they look a lot like their namesake!
Sheath cleaning is also a good opportunity to look for abnormalities. If there are areas that look red, irritated, or lumpy, let your veterinarian know! These could be signs of serious problems.
When you’re finished cleaning, thoroughly rinse the sheath with warm water. Again, you can use a clean towel or sponge or a gentle stream of water from the hose.
Sheath cleaning is messy and smelly, but it doesn’t have to be difficult (and you don’t have to pay your vet to do it either)!