Clean your horse’s sheath or udders!
But first, is sheath and udder cleaning the best thing to do? Perhaps not! The American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) has some guidelines that ruffled a few internet feathers.
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Does your horse NEED the sheath or udders cleaned?
- Let’s get technical! Smegma is the “stuff” in question, and its consistency, color, and thickness vary from horse to horse. Its sole purpose in life is to lubricate the penis inside the sheath.
- It also has an aroma that you can instantly recognize. And a sticky residue if any of it lands on the inside of your horse’s hind legs.
- Now let’s talk about the gelding’s bean. Inside the penis, the urethra delivers urine from your horse to the outside world. Surrounding the urethra is the urethral fossa – a fancy way to say “holes that stuff gets stuck in.” That’s where the beans live!
- The AAEP has stated that beans shouldn’t cause interference with urination. Apparently, the force of a horse’s urine shouldn’t be hindered by beans.
- BUT – have you seen how big they can get? Like REALLY BIG. If you do a quick google image search for gelding sheath bean….well, there are a few good shots of giant beans, some as long and wide as a few fingers.
Food for thought on cleaning sheaths and udders.
- There are enough anecdotal tales of horses’ attitudes and temperaments improving after a bean removal. I have a horse that will drop, lift a leg, and bonk me to dig around for beans.
- I’ve also been around horses that produce so much smegma that the inside of their legs is sticky black all the time. This is completely natural for that horse, but summertime flies are a huge issue.
- The best advice is to get to know your horse and talk to your Vet about any medical reasons you should, or should not, be cleaning sheaths and udders.
Your horse’s response to sheath and udder handling
- Regardless of the necessity of cleaning the sheath and udders, you still have to handle them regularly to check for issues.
- Horses love to have medical problems in tricky spots. You must be able to inspect, handle, clean, and treat these areas without a fight.
- Tumors, summer sores (which are horrible, BTW), and insects can all invade your horse’s nether regions. Not to mention foreign objects, cancers, and cuts and scrapes.
- You will only be doing your horse favors if you can reach inside places to feel for problems. No one wants to find a tumor that’s too big for treatment. Catch it early!
If your horse needs a cleaning
- I can sum this up for you in two words: USE GLOVES. Oh wait, two more words: USE CAUTION. No one wants to be kicked.
- Cleaning a sheath or udders is actually pretty simple – with guidance and practice. If you don’t know how – I strongly encourage you to have your veterinarian show you on his or her next visit. There is some art and some science to this, and if you have a gelding or stallion, you will need to learn about cleaning around the urethra to get the “beans” out.
Sheath and udder cleaning tips
- There are a few products out there for sheath cleaning specifically. It’s up to you and your veterinarian to decide if you are OK with their ingredients. I prefer to use a mild, pure soap heavily diluted in warm water. Ivory is a good bet. Most of the time I just use water.
- Non-pure soaps (like most of your dish soaps) contain some icky chemicals and are super drying. Remember “dishpan hands”? How would that be on your horse’s privates?
- I would also suggest doing this in the washrack so that the nice warm water is available and convenient.
- After applying some warm water (soap optional) into the sheath or udders, move on to other chores for a minute and then come back to peel and massage away the smegma from in between the udders and inside the sheath.
- Be sure to rinse very well. For geldings and stallions, you may find that they do not want to drop their penis for cleaning. If this is the case, wait until they are sedated and relaxed from a veterinary procedure instead of trying to pull it out. You can clean inside of the sheath on most sedated horses with little objection.
- Always keep your spare hand on your horse’s back to feel for tension – a sure sign a new hoof-shaped bruise is coming your way.
- Stay to the side! This puts you *mostly* out of the kick zone.
My friend Ryan showing good technique for sheath cleaning. At least a 9 on a scale of 1 to 10.
More food for thought
- If your horse is reactive or uncomfortable or hysterical about this process, work on it every single day in tiny amounts using tons of positive reinforcement. Maybe you can only barely touch the outside of the sheath, so do that every day until you can do more. Never fight. This article here has some thoughts on desensitization that work well for the sheath and udders.
The results of cleaning a sheath and around the urethra. These are two beans. OUCH.
- So, you have to peel open the pockets and work the beans out. Often a job to do when your horse is sedated. While rare in horses, urinary tract issues are dangerous and a great reason to monitor your horse while urinating. You can learn more about normal horse urine here.
- Mares should have their udders gently cleansed with a super soft cloth and warm water daily-ish. Udders are much easier to clean and reach, so daily-ish attention works best. Many mares are fine with this and only become irritated when their udders are dirty. Stay ahead of the game!
- Sometimes, a horse that rubs his tail will need a sheath or udder cleaning. But, there are a lot of other reasons for tail rubbing (outlined here) that you should keep your eyes peeled for, too. It’s more likely there’s another reason for tail rubbing.
- You can use sheath and udder cleaners from the tack store, but I find these take more time to fully rinse out than the actual cleaning. For horses that are more sensitive, this added time can increase their reluctance to participate. Stick to water and patience instead.
What works for you and your horse?
If you need some sheath cleaner, not much beats Excalibur, which you can pick up here. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases, and this is ZIPPO extra charge to you! I thank you for your support!
Farnam Excalibur Sheath CleanerNitrile gloves for all things messy at the barn