A male horse needs to have his sheath and penis cleaned periodically. It is
an unsavory, but necessary task. Most breeding stallions are probably
washed often enough during breeding season, but they might not get proper
attention during the rest of the year. Stallions who are pasture-bred
could easily get ignored, but geldings are the ones who most often have
problems. An accumulation of dirt and excretions called smegma builds up in
the area, and must be removed. Mares experience the same affliction
between their udders.
One of the first signs you may see, if your horse has dirty
genitals, is tail rubbing. There can be several reasons for tail rubbing,
but if you worm regularly, and are not plagued by parasites such as lice, a
dirty udder or sheath should be high on your list of suspects. Routine
genital cleaning is best; then you won't have to wait for these symptoms.
How often should you check your horse? There is no exact answer to that
question. It varies from horse to horse, and each area of the country is
probably different. In Arizona and neighboring parts of the Southwest,
horses seem to get filthy quickly. If a cross-section of horse owners were
asked, there would be quite an array of answers. Once every 2 or 3 months
is a suggested routine. Many gelding owners, who think they cleanse
their horses adequately, are overlooking an important part
of the chore. There is a pouch in the end of the penis that sometimes
causes serious trouble because people simply do not know about it. It
needs to be cleared out each time the sheath and penis are washed. Usually
the pouch will have one or more small lumps or beans of smegma in it. They
are frequently shaped like a pinto bean and are about the same size.
Sometimes, they are as large as walnuts. If the pouch has been neglected
for long, you might find things that will really surprise you.
was asked to check a gelding for a woman, and had one of those surprises.
The woman grooms her horse daily and bathes the sheath area frequently, but
didn't know she needed to check inside the penis.
The gelding, extremely sore in the hindquarters, and sensitive to the
touch, was obviously distressed. It was a weekend out at a ranch and no
veterinarian was available. The ranch foreman and the horse's owner
suspected he had a problem urinating, and they asked me to inspect him. It
didn't take long to find his problem.
A hard brittle hook of matter the size of your little finger was sticking
out the end of the penis. The area was extremely sensitive, and the horse
was certainly not happy, but eventually all the foreign matter was removed.
After the debris has been there so long, it seems to harden. In this case,
the material, white and almost like pearl in appearance, broke and was
removed in three large pieces. The volume was roughly equivalent to a
heaping tablespoon. Sadly, this is not the largest deposit I have ever
removed from a horse. This particular horse had been in lots of misery;
but by morning, he was fine.
My first encounter with this problem was almost 40 years ago. I was in
my late teens and wrangling horses on a dude ranch. The owner was a city
man, and at the time I was the only one on the place who had any horse
experience. One of the ranch horses had scratched himself bloody on a
stump out in the pasture. By the time I found him, the wound was infected
and full of maggots. The sheath area was so swollen, it looked like he had
a basketball inside him. We saved him only through many long hours of
doctoring. The vet said all the horses were filthy, but gave only
vague instructions on how to get them swabbed out. After cleaning the
whole herd, it became a familiar task. Some of the horses were not too
cooperative, and a few got spruced up while hog-tied in the prone
position. That was a long time ago, and I have since discovered that
there are easier ways.
If your horse will not allow you to wash him, it is a good idea to
work with a competent trainer to teach the horse to tolerate having his
sheath cleaned. Your horse will need this type of maintenance for the
rest of his life, so do yourself a favor and tend to his
A second option is to tranquilize him. I have never
felt the need to tranquilize a horse for this procedure, but lots of folks
do it routinely. One of the advantages: Using a tranquilizer will usually
cause the penis to drop down for easy cleaning. It is convenient, but
not totally necessary for the penis to drop for cleaning. Even a big hand
will fit up inside a sheath if properly lubricated with K-Y jelly or one
of the generic personal lubricants available in drugstores. Most gentle
horses will not object to being cleaned when approached with calm,
patient, and gentle persistence.
Various products used as
cleaning agents are mineral oil, pHisoHex, betadine soap, and K-Y jelly.
The jelly is an excellent choice, and, in my opinion, superior to the
others. Mineral oil leaves quite a residue and is hard to clean up,
although it does soften the debris well. Betadine soap and pHisoHex work
well enough, but require a thorough rinsing after wards. On some horses,
that-might not be too easy. Most will not mind the rinsing, but if that is
a problem, the lubricating jelly can be left unrinsed. That could be a big
plus if your pony spooks when you show up with the garden hose. It is
possible to skip that step.
Using the Hose
If you haven't cleaned your horse before, it is a good idea to check out
his reaction to the last part of the procedure first. See if he will
tolerate being rinsed out with a garden hose. Begin by adjusting a garden
hose, without a nozzle, for a low-to-medium rate of flow.
run the water on his front feet, and then his back feet. If he does not
object to that, try spraying his belly and his groin area. If he has
trouble accepting any of these things, retreat to a place where he is
comfortable. Then work your way back slowly to those areas. If he is
quiet about all these things, run water directly on the sheath area,
gently working the hose up into the sheath itself. You are not going to
rinse much out; but if your horse passes this test, you probably aren't
going to have much trouble with the rest of the procedure. Use warm water
if at all possible.
If he objects, realize that the horse is
only worried about his well-being. Any avoidance he tries is pure self
defense. It is your job to assure him the water isn't going to harm him.
Many horses will dance away from water, especially with the rear feet. It
is a big help if you have a wash rack to confine the animal and prevent him
from moving away. If he is able to avoid the water, the bad behavior will
just be reinforced. The next time will be harder, so try to set yourself
up to win the first time.
When I approach a horse who has a
problem, I make sure I have more time than the horse does. I leave my
watch in the house and don't get in a hurry. I tie the horse to something
solid, but this can be dangerous. It's better to have someone hold the
horse by a lead rope. I very gently spray water on his feet. Standing. by
the shoulder, and holding the hose back a couple of feet from its end
keeps me safe from any danger of being kicked. The horse usually dances
around to avoid the water.
I advance and retreat with the water
hose, going slowly enough to avoid any blowups. If possible, the advances
and retreats are timed in such a way as to remove the water from his feet
before he can move. As soon as the horse understands that the water isn't
going to hurt him, and that I'm not going to stop, he'll stand still. When
he will stand for his feet to be sprayed, the water is moved up his
hindquarters to his belly, and then to the sheath. Each time there is any
uneasiness, the water is quickly moved back to a comfortable spot. When he
will stand quietly to be rinsed, the horse is ready for the rest of the
God bless the guy who invented latex gloves. Before latex gloves this had
to be one of the worst jobs around. Now you can just peel off the glove,
throw it in the trash and walk away with clean hands. Use them and be sure
to lubricate your entire gloved hand. Smear lubricant over the back of the
hand as well as the palm. It is a good idea to apply lubricant very
liberally. The greasy nature of the smegma creates quite a resistance to
your hand movements, and the jell overcomes that resistance
very nicely if you use enough.
Work your hand up into the
sheath, and rub in the gel thoroughly. You will have to extract your hand
fre- quently for more gel, and to remove large pieces of debris. Clean off
the outside of the penis and around the sheath as much as
Gently reach into the pouch at the end of the penis
with your finger. If it is clean, you will feel only very soft tissue. If
there are firm, bean-like lumps, they need to come out. If larger deposits
are encountered, they also must come out. Remove the waste gently by
working it loose between your finger and your thumb. Use plenty of gel and
When you are finished, carefully insert the end of
the garden hose up into the sheath and flood it with water. Rinse well,
especially if soap was used, and you are done. Even if your horse objects
at first, he will be a much more contented equine afterwards. Editor's
note: If you have a foal, filly or colt, start this procedure early, and
you can avoid battles later.
The horse in the video below, may need sheath cleaning, or he may need to be de-wormed.