Male horses might have difficulty urinating or might rub their tails because of a dirty sheath. The sheath is the protective envelope of skin around the penis. Fatty secretions, dead skin cells, and dirt accumulate in the folds of the sheath. In addition, a “bean” of material can accumulate in the diverticulum adjacent to the urethral opening. This black, foul smelling, somewhat waxy substance is called smegma.
Depending on the individual horse’s smegma production, the sheath should be cleaned about once or twice a year. You can clean the sheath somewhat with the penis retracted into the sheath, but you can do a more thorough job if the penis is down. Once a horse is accustomed to the procedure, he will likely relax and let his penis down for cleaning. Usually the best time for this is on a warm day after a work out when the horse is somewhat tired and relaxed. If the horse is very touchy in his genital area, you could have your veterinarian tranquilize the horse so your horse will be more manageable and relaxed.
To clean a sheath, you will need:
Because smegma has a strong, offensive odor, first put a rubber glove on your right hand and then cover it with a large tube sock. Use a safe handling position with your left hand up on the horse’s back. Do not lower your head to see what you are doing or you could be kicked.
Soak the sock in warm water and wet the sheath area with handfuls of water. Alternatively, if you have warm water at your barn, you can use a hose to wet the area. Add a very small amount of liquid soap (such as Ivory) to the tube sock and begin washing the sheath inside and out. There are also several commercial products designed especially for sheath cleaning. You will be able to remove large chunks and sheets of smegma as you work.
The best way I have found to rinse the sheath thoroughly is with a hose, warm water and moderate to low pressure. Most horses learn to tolerate, and then enjoy this after one session. You can insert the hose 2-3″ into the sheath to rinse. However, until accustomed, a horse’s natural reaction is to kick upward with one of the hind legs. A horse can easily reach a fly on his belly with this method so your hand and arm could be in danger. Hold them as high and as close to the horse’s belly as possible until the horse gets used to the sensation of the water.
Older horses that are quite used to the process will lower the penis so you can clean the penis also. Use only warm water on the penis, no soap. Often a ball of smegma, called a “bean”, will accumulate in the diverticulum near the urethral opening. The bean can build up to a size that could interfere with urination. Sometimes the “bean” material is white but usually is black. To remove it, move the skin at the end of the penis near the urethral opening until you find a blind pouch. This part of sheath cleaning is the time when your horse is most likely to kick. Usually once you find the bean, you can roll it out quite easily. A bean the size of a kidney bean can cause discomfort on urination.
Udder cleaning is a snap compared to sheath cleaning. Use the same supplies, techniques and safety principles.