Sheath Cleaning for Horses: Steps & Facts

Last Updated: February 5, 2021

If you own a male horse, you might need to clean its sheath from time to time. This is a very intrusive process involving reaching your hand into your horse’s genitals and removing the buildup. For first-timers, this can be an intimidating and somewhat gross process. But if your horse needs its sheath cleaned, then you’re going to have to roll up your sleeves and dig in. Before you do, let’s take a closer look at how to clean your horse’s sheath, and when this type of action is necessary or appropriate.

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Important Terminology

Before we start discussing the ins and outs of cleaning a horse sheath, there are some terms we need to define so we can more easily discuss the matter.

Smegma

Smegma is a substance produced by a male horse to offer protection and lubrication for their penis. Some horses make moist smegma while others produce smegma that’s dry and flaky. The amount of smegma produced also varies widely among individuals.

Bean

Smegma can accumulate in a depression at the end of the horse’s penis. This depression is called the urethral fossa, and when the smegma builds up here it can form what’s referred to as a bean.

The penis of a horse
Image Credit: Farofang, Shutterstock

Is Sheath Cleaning Necessary?

For many years, sheath cleaning was considered a necessity for any male horse. Most horse owners would clean their horse’s sheath a few times a year, though some performed this task far more often. The real question is: does your horse need its sheath cleaned?

Stallions in the wild don’t have anyone to clean their sheath, yet they remain in good health. Ironically, wild stallions actually have conception rates around 85%, which is 15% higher than the average for domestic stallions.

Many people believe that smegma builds up and can cause your horse various problems. Furthermore, it’s commonly believed that a large bean can block the horse’s urethra and make it difficult for them to urinate. But according to the American Association of Equine Practitioners, this is not the case.

The smegma on your horse’s penis is protective. It provides a protective covering for the penis as well as lubricating it. When you remove the smegma, it removes your horse’s natural protection and lubrication.

Most of the time, for healthy male horses, sheath cleaning is unnecessary. In fact, it can even be harmful.

When Should You Clean Your Horse’s Sheath?

Still, there are sometimes when cleaning your horse’s sheath is in their best interest. If your horse has suffered a cut or scrape around its genitals, you might need to clean the sheath to keep the area sanitary. Following surgery to remove a cancerous growth, this procedure is also recommended. Certain skin conditions can also be cause for cleaning your horse’s sheath, such as equine herpesvirus or squamous cell carcinoma.

Stallion horse with an erection
Image Credit: Lautaro Federico, Shutterstock

Supplies

If you’ve determined that your horse needs its sheath cleaned, there are a few supplies you’ll need to gather before you get started.

Soap

There are many different soaps you can use, but you’ll need to pick something gentle and mild. Some of the best options include betadine soap, Ivory, or Excalibur soap. Alternatively, you can simply use K-Y Jelly, which you won’t have to rinse off. Soaps will leave a residue that you must thoroughly rinse to prevent it from irritating your horse when it dries.

Latex Gloves

You’ll be reaching your hand into your horse’s genitals for this, so you’ll definitely want some protection. A horse’s smegma has a strong and not so pleasant odor that will stick to your skin. If you attempt this without gloves, you should expect to have a strong and strange odor stuck to your hands for several days at least.

Hose or Spray Bottle

Some people use a hose for rinsing, though this can often create too much pressure. A spray bottle filled with water is a better option. If you use K-Y jelly instead of soap, you won’t need to rinse the area afterward. But if you use soap, be sure you have plenty of clean water on hand to rinse everything off when you’re done.

Brown young horse stallions
Image Credit: Parilov, Shutterstock

Extraction

In order to clean your horse’s sheath, you’ll have to get their penis to extract. There are two main ways to do this.

  • Reach into the sheath and grasp the penis by hand. Gently pull it out or rub between the sheath and penis to get it to drop.
  • An alternative is to tranquilize your horse. The tranquilizers will relax your horse and the penis will likely extract on its own. It’s recommended that you only do this with the supervision of a veterinarian.

Some Basic Tips

We’re about to walk you through the steps you must take to clean your horse’s sheath. But first, there are a few important tips we can offer that will make the entire task a bit easier for both you and your horse.

Trim Your Nails

Before you get started, take a few minutes to trim your nails and make sure you won’t accidentally cut, scratch, or scrape your horse. Remember, your hand is going to be inside your horse’s genitals; a very sensitive place.

Be Gentle

You never want to get rough while working with your horse’s genitals. If you do, you, your horse, or both could end up injured.

Take Your Time

Don’t be in a rush. Take your time and make sure you do everything in the proper manner with plenty of care.

Cleaning the Sheath

Once you’ve determined that your horse truly needs its sheath cleaned and all of the necessary supplies are gathered, it’s time to get started.

  • It’s a good idea to give a quick check around and make sure no one is watching. What you’re doing might be necessary and even good for your horse, but bystanders and anyone who just happens to see likely isn’t going to understand why you appear to be playing with your horse’s genitals. It’s not a good look, so it’s best to ensure that there’s no one in the vicinity before you start.
  • Get the genitals of your horse wet using either a damp sponge, spray bottle, or hose. But don’t surprise your horse with a blast of cold water to the balls; there’s no telling how it might react!
  • To avoid getting kicked, it’s best to stand facing your horse’s head with your hip and shoulder pressed tightly to the thigh and hip of your horse. From this position, you’ll have good access to its genitals, but you’ll also have advanced warning if it decides to kick. Best of all, it won’t be able to kick you from here, just give you a shove.
  • Slowly work your hand towards your horse’s genitals so it’s not surprised. Once you get there, lube the entire area liberally with your soap of choice. You’ll notice that the penis is inside of the sheath. To bring it out, you’ll have to stick your hand inside.
  • You’ll feel a small area that opens up into a much larger chamber as you keep pushing in. Remember to be very gentle. From here, you’ll need to use your fingers and work your way around the horse’s penis. You can start to remove smegma from here. If your horse’s penis won’t drop, then this might be all the smegma you can get. To help, you can apply water and soap as much as needed.
  • Once you feel that everything is adequately cleaned, it’s time to look for the bean. It’s a kidney-shaped piece of dried smegma sitting in a pouch inside the urethra. Not all horses will develop a bean, but most will. Gently insert your finger into the urethral opening and start exploring upwards. You’ll feel a small lump like a stone or pea that’s sitting less than an inch from the urethral opening. Coax the bean out, taking your time to ensure you don’t cause any pain or damage. It could be a time-consuming process that moves in tiny increments. Once the bean is at the very tip of the penis, you can squeeze the end of the penis to force the bean out.
  • At this point, the hard work is done. Now, you need to rinse everything down well. If you only used K-Y Jelly, rinsing isn’t necessary. For those that have used soap, this step is vital. Using a spray bottle, hose, or sponge, thoroughly, yet gently ensure that any residue is removed. You’ll even need to send some water up inside the sheath, not just the exterior.
  • Hopefully, you used some serious gloves that prevented you from getting any smegma on your skin. If not, you’re going to need to use a heavy-duty cleaner and some elbow grease to try to rid yourself of the smell. Once you’re all cleaned up and the horse is relaxed and clean as well, the job is done.

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Conclusion

It’s not recommended that you clean your horse’s sheath without reason. Though many used to perform this task regularly, it can actually be detrimental for your horse since the smegma you’re removing serves a protective role. Still, if your horse does need to have its sheath cleaned, now you know how to do it in a safe and effective manner so that neither you nor the horse will get hurt.


Featured Image: Stephane Debove, Shutterstock