What Is Sheath Cleaning & Why Do Horses Need It?


Horses, specifically geldings need to have their sheaths cleaned about once a year to keep everything clean, healthy and free from infection. Why do horses need to have their sheaths cleaned anyway? What kind of stuff builds up in there?

What Is Sheath Cleaning?

Sheath cleaning is the cleaning and removal of dead skin and build-up on a gelding’s penis and the protective sheath around it. This process is sometimes done by horse owners, but it is recommended to have a veterinarian do the cleaning. In most cases, horses need to be sedated for sheath cleaning because it is not uncommon for a gelding to kick in response to the invasion of personal space.

What Is A Sheath?

A sheath on a horse is just the protective skin that the horse’s penis retracts into. Sheaths are only seen in geldings and stallions. Mares do not have sheaths.

Sheaths keep a horse’s penis clean, warm, and safe. A horse will only release his penis from the sheath if he’s urinating, mating, or very relaxed. Because the horse is constantly pushing out and pulling in his penis, there is often urine and dirt that are being pulled back into the sheath. Dirt, sweat, urine, and dead skin can build up into a nasty pasty substance known as smegma.

Why Do Horses Need Their Sheaths Cleaned?

Geldings and stallions alike need to have their sheaths cleaned at least every six months to a year. Horses need to have their sheaths cleaned to remove the constant build-up of smegma and things called beans.

Beans in a horse’s sheath are basically hardened balls of smegma and crystallized urine that can attach to the urethra. In extreme cases, the beans on a horse’s urethra can actually partially block the flow of urine. Both of these things need to be cleaned out of the sheath to prevent infection and the growth of bacteria.

Cleaning a horse’s sheath also lets the veterinarian, or whoever is doing the cleaning, check for abnormalities in the sheath and on the penis. Things to look out for would be lumps, bumps, scrapes, cuts, infections, abscesses, and more.

How Often Do Sheaths Need To Be Cleaned?

A horse’s sheath needs to be cleaned regularly meaning at least one to two times a year. If a horse’s sheath is not cleaned, smegma and beans can grow and build up so much to the point where the horse’s flow of urine from the urethra is reduced and restricted.

The recommended number of times a sheath should be cleaned is once every six to twelve months. Some horse owners, however will clean the sheath and penis more often. This is more common to see in breeding stables where the stallions need to be kept clean and healthy for the frequent visits from mares and veterinarians. The most frequent sheath cleanings I have heard of occur weekly if not daily.

Another reason why sheaths might be cleaned more frequently than once or twice a year is if a horse has a fly allergy. One of my good friends had an old pinto who was badly allergic to flies. She had to clean beans and smegma out of his sheath and from his penis all the time or else the flies would be attracted to them and begin to bite and irritate his sheath and penis causing painful swelling and the creation of sores.

Where Is The Sheath?

The sheath and the penis of a horse can be found between their hind legs and behind the horse’s flank. The sheath is mainly inside the horse and it contains the horse’s penis. The sheath protects it and keeps it warm. The sheath is responsible for containing and releasing the penis as needed.

The sheath will release the penis when the horse is very relaxed, if the horse is urinating, or if the horse is mating with a mare (this only occurs in a stallion’s case).

Process Of Sheath Cleaning

Step 1: See If Sedative Is Required

Before you clean the sheath, try to touch your horse’s sheath and feel around inside. If the horse stands okay for your touching they are most likely okay with you cleaning them up.

If your horse tries to kick out at you and doesn’t want you handling their naughty bits, a sedative might be required to go through with the cleaning to be safe.

Step 2: Prepare Materials

To clean your horse’s sheath you will need cotton, clean water, and some sort of soap. I have seen veterinarians use a gently dish soap, but using a surgical scrub is a great option as well.

You will need to soak the cotton in the water and add your soap to the water as well. Once you have warm soapy water for the cleaning, you should be good to start the process.

Step 3: Tie The Horse Up Or Ask Someone For Help

If your horse will stand nice for you, it should be okay to tie the horse to a fence or other stable structure for the procedure. Even if your horse stands good for you, I would still recommend having another person there to hold their halter and lead rope in case the horse freaks out.

Veterinarians will usually have a veterinary technician come with them to these kind of jobs to hold the horse, but I have also held my horse for the veterinarian when they are cleaning him up.

Step 4: Clean The Sheath And Penis

The final part is cleaning! Make sure to remove any beans that have formed on the penis at the urethra. This will automatically make urinating more comfortable for the horse, especially if the beans are partially blocking the urethra. The next thing is to gently exfoliate the penis to remove any flaking dead skin. Finally, clean out and remove any smegma that has built up in the sheath.

Use the cotton in the soap water you prepared to wash out the smegma and to exfoliate the flaking skin. Once finished, use clean cotton without any soap and wash off any remaining smegma and soap residue left behind.

Hailey Johnson

Horses have been my passion ever since I can remember. At school, I was known as that weird horse girl, and I would read horse encyclopedias for fun. Over the years since those days, I have only learned more. My experiences with horses of a variety of breeds have taught me a lot. Now I want to share what I know with you!

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