What are the basics of sheath and udder 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.
The results of cleaning a sheath and around the urethra.
Cleaning a sheath or udders is actually pretty simple - if you know how. 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 from your Veterinarian about cleaning around the urethra to get the "beans" out.
Assuming you have been shown and instructed by your Vet, here are a few of my tips that I find useful:
Use gloves and warm water. Gloves for you, and warm water for your horse. Take your time.
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 super mild, pure soap that is heavily diluted in warm water. Ivory is a good bet. Non-pure soaps (like most of your dish soaps) also contain some icky chemicals and if you imagine what "dish pan hands" would be like on your horse's privates, then you probably won't use them.
I would also suggest doing this in the washrack, so that the nice warm water is available and convenient.
After applying some warm and soapy water into the sheath or udders, move on to other chores for a minute and then come back to peel and massage away the smegma. 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 horses with little objection.
Always keep your spare hand on your horses 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.
A few more thoughts on this sheath and udder cleaning subject, since it can be a hot button topic.
- 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. So maybe you can only barely touch 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.
- There is a school of thought that says it's unnatural to clean these areas, as the smegma is there for a reason, and wild horses don't have anyone cleaning their sheaths and udders. So, after a lengthy discussion with my own Veterinarian about this, we agreed this typically doesn't apply to domesticated horses. We house them differently, exercise them differently, and we also feed them differently. Also, wild horses breed regularly. Most of our horses are gelded.
- No oils or petroleum based products. These are not water soluble, so the residue won't wash away without a detergent.
- Know that the "bean" in geldings can cause urethra and urinary problems. While rare in horses, urinary tract issues dangerous and a great reason to know if your horse is urinating normally. You can learn more about normal horse urine here.
- 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!
What works for you and your horse?