Sheath Cleaning - All washed up?

Once or twice a year, whether he thinks he needs it or not, your guy should get a good washing. I'm talking about your gelding or stallion, and I am referring to a thorough sheath cleaning. It doesn't have to be as big a deal as you may think. Most male horses don't really mind, as long as you are gentle. Sedation is not always necessary. Usually, this task can be carried out rather simply and easily, and in a relatively short amount of time. Your horse will thank you for it, too.

Tail rubbing is sometimes an indication that the sheath and penis need to be cleaned. There may be accumulated smegma, a combination of natural body oils and dirt, irritating the tender skin inside his sheath. The next time your male horse urinates, take notice if there are flakes and scales being shed from the penis, or a greasy buildup. If so, it is time for a thorough washing.

Get all your supplies handy first so your water does not get cold. You will need:

2 soft washcloths or several gauze pads

Sheath cleaning lotion or gel, or very mild soap

Disposable latex or plastic gloves, optional

Two buckets of clear, clean, warm water

A few drops each of Calendula and Hypericum tinctures in a gallon of warm water

Dry towel


Most horses, if not in extreme discomfort, will allow cleaning without sedation, especially if they have been handled correctly as youngsters. A horse will often drop his penis if you softly and slowly rub his belly.

Disposable gloves may be worn, not so much for fear of contamination, but rather to avoid carrying the odor with you for several days.

Use one washcloth and bucket of water for washing and save the other for rinsing. Gently, and with warm water, wet the penis with the washcloth. Apply a warmed sheath-cleaning product or mild soap to the cloth or gauze. (Immerse the closed container in the bucket of warm water until warm.) Apply the cleaner liberally to the penis. Scrub gently but thoroughly to remove the dead skin and smegma. Smegma can also accumulate in the small pouch in the tip of the penis at the urinary outlet. It may form one or several small, firm "beans" that can cause discomfort. Carefully pull them out. Rinse thoroughly with the clean water and cloth. Dry the area and yourself with the towel.

Avoid using strong soaps or disinfectants because they may destroy the beneficial bacteria that live on the penis and actually encourage infection.

If the penis is not dropped, you can carefully reach into the sheath and gently try to pull it out. If the penis is still not dropped, it is possible to clean the penis while it is inside the sheath. You will need to be farther under the horse to do this, because you will be reaching far into the sheath, so use caution. Lubricate your hand generously with the cleaning gel or mild soap and carefully slip it inside to distribute the cleaning solution. Don't try to use the cloth; the washcloth won't fit, and the gauze may get trapped in there. A thin, soft, fabric glove may work best. You'll have to scrub with your fingers and by feel.

When cleaning the penis while it is inside the sheath, be sure to get all the way to the base of the penis. There is a second chamber 'hidden' behind the first chamber and you need to reach back in there to distribute the cleaner and work the grime loose. Carefully remove any beans from the tip of the penis as well.

Rinsing will be more difficult, and must be done thoroughly. A squeeze bottle or huge syringe with flexible hose or tubing attached is useful, or you can use a douche bag or bottle. With one (ungloved) hand inside the sheath, slip the tube in with the other, feeling with your hand to guide it well into the rear chamber. Rinse well several times with plenty of clear, clean, warm water, removing all traces of soap from the folds to avoid skin irritation.

As a final soothing rinse, use a few drops each of hypericum and calendula tinctures in a gallon of warm water. This will relieve any discomfort and encourage healing if there is any irritation. It is antiseptic, and also helps repel insects.

Lubricating the penis with mineral oil or a specially formulated sheath cleaner a day or two ahead of time will make the cleaning easier because it loosens and softens the scales, thus causing less discomfort to the horse.

The gentler you are, the easier the next time will be for both of you.

And don't forget to give him the carrot.