How to Clean a Horse's Sheath

This grooming chore isn't fun, but it's an important part of keeping your horse health.

Published February 16, 2023
Washing horse hoof

A male horse's sheath is a very sensitive area, and cleaning it can be tricky. The sheath is the tissue covering your horse's penis, and over time debris and smegma accumulate inside. There are several ways to clean a horse's sheath, including using disposable gloves or washcloths. You'll find many options at any tack shop. The most important thing is that you keep everything extremely clean when working around this sensitive area.

What Is a Horse's Sheath?

The horse's external sheath covers the tubular double fold of skin called the prepuce that, in turn, covers the penis and protects it from injury. The sheath is made of two layers of skin that meet at the bottom of the sheath.

The prepuce is loose, elastic skin. It folds back on itself to form a double tube, which allows for expansion during erection. It also contains sebaceous glands that secrete an oily fluid known as smegma. Smegma is a combination of sebum and desquamated epithelial cells that helps protect against infection in this area. Excess smegma is what you want to remove.

Why Does the Sheath Need Cleaning?

In stallions, regular sexual arousal and sexual activity naturally loosens smegma - and during planned breeding, stallions' sheathes are typically cleaned before and after.

However, in geldings, regular sexual activity does not occur. As a result, horse owners need to regularly check and clean their gelding's sheath to remove smegma and check for "beans." A bean is a tough, waxy clump of urine, calcium, and debris that can act as a plug and block normal urination.

Condition Your Horse to Cleaning

The first step to cleaning your horse's sheath is to make sure that the horse is comfortable with you and the grooming process. This is why it's best to start working on getting your horse used to the process when they're a colt, so that by the time they're an adult, grooming has become routine.

Some horses will naturally be more receptive than others, but if your horse seems hesitant at first, try feeding them treats during each grooming session, while leaving their sheath alone. This will help establish trust in both directions. You'll have no problem getting close enough to touch him later when his sheath needs cleaning.

Getting Prepared

When you are cleaning your horse's sheath, it is important to work in a well-lit area that allows you to see the area you are working on. This helps ensure that your horse will not be hurt. You can use a bright light source, such as a lamp or spotlight, positioned to shed light on your horse's sheath. This helps to make sure everything is visible as you progress through the process of removing debris and smegma from inside his sheath.

Once you have an appropriate spot picked out, gather your tools. You'll need the following:

  • Disposable gloves. Elbow-length gloves will work, but some horse owners prefer full shoulder-length rectal sleeves for cleaning.
  • Appropriate, mild soap - such as Ivory soap or something similar - to clean the area. Alternatively, you can use a product designed for sheath cleaning.
  • Cotton swabs
  • Clean, warm water
  • Two buckets; one for soap, and another for rinsing
  • Trash can
Need to Know

Never use antibacterial soap to clean your horse's sheath. Their sheath contains beneficial microorganisms that help protect your horse from infection, and an antibacterial product can disrupt the natural balance.

Getting Started

Before you start, assess the horse's comfort level. If he is not comfortable, stop and try again later.

  • Be very delicate. If you are too rough, you can injure your horse.
  • Designate one hand your "clean hand," and the other your "dirty hand." Your dirty hand will be performing the actual cleaning, so most horse owners use their dominant hand.
  • Pick cotton swabs soaked in the warm water and gentle soap from the bucket and pass them from your clean hand to your dirty hand.
  • Use the cotton swab to clean the outside of the sheath first to remove any residual dirt or debris from around his penis and sheath.
  • Gently put a clean cotton swab into your horse's sheath, and wipe away any smegma and debris. You can use a safe lubricant at this stage to help with irritation.
  • As the cotton gets dirty, throw it away.
  • Repeat this procedure until you have removed most of the loose debris and smegma. You will have to insert your hand deeper int the sheath as you progress, but remember to be gentle.
  • Once you feel you have removed as much debris as possible, pour a small amount of your soap product into your dirty hand.
  • Use your soaped hand to degrease your horse's sheath, working the soap around to break up additional debris.
  • You don't need to remove every speck of smegma and debris. Your horse's sheath has natural bacteria and flora that need to remain intact for optimal sheath health.
  • Carefully rinse the sheath with clean, warm - not hot - water
  • Look for any beans, especially at the tip of penis, in what is called the diverticulum. If you find a bean, carefully use your finger to wedge it out.
  • While you are cleaning the sheath, inspect it for any abnormalities, such as abrasions, warts, or infections. If you see anything unusual, contact your veterinarian.
  • Pat the area dry using a clean, slightly damp cloth. Do not use a dry cloth, as this may irritate the area. Go very slowly and gently.

Choosing a Lubricant

Some veterinarians recommend using a gentle, safe lubricant for cleaning. There are many different types of horse lubricant, but you should avoid any products that contain petroleum or hydrogen peroxide, as they could be irritating.

It's important to use a product designed for cleaning the sheath. The best options are products like Trifecta Sheath Cleaning Concentrate, which is safe for use around horses and contains lanolin, an oily substance produced by sheep. Apply the liquid directly to the sheath and let it sit for at least 10 minutes before rinsing off.

Make sure the lube is safe for the sheath itself. Some lubricants can leave residue on the inside of your horse's sheath, which can cause irritation or infection. Use a product that won't cause this problem. You also shouldn't use anything with fragrances or dyes.

Retracting the Penis

If your horse is not retracting his penis, you may need to push it back by hand. Use a clean finger to gently push the penis back into the sheath. If your horse is being stubborn, try using a soft cloth instead of your fingers for this task.

This is typically only necessary when horses are sedated for sheath cleaning. Only consider sedation under the direct supervision of your veterinarian.

Why Sheath Cleaning is Important

Regular sheath cleaning is important for many reasons. First, it will help prevent infections from occurring in your horse's sheath. A dirty sheath can get infected, which is known as "sheath fever."

Second, cleanliness helps prevent scrotal swelling. Third, it can help prevent hematomas by keeping the area clean and dry. Fourth, regular cleaning can help prevent abscesses in the area by reducing the risk of infection and keeping the area dry and clean.

Consult Your Veterinarian

Taking care of your horse's sheath is important, but it doesn't have to be difficult. If you clean your horse's sheath regularly, he will be happier and healthier in the long-term. If you have any questions or concerns about your horse's health, contact your equine veterinarian for advice.

How to Clean a Horse's Sheath