Male Horse Hygiene

If you own or care for a stallion or gelding, either you must become educated about sheath cleaning, or you should have your veterinarian or an experienced horse person handle the task.
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Male Horse Hygiene
The sheath of a male horse needs to be periodically cleaned, but this chore is often neglected by horse owners. | Photo: Erica Larson/The Horse
The sheath of a male horse needs to be periodically cleaned, but this chore is often neglected by horse owners. Some are reluctant to deal with it; others might not know how to go about getting it done. However, as the caretaker and owner of the horse, either you need to become educated about process, or you should have your veterinarian or an experienced horse person handle the task so your gelding is healthier, and ultimately happier.

The sheath is a double fold of skin that covers the drawn-up penis. A dirty sheath, with a buildup of debris from a mixture of dirt and urine, can lead to infection or urinary problems. Glands in the lining of the sheath, called sebaceous glands, produce a secretion called sebum. When this secretion mixes with dirt and sloughing skin cells, it forms a gray to black material called smegma. Sometimes these secretions build up and accumulate into a soft, wax-like deposit, or create dry, hard flakes.

Most male horses develop buildups of old secretions and dirt, which then irritate the sheath and penis and cause problems. If the sheath lining becomes irritated, soreness and swelling can make it difficult for the gelding to let down his penis to urinate. Dirt, sweat, and urine salts (and fat cells excreted in the urine) can collect near the sheath’s opening, mixing with the smegma, and cause irritation. A dusty or dirty environment can worsen the problem.

It’s not as problematic for a breeding stallion as for a gelding because the penis is usually cleaned prior to breeding or prior to semen collection with an artificial vagina. If the stallion is not used for breeding purposes, then the same problem can develop as occurs in the gelding

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Heather Smith Thomas ranches with her husband near Salmon, Idaho, raising cattle and a few horses. She has a B.A. in English and history from University of Puget Sound (1966). She has raised and trained horses for 50 years, and has been writing freelance articles and books nearly that long, publishing 20 books and more than 9,000 articles for horse and livestock publications. Some of her books include Understanding Equine Hoof Care, The Horse Conformation Handbook, Care and Management of Horses, Storey’s Guide to Raising Horses and Storey’s Guide to Training Horses. Besides having her own blog, www.heathersmiththomas.blogspot.com, she writes a biweekly blog at https://insidestorey.blogspot.com that comes out on Tuesdays.

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