One Way It Doesn't Pay to "Go Natural"

By Sara Tatnall

Sara and Bif, enjoying one way of 'going natural'

The response of many people to the task of sheath cleaning is the same - "Why should I do that? It's disgusting, and besides, wild horses don't need their sheaths cleaned!"

I believe that the four main reasons why many horses do not get their sheaths (or udders) cleaned often enough are as follows:

-"Wild horses don't need anyone to clean their sheaths." Many people cling to this excuse to justify their avoidance of performing something unpleasant.

-"I didn't know that it was important to do." Ignorance is a very common excuse.

-"That's gross!" Many people think that their own desire to avoid performing unpleasant tasks is more important than their gelding/ stallion's comfort and well-being.

-"Out of sight, out of mind." A horse's sheath is not exactly the center of attention. Unless he is in the habit of "relaxing" frequently, the condition of his inner appendage is not very noticeable.

-"I don't know how." Some don't even consider cleaning their horse's sheath because they don't know how.

In response to the first excuse, it is correct that "wild' horses do not need people to clean their sheaths. In the wild the stallions keep their own sheaths clean by living naturally and breeding with the mares (when they can). There are no geldings. Wild horses have less access to toxins, chemicals, preservatives, and other additives, from feeds and other domestic exposures, and therefore have less "extras" to eliminate through the skin.

The second excuse is not acceptable - every horse owner should know about the importance of a clean sheath. In response to that and the third excuse, here is some valuable information that hopefully will encourage you to put your own interests aside and go clean your horse's sheath. Sheath cleaning (be it in the wild or in the barn) removes the build up of a natural lubricant called smegma - which can become a sticky, grey to black, foul smelling substance of the consistency of cheese, formed from secretions of skin oils and sweat mixed with dirt and dead skin cells - from around and on a male horse's penis. If not taken care of properly and punctually, the buildup can cause great discomfort to your horse. Accumulations of smegma within the sheath can compromise mobility and prevent your horse from dropping his penis when desired, such as during urination. Compacted smegma within the folds on the end of the urethra form what is known as a "bean", a hard collection of smegma resembling a bean. This "bean" puts pressure on the urethra, causing pain which discourages the horse from urinating. Another complication of smegma buildup occurs when there is a collection around the exterior head of the penis. This results in a swelling of the penis and is extremely painful at all times, but especially during movement (including riding). The horse becomes understandably grouchy and reluctant to move.

This stated, you would probably agree with me when I say, "Simply not thinking about it is not a good excuse." It may be out of sight, but your horse's sheath can be kept "in mind' by simply marking it on your calendar. I suggest that every horse's sheath should be thoroughly cleaned about twice a year.

For those who are not aware of how to clean a horse's sheath, you could employ your veterinarian to perform the cleaning, or you can learn to do it yourself - see Natural Horse, Volume 1, Issue 4, accessible in the Magazines online at www.naturalhorse.com. (If you don't have a fabric glove, I have found that using an inside-out sock works well, as the rough texture helps to exfoliate the smegma.) Another helpful (and humorous) article can be found online at www.angelfire.com/az/clickryder/hand.html. Please remember that a great deal of care should be exercised during the sheath-cleaning process to avoid a possible kick.

To safely and effectively dissolve the smegma, I suggest that you either make a natural cleaner such as "Do It Yourself" in this issue describes, or invest in a mild, non-irritating, lubricating cleaner such as Excalibur® Sheath Cleaner for Horses, formulated specially for cleaning sheaths. Other cleaners like "betadine' surgical scrub, antibacterial soaps, or even mild soaps can irritate and dry out your horse's skin, disturb the pH balance, and destroy the beneficial organisms in this delicate area. Excalibur won't dry the skin, and contains Tea Tree Oil and other friendly ingredients. When applied (directions can be found on the bottle), it softens and loosens the smegma so that it can be more gently, easily and quickly removed, which makes for a happy horse and human!

If your horse accumulates a lot of smegma or seems to need frequent cleanings, consult your veterinarian because it can be an indication that there is a nutritional imbalance or other underlying problem.

Leaving a sheath to clean itself is fine in a totally natural environment but not in domestication, especially not for geldings. While there may be some horses whose lifestyle and health are so close to natural that they seem to never need it, that is not the case with most horses. When the opportunity presents itself, instead of making silly remarks, take a look.

I can only hope that this article will make a difference in the lives of many horses. I encourage readers to share this information with others and to encourage them to properly care for their horses as well. When we take an animal out of its natural habitat, confine it, and force it to live a domestic life, we are agreeing to take responsibility for that animal and care for it in the best way that we possibly can. Although not all of the tasks are pleasant, this sacred agreement is one that should never be broken.


About the author:

Sara Tatnall is a student in Norfolk, Massachusetts. She owns a 23-year-old thoroughbred, Biff, who she still competes as a dressage horse, and he is kept in top condition using her knowledge of natural horsemanship, natural horse care, and barefoot trimming. (See Biff on NHM cover, Volume 5, Issue 5.) Sara moved to Massachusetts three years ago after growing up on an 83-acre horse farm in Pennsylvania.

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