To Clean On Or Not To Clean Your Horses Sheath

As a body worker for horses, I see many a horse (namely geldings)  drop their penis out as a normal reaction to the relaxation process of muscle work for horses as they enjoy their dopamine fix and it is not uncommon to see them in all stages of health and well-being, from the really manky kind to the very healthy . 

The horse’s penis is housed in what is commonly known as the sheath, which is a double fold of skin that covers the drawn up penis and helps protects the horse’s penis.  A dirty sheath, a building of debris, often a mixture of urine and dirt, can lead to an infection or urinary problems within the horse.  Glands that line the sheath, called sebaceous glands produce a secretion called sebum and it is when the sebum mixes with the build up of sloughing skin cells, urine and dirt it forms into a grey coloured material (although I have seen it many colours from yellow to black) called smegma, can build up and form into a soft, waxy deposit or create hard, dry flakes attached to the skin of the penis and has the potential to create infection and urinary tract issues and if the sheath lining becomes irritated, soreness and swelling can make it difficult for a horse to let down his penis and urinate effectively.   If the smegma, is trapped within the head of the penis, this can form what is commonly called a penis bean, which has the potential to create serious health issues for the horse, not only in the urinary tract, but also in the muscular structure of the horse, as he compensates to relieve himself from pain and literally relieve himself.

Ideally, in the wild, horses would work this lubrication naturally through having sex, however, in the domesticated horse this is not the case and the build up can and does occurs.

In my experience in working with horses that have a penis bean or an extreme build up of smegma in the sheath, I have found that many a gelding will have lower back issues across the kidney area, aren’t able to fully utilize the muscles of the back for full flexion, aren’t able to take up the bit and work effectively from behind and tends to have a more open stance in the hind quarters and has limited forward flexion in his hind legs.

If you suspect your horse has a dirty sheath (which can be clearly seen) or a “bean” in his penis, here are a few signs/symptoms that he may exhibit:  He may or may however, not display all symptoms

  • Lower back pain
  • Soreness in the hind quarters
  • Doesn’t drop his penis down to pee
  • Doesn’t pee straight, pees off to the side
  • He over stretches his legs and body to pee
  • His urine can be darker than normal and thicker
  • Restricted urine flow
  • Tends to hold his back legs apart
  • Holds one leg up or on tiptoes to pee
  • Kicks up and towards his stomach
  • Change of behavior – more cranky than normal
  • Not moving freely
  • Not engaging his hind quarters
  • Not engaging his back fully and wont round
  • Wont work on the bit correctly
  • Unpleasant odor
  • Swollen sheath
  • Swollen head of the penis


 A male horse’s genitalia is very sensitive, so if you are for cleaning the sheath and removing the bean from the head of the penis you need to proceed carefully as not only can it be tender and very sore, most horses do not like their “manhood” being touched and strike and kick out.

Not every domesticated male horse (gelding and non working stallion) has this problem.  Whilst some are prone to an excessive buildup of smegma, others have very little and there is a contentious issue as to whether or not a sheath should be cleaned as a preventative measure or be left alone and let nature take its course.

There are those people that are for cleaning the sheath and those that are against, and those that are in favour of washing a horses sheath do so under the belief that it good hygienic practice and reduces the chance of infection and agree that any excessive buildup can lead to irritation and inflammation, which in turn can make the sheath swell making it difficult for the horse to urinate and if a stallion, the inability to perform his duties properly.

However, in saying that many people will argue that a horses sheath self cleans, and in the performance of pro-creation it is also cleaned.  Cleaning the sheath can have the potential to affect the natural bacterial levels and also damage the sensitive skin on the penis and within the sheath itself.

However, as an equine body worker I certainly believe it is advisable for geldings and stallions to have their sheaths cleaned at least once a year or more often depending on whether or not the level of build up created within the sheath is excessive and is essential for their over all well-being.

If you feel the need to have your horses sheath cleaned and you are unable to do it yourself, consult your vet or a person who is well informed and equipped to do it for you.  Some horses refuse to have their sheaths cleaned and will need sedation by your vet, which will relax him enough for him to drop his penis out for easy cleaning access.  Some beans eventually work their own way out and some of them are so large, that they may need surgery for their removal.

In many cases, the horses that I see with rather inflamed sheaths, with a build up of smega,  aren’t cleaned because the owner of the horse are disgusted by the fact of having to do such a job and are too embarrassed to be seen holding the sheath for cleaning.  It is a necessary practice of good horse management in the ownership of a horse. 

So if in doubt, contact your vet and seek professional advice on any bean removal and sheath cleaning to find out which is the best method  that best suits you and your horse and whether or not sedation is an option.

Mary Hitchcock is an experienced body worker for horses and  has a professional service providing sheath cleaning for geldings in the Macedon Ranges, Victoria, Australia.  Should you require this service please contact her directly via facebook or