The Sunday Jog-Up: Tips from a Groom


Do you ever stare in awe at the sleek shiny horses, the glistening brass, perfect braids, and dazzling white marks at a CCI trot up?  Do you ever wonder how they get that way?  (LOTS of hard work is the correct answer!)  Each Sunday morning we will bring you a little insider info on how the big-time grooms manage an upper level event horse.  Feel free to email or comment with specific grooming questions if you have a topic in mind!

Previous entries:  Quarter Marks 

Extreme Makeover: Button Braids , Part II

Extreme Makeover: Taming the Tail

Extreme Makeover: Mane Event

                          Shank You Very Much

                          Organizational Skills

                          Know Your Rules

                          Safety First  

                          Odds & Ends

                          What About Tack? Part I , Part II

                          Shining, Shimmering, Splendid

                          A Close Shave

                          Get those white legs white!

Have you enjoyed the Sunday Jog-Up grooming tips? Have you been trying them out at home?  Is it working?  Have you failed?  (Does your horse hate me?)  Did you discover any new tricks of your own?  Please share your stories!  I would love to hear your experiences, and any before/after photos if you have them.  I plan to do an upcoming Jog-Up featuring reader reviews, so I need your input!   Send any and all trials and tribulations to [email protected].  Thanks for reading!

Today’s topic is one of the less-glorious grooming tasks… cleaning your male horse’s “man cave” and associated hardware.  One of the geldings on the farm had a swollen sheath today, prompting me to stick my (bare) hand in there up to my elbow.  Why I always seem to do this with my LEFT hand, gunking up my watch, I’ll never know.  I’m right-handed, but the left one is always reserved for the icky stuff.  My exploratory mission revealed a huge mass of “bean” goo, resembling yellow Play-Doh (childhood will never be the same).  It took nearly 20 minutes of gentle scraping to get all the gunk out of the “bean hole,” in what was probably the nastiest sheath cleaning experience I’ve ever performed.  Thankfully there were no awkward witnesses to the process, and the gelding was cooperative enough to stand still without kicking or flinching.

You KNOW you’re a horse person when you discuss such procedures in public.  At dinner.  In great detail.  The frequency of this task varies among owners… generally most consider it a once-yearly dreaded procedure (like Tax Day), though some very dirty geldings need cleaning more frequently, 2-3 times or more per year.  Then of course, there are horses who go years between cleanings, if ever, and seem to do just fine.  As a rule of thumb, if you see streaks of black goo (Pony Club calls it “smegma”) or notice a peculiar odor from your gelding’s flank, it’s probably time.  If only geldings came with “Change Oil” lights on the dashboard..!

I considered doing my own write up of sheath cleaning How-To, but I could come up with nothing to match this original article by Pat Harris.  It’s been floating around the ‘net since 1999, so I’m sure many of you have read it before.  But I think it’s always worth another chuckle, so here you go…

Sheath Cleaning

Stick my hand up where!? One of the joys of owning a gelding is periodic sheath cleaning. This is a mysterious topic to some, so Pat Harris wrote these instructions which she posted on Equine-L.


Step 1) Check to make sure there are no prospective boyfriends, elderly neighbors, or Brownie troops with a line of sight to the proceedings. Though of course they’re probably going to show up unexpectedly ANYWAY once you’re in the middle of things. Prepare a good explanation <vbg>

2) Trim your fingernails short. Assemble horse, hose, and your sense of humor (plus, ideally, Excalibur cleanser and perhaps thin rubber gloves).

3) Use hose (or damp sponge) to get the sheath and its inhabitant wet. Uh, that is, do this in a *civilized* fashion with due warning to the horse; he is apt to take offense if an icy-cold hose blasts unexpectedly into his personal regions 😉

4) Now introduce your horse to Mr Hand <g>. What I find safest is to stand facing the horse’s head, with my shoulder and hip snugly against the horse’s thigh and hip so that if he makes any suspicious move such as raising his leg, I can feel it right away and am in any case pressed so close that all he can do is shove, not really kick. The horse should be held by an assistant or by your free hand, NOT tied fast to a post or to crossties. He may shift around a good bit if he’s not happy with Mr Hand’s antics, but don’t be put off by that; as long as you are patient and gradual, and stick close to his side, he’ll get over it.

Remember that it would be most unladylike of you to simply make a direct grab for your horse’s Part. Give the horse a clue about what’s on the program. Rest your hand against his belly, and then slide it back til you are entering The Home of the Actual Private Part. When you reach this first region of your destination, lube him up good with Excalibur or whatever you’re using.

5) If the outer part of his sheath is really grungy you will feel little clods and nubblies of smegma peeling off as you grope around in there. Patiently and gently expedite their removal.

5) Thus far, you have probably only been in the outer part of the sheath. The Part Itself, you’ll have noticed, is strangely absent. That’s because it has retired shyly to its inner chambers. Roll up them thar sleeves and follow in after it 😉

6) As you and Mr Hand wend your way deeper into the sheath, you will encounter what feels like a small portal that opens up into a chamber beyond. Being attentive to your horse’s reaction, invite yourself in <vbg>. You are now in the inner sanctum of The Actual Private Part. It’s hiding in there towards the back, trying to pretend it isn’t there. Say hi and wave to it <vbg>. No, really, work your finger back and forth around the sides of it. If the horse won’t drop, this is your only shot at removing whatever dried smegma is clinging to the surface of the Part itself. So, gently explore around it, pulling out whatever crusty topsoil you find there. Use more water and more Excalibur if necessary to loosen attached gunk.

7) When Mr Hand and the Actual Private Part have gotten to know each other pretty well, and the Part feels squeaky clean all around, there remains only one task: checking for, and removing, the bean. The bean is a pale, kidney-shaped accumulation of smegma in a small pouch just inside the urethra. Not all horses accumulate a bean, but IME the majority do, even if they have no visible external smegma.

So: the equine urethra is fairly large diameter, and indeed will permit you to very gently insinuate one of your slimmer fingers inside the urethral opening. Do so, and explore upwards for what will feel like a lump or “pea” buried no more than, I dunno, perhaps 3/4″ in from the opening. If you do encounter a bean, gently and sympathetically persuade it out with your finger. This may require a little patience from BOTH Mr Hand AND the horse, but the horse will be happier and healthier once it’s accomplished. In the rare event that the bean is too enormous for your finger to coax out, you might try what I did (in desperation) last month on the orange horse: Wrap thumb and index finger around the end of the Part and squeeze firmly to extrude the bean. Much to my surprise it worked and orange horse did NOT kill me for doing it and he does not seem to have suffered any permanant damage as a result ;-> I have never in my life seen another bean that enormous, though.

8) Now all that’s left to do is make a graceful exit and rinse the area very thoroughly in apology for the liberties you’ve taken <vbg>. A hose will be MUCH easier to use here than just a sponge and bucket, IME. Make sure to direct the water into the Part’s inner retreat too, not merely the outer part of the sheath. This may require you to enfold the end of the hose in your hand and guide it up there personally.

9) Ta-da, you are done! Say, “Good horsie” and feed him lots of carrots. Watch him make funny faces at the way your hands smell. Hmm. Well, perhaps there is ONE more step…

10) The only thing I know of that is at all effective in removing the lovely fragrance of smegma from your hands (fingernails arms elbows and wherever else it’s gotten) is Excalibur. Even then, if you didn’t use gloves you may find you’ve got an unusual personal perfume for a while. So, word to the wise, do NOT clean your horse’s sheath just before an important job interview or first date 😉

and of course, there is that one FINAL step…

11) Figure out how to explain all this to your mother (or the kid from next door, or the meter reader, or whoever else you’ve just realized has been standing in the barn doorway speechlessly watching the entire process. <vbg>)

Now, go thou forth and clean that Part 🙂

Copyright 1999 Patricia Harris; for reprint permission please email [email protected]

A few additional details:

KY jelly or generic water-based lube (go to Tractor Supply for large quantities) is also a good product to loosen gunk.  Others prefer baby oil.  You can slather the greasy stuff up in the sheath, let it sit for a few hours (or a day) to loosen all the smegma gunk for easier removal.

Latex gloves come in handy to keep the crud from building up under your fingernails, where the sickening smell will linger for a very long time.

– If you’re truly that squeamish, your vet (or ask your barn friends who does “weenie washings”) can do it for you.  The vet can also sedate the horse to make him drop for easier cleaning, also helpful for those horses who are overprotective of their “man cave.”

– Speaking of vets, drugs, and dropping, some smart-minded horse owners schedule Sheath Cleaning Day with another medical procedure requiring sedation, like floating teeth.

What about mares?  Mares get gunk, too.  The folds of the udder often accumulate dirt, sweat, and grunge, and also require cleaning.  A rag, some soapy water, or baby oil is all you need.  Mares are much less intimidating, at least anatomically…there is no monstrous cavern to swallow your whole arm, and all parts are external and possible for visible inspection.  Like geldings, frequency of cleaning is largely dependent upon owner preference and the individual horse’s level of cleanliness.  Be careful!  In my experience, mares are often more sensitive than geldings about handling between the hind legs; however, most can be trained to tolerate it.

Do you have any good weenie washing tips or stories?  Share in the comment section!

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