California Riding Magazine • August, 2013

Horsey Humor:
A Lesson from Down Under

by Bob Goddard

It's normal for a young girl to dream about having a horse. It's equally normal for a parent to dream about preventing this. While the girl fantasizes about cantering across a rolling meadow in the soft summer breeze as her friends look on with desperate envy, her parents get mental images of six a.m. feedings in the dead of winter, big vet bills, and the logistics of manure disposal. However, if you are a parent who wants to close the fantasy-reality gap as quick as possible, there is no need to lecture your daughter about responsibility, money, or mucking stalls. Instead, introduce her to a process known as "sheath cleaning."

To be honest, I've never had first hand experience with sheath cleaning. And I have yet to witness the procedure. Heck, until recently, I wasn't even sure what a sheath was. I was pretty sure it was a horse part, but for all I knew, it was located between the horse's ears. It's not.
For the three or four of you who are as ignorant about equine anatomy as I am, the sheath is a pocket where a male horse parks his privates when he is not using them. Due to the manner in which a male horse's underside is arranged, not all of his privates go into the sheath. To be accurate, only The General does.

The sheath has a reputation for collecting unpleasant matter. The process of cleaning it is messy, offensive, and embarrassing. Even the terms associated with sheath cleaning sound repugnant: sebaceous glands, squamous cell, smegma bean. If you truly wish to liberate a child from the fantasy and romance of owning a horse, this is the place to do it. One trip down under and she'll be asking for a mountain bike instead.

In the horsepeople community, sheath cleaning is not a taboo subject. Experienced horse owners are earthy people and most accept sheath cleaning as a necessary aspect of horse care. They don't mind talking about it. As long as they don't actually have to do it, they're fine. And while they have no problem discussing the subject, they don't exactly advertise it either. Imagine this:

"At Oakboard Dressage Training Center, our trainers are first rate, our facility is top notch, and our horses have the cleanest sheaths in town!"

Or this:

"Horse for sale: 15.3H Chestnut Gelding, 5 yr. Excellent mover and jumper. Good manners, super disposition. In desperate need of sheath cleaning. $7,000 ... no, make that $700."

According to experts, the sheath must be cleaned every two to six months. My guess is that more people go with the six than the two. You need to be aware of a condition called "Smegma Accumulation." (If I didn't know what it meant, I would have considered Smegma Accumulation to be a great name for a racehorse.) In order to prevent Smegma Accumulation, you must wash the area with a gentle soap such as Pure Liquid Ivory. Or better yet, hire someone else to wash the area with Pure Liquid Ivory. You (or the person you hire) will also need a sponge, buckets of warm water, baby oil, nose plugs, a blindfold, and courage.

What about latex gloves, you ask? After all, this process involves coaxing the General out of his barracks and sometimes this requires a hands-on approach. Despite this, one expert contends you don't need gloves and in fact you're better off without them. This same expert believes that some horses actually learn to enjoy the process.

I hope not.

Sheath cleaning is a dirty and sometimes dangerous business, but somebody has to do it. As a parent, you play an important role in making sure it's not you.