Desirai Schild


Sunshine between snow showers means it’s time for equine spring cleaning.

As well as shoveling out the barns and getting the spring shots, it’s time for tooth floating and sheath cleaning.

Horses’ teeth grow continually and need to be filed down smooth annually. They often get sharp hooks on the outside of the teeth that dig into the cheeks and cause discomfort and behavioral problems. Horses that have trouble putting on weight also should be checked to see if their teeth are in optimum condition for eating.

All vets do tooth floating and there are several equine dentists that also perform that service. Some people prefer the equine dentists because they specialize only in horses’ teeth. I won’t advertise for anyone but most riding arenas have contact info on the dentists they favor. Trainers usually also have favorites.

I trust my vet and utilize her 40-plus years of equine experience when it comes to spring vetting. She floats my horses’ teeth, gives the necessary shots and cleans my gelding’s sheath in one efficient visit to her clinic. The tranquilizer the vet gives serves double duty to keep him relaxed during tooth floating and sheath cleaning.

Geldings and stallions should have their sheaths cleaned annually. The problem tends to be more acute in geldings than stallions because stallions are usually cleaned prior to breeding or artificial insemination collection. Older horses also are more inclined to need frequent cleaning.

Male horses collect a smelly, sticky substance called smegma inside their sheaths. It comes from a buildup of dirt and urine. This can cause great discomfort and even infections. Sometimes there will be swelling of the sheath and interference with urination. Any signs of problems urinating require veterinary attention immediately.

Another sheath problem is a “bean.” This is formed when dirt, sweat and fat cells, surrounded by mineral salts, form near the urethra. It can be as small as an actual kidney bean or as big as an inch across. They also can cause infection and even interfere with urination. This can causes horses to either spray urine or to stop several times during urination because of pain.

My gelding is tranquilized by the vet so he drops his penis to make cleaning and bean removal easier. Smaller beans can be removed by hand. Larger ones may need to be crushed and removed in pieces, either by hand or by instruments.

Smegma and beans can cause behavior problems if they become serious enough. Mark Rashid, a well-known horse trainer, often shares in his books a story of a gelding that came to him because he had gone from being a reliable mount to being was utterly fractious and unpredictable under saddle. Rashid closely observed the horse and realized he was very uncomfortable when he moved for some reason. By eliminating other causes, such as muscle or joint pain or ill-fitting saddle, Rashid was left with the possibility of a painful bean.

The vet found a bean the size of a walnut. Rashid and the vet both said the bean was causing the horse enormous pain and it was the largest either had ever seen. Once the bean was removed, the horse became calm, quiet and willing.

Many people choose to clean their horses’ sheath themselves. It takes a bucket of soapy water, mineral oil, plastic gloves and some betadine as disinfectant, lots of cotton batting and a horse that is willing to let you pull out his penis and clean it without tranquilization.

There are countless books and instructional videos available on how to clean a sheath. Your vet also would probably be delighted to show you how it’s done.

Mares also benefit from a cleaning of their udders. Smegma can accumulate around the teats and cause irritation and discomfort. Once introduced to the cleaning process, most mares welcome the gentle cleaning and the removal of materials causing discomfort.

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