SubscribeGift a Sub
Enable cache 100

Ask the Expert: Sheath Cleaning

Q: I have a gelding and was recently told that I should clean his sheath to remove the bean. What are beans, and do all geldings get them? What would happen if the sheath was left uncleaned?



A: It is common practice to clean a male horse’s sheath yearly. This is usually done at the time of dental work while the horse is already sedated. The beans you refer to are an accumulation of secretions and debris that form within a small dead-end pocket (urethral fossa) at the end of the penis. If large enough, it is possible for a bean to obstruct urination. You might see this as urine splatter on the fronts of the rear legs, the horse urinating in fits and starts, or urine spraying in odd directions.

Not all male horses develop beans, and some develop only small beans. Some beans are soft and gooey, while others are firm and well-formed.

In addition to developing beans in the urethral fossa, male horses accumulate flaky and cheesy material within the sheath; this should be cleaned annually, as well, preferably before fly season. The extent and consistency of this accumulated material within the sheath is somewhat dependent on the ground; your horse kicks up dirt into the sheath as he rolls, adding to sweat and normal skin secretions within the sheath. The collection of all the secretions, dead skin, and debris is referred to as smegma, which is typically gray to black in color. In horses lacking pigment in the sheath and/or penis, the secretions may be pale pink or cream-colored. Each horse is different in how much smegma he produces. Some horses will rub their tail in response to a dirty, itchy sheath.

It is good hygienic practice to have your vet clean your horse’s sheath each spring and to remove accumulated beans at that time. This is also an opportune time to check for the development of skin growths or cancer, such as squamous cell carcinoma or melanoma—common tumors that often develop within the sheath or along the penis.

NANCY S. LOVING, DVM, is a performance horse veterinarian based in Boulder, Colo., and is the author of All Horse Systems Go.


This article originally appeared in the May 2014 issue of Horse Illustrated magazine. Click here to subscribe!

Recent Posts

ASPCA’s Right Horse Adoptable Horse: He’s a King Kite

Welcome to Horse Illustrated’s weekly installment of the Right Horse Adoptable Horse of the Week, offered in partnership with the…

6 days ago

2022 FEI World Eventing Championships – Conclusion

Pratoni del Vivaro, Italy – The Land Rover U.S. Eventing Team has officially secured qualification for the Paris 2024 Olympic Games,…

1 week ago

2022 FEI World Eventing Championships – Kickoff

The Lazio region in the picturesque countryside of Italy southeast of Rome is hosting the 2022 FEI World Eventing and…

1 week ago

Nikovian Equestrian Enters the Ring

It is amazing what a little frustration can make someone do. Madison Smith, founder of Nikovian Equestrian, never met a horse…

1 week ago

US Equestrian Announces Land Rover U.S. Eventing Squad and Alternates for 2022 FEI Eventing World Championship

Lexington, Ky. – US Equestrian is pleased to announce the combinations selected to represent the Land Rover U.S. Eventing Team…

2 weeks ago

US Equestrian Announces Land Rover U.S. Driving Team for 2022 FEI Driving World Championship for Four-in-Hand Horses

Lexington, Ky. – US Equestrian is pleased to announce the two athletes selected to represent the Land Rover U.S. Driving Team…

2 weeks ago