Wednesday, November 16, 2011

How in the world?!

...I've been wondering... did a city girl like me end up .... well.... where I ended up yesterday?

Please note: this blog post is rated PG-13

Murphy, our Appendix gelding has been looking been looking, from certain angles, a bit "stallion-like" the past couple of days.  He's had some swelling... um... down there, if you know what I mean.

R noticed it first, and when I looked it was obvious that something was going on down there. But what?

Hmm... what to do?

Call the vet, of course... then, when he doesn't call me back, look online for advice. (I've heard that there is a definite shortage of large animal vets these days and I can believe it... our equine vet is ALWAYS impossibly busy!) The vet finally called me back and confirmed what I'd read online... a horse's sheath can become swollen if he's just standing around (like Murphy was doing during the cold snap we recently had) or when the sheath needs cleaning.

I was hoping, of course, that a little exercise was all it would take to set him to rights... So R and I lunged him, and took him for walks, and turned him out into the big pasture for a nice meander around to look for some grass that might still be green.

Sadly, it wasn't enough... even with all that exercise he was still looking as if someone had hung a couple of baseballs from his belly.

Which meant it was time to clean his sheath... and as I prepared for the journey "inside" I found myself wondering just HOW I'd gone from a civilized one dog owning person with a nice tidy life in the suburbs, to someone who was actually considering putting my hand where Murphy apparently needed a bit of help with his hygiene.

How come no one ever talks about sheath cleaning when they talk about the joys of horse ownership?

It seems like this is something everyone even remotely considering buying a male horse should be educated about so they can make an informed decision about whether or not they really want to take that step (and maybe decide to buy a mare instead... or even just settle for a hamster).

Anyway... Murphy's sheath is now clean. He wasn't crazy about the process, but only kicked me once... (and he didn't really mean it, and I saw it coming anyway ;) ).

If you have never experienced the joy of cleaning your gelding's sheath, and have no idea what I'm talking about, I am posting what is supposed to be the classic list of instructions for your enjoyment and education.

Read through and count your blessings that you weren't here to help!

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.

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

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 (grin). 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.

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. 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 . 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 my 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 permanent damage as a result ;-> I have never in my life seen another bean that enormous, though.

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 . 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) 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.

Now, go thou forth and clean that Part!

By Patricia Harris Copyright 1998

Since cleaning his sheath Murphy's swelling is going down, thank goodness, and I think we've managed to avoid the vet needing to make a trip out. :)

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