RBEI MASTER COURSES: EQUINE MANAGEMENT: MAINTENANCE 4
GENDER SPECIFIC MAINTENANCE
MALE SPECIFIC MAINTENANCE
If you own a gelding (or Stallion / Colt), you will need to clean his sheath every 6 to 12 months.
Your horse's sheath has a population of "friendly" microorganisms that help maintain a healthy balance within. If you clean it too frequently, you'll kill these microorganisms, disrupting this balance--and your horse's sheath is likely to get even dirtier. It's best to clean his sheath every 6 to 12 months.
To protect those friendly microorganisms, never use antibacterial soap. Use a commercial sheath cleaner, these products cut through the grease, have a pleasant odor, and make sheath cleaning easier. Warm water also helps cut grease--and your horse will like it better.
Some horses really resent this procedure and want to kick. You need to be careful, gentle and stand well forward, by your horse's shoulder, and reach back to his sheath. If he continues to threaten you, you can get a friend to hold one front leg up during the worst parts.
You can do a very thorough job even when your horse hasn't 'dropped' his penis simply by reaching up inside. In this case, you'll need to go in up to your elbow, so wear a long disposable glove to avoid getting the greasy, smelly smegma on your arm and sleeve. Ask your vet for an obstetrical glove--it's perfect for the job. You'll also need a bucket of warm water and about 20 heavy-duty paper towels. To clean your horse's sheath, put a generous dollop of sheath cleaner (about 2 to 3 tablespoons) in your hand, along with a wet towel. Reach up into your horse's sheath, and gently work the accumulated grime loose. When the towel gets soiled, grab a new one, and keep working until the towel comes back clean. Clean all the way from his sheath's opening up to the base of his penis. Depending on how dirty the sheath is, you may need to use additional cleaner as you go.
Once you've removed the smegma, check for and remove the bean-a ball of whitish goo that forms within a small pocket at the tip of your horse's penis. If not removed, a bean can get as large as a walnut and obstruct urine flow, which can cause your horse discomfort and potential harm. If you don't know how to remove the bean, ask your vet to show you.
Finally, rinse thoroughly with clean water and clean towels. Or, if your horse will tolerate it, run the hose up inside his sheath. You'll know you've done a thorough job when the paper towel in your hand comes out as clean as it went in, and the rinse water runs clear.
FEMALE SPECIFIC MAINTENANCE
Most mares will not cycle all year round, but instead cycle mainly in Spring / Summer. As day length begins to increase in late Winter / early Spring this begins to stimulate the production of hormones which allows them to cycle. Therefore for most horses in the southern hemisphere, the breeding season runs from the beginning of September until the end of February.
Mares will cycle approximately every 21 days during the breeding season. Of these 21 days there are 5 days when the mare is “in season”. A mare is in season when they are receptive to be bred. Ovulation occurs towards the end of this period, usually on day 5. Most mares will display certain behavioural signs when they are in season – these include showing interest in geldings “winking” of the clitoris, passing small amounts of urine etc. It is important to remember that some mares show no behavioural signs of being “in season”.
WHEN A MARE'S IN SEASON
Avoid approaching the mare from behind.
Begin grooming at the neck and shoulders before working back to the sensitive flanks.
Ovulation can produce pain.
Try to interrupt the heat-cycle symptoms only during work or riding sessions. Don't pick at her.
Consider focus-type lessons, such as ground poles and changes of speed and direction.
Typical signs that the mare is in season include holding the tail elevated, "winking" (opening and closing) the lips of the vulva and variable amounts of squatting and squirting of urine and mucus. A mare's level of activity usually slows down a bit, and she often seems preoccupied. It's more difficult to get and hold her attention, because frankly you're not the most important thing on her mind at the time. These are the signs of being in full-blown "heat," which will intensify gradually over a few days, then stop abruptly after she ovulates.
Just before coming into season, and often for the first few days they are showing signs, some mares are very irritable and sensitive to touch. They may threaten to kick or even bite. Part of this is because the hormonal changes are making her focus elsewhere so that she is more easily startled. Pressure-like pain from the enlarging follicle and/or pulsations in the ducts that will carry the egg to the uterus are also likely involved. Most mares actually become overly smoochy during this period, rather than touchy they will be all doughy and all over you instead.
WHAT SHOULD YOU DO
The first thing to understand is that you don't really have to "do" anything about your mare's seasonal behavior. It's a perfectly natural thing.
If your mare shows irritability and touchiness just before going into season, or while in season, understand first that it's because she's preoccupied and also may be uncomfortable. Don't punish her for this; try to work with her whilst maintaining safe boundaries. Just be considerate and if she isn't enjoying grooming skip it if you can, or minimize it as much as is possible.
Never approach her from behind during these times, unless you're sure she has noticed you are there. Start grooming her at the neck and shoulder, working your way back to the more sensitive flank regions.
Work around these cycles, it is totally natural and part of horse ownership.
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