Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Noble Asks for a Sheath Cleaning and I Worry About Dawn

The past couple of mornings when I've been grooming him before turnout, Noble has lifted a hind leg - or rather each hind leg as I move from one side to the other - when I'm grooming his sides and belly. I thought perhaps he was itcy from the bugs, and that seemed to be part of it, but he was getting more insistent, even turning his head around to look at me when he lifted his leg. And then I remembered something - there was a gelding at our barn who used to lift a hind leg in just that way when he wanted his sheath cleaned.

Now I've never cleaned Noble's sheath myself - I've always had the vet do it when she does shots. As a gelding owner (but I keep saying to myself "I'm really more of a mare person" to avoid responsibility!), I'm a wimp about it and have obviously been shirking my responsibilities. Once I had the lightbulb moment, I tried to feel if there was anything bothering him. It was clear that there was lot of gunk in there - he was happy to let me get it out - and I need to do a proper cleaning. Any advice on what to use as a cleaner - I don't want to irritate his tender bits - and procedure? I've watched the vet do it and have a general idea, but any help would be appreciated. Come to think of it, it would be better for him at his age (29) if he didn't have to be sedated to have his sheath cleaned. I can do this, right?

Now onto another confidence issue. As many of you know, I was kicked in the jaw a couple of months ago by Dawn - she wasn't aiming at me but I got nailed nonetheless - she wasn't looking out for me either. She's an odd little horse - very spooky and nervous but very dominant, too, and almost wild sometimes. She and my younger daughter have been wild things together for a number of years, but now Dawn is my responsibility since my daughter is at college. After getting kicked, I'm still pretty apprehensive around her, even though she's done nothing to really concern me since. It makes it hard for me to work with her. To quote Frodo from The Lord of the Rings - "I know what I have to do but I'm afraid to do it." There - I've admitted it - I'm somewhat afraid. I know exactly what to do with Dawn to work with her and get her wildness managed, but I still am apprehensive and worried about the whole thing. She's actually an amazing little horse, but I don't yet have a connection with her to work with. And this is the horse that I used to canter when she was barely off the track at age 4, without any problems!

Since I feel that way, and finally have acknowledged how I feel - it's a hard thing for a supposedly experienced rider and horse-handler to admit - I've decided that Dawn and I must become more comfortable with each other and build some sort of connection before we do much more. So today I groomed her outside - I still am reluctant to pick up her right hind and breathe a sigh of relief when I'm done - and then I just hung around in her stall. She mostly ignored me - her eye gets sort of hard and she doesn't look at me when there's no connection - but she did let me hold her head and rub her neck a bit, although she moved away when I tried to massage her anywhere else. I think we have a "you go first" issue - she's reluctant to trust me, because she can feel that I'm nervous, and I'm reluctant to trust her because - well, because she kicked me - and because she's nervous. I'm embarrassed and perplexed by this - and I call myself a horseperson!

I think if I just take a deep breath and do what I'm comfortable with, that we'll manage to build the connection just through spending some time together and our daily interactions. At some point I'll need to step up and ask her to do more for me, but I feel at this point I'm not ready. I think my confidence will come back, but we'll have to see. Any ideas for simple activities she and I can do together to build mutual trust (mustang people?)?


  1. I haven't cleaned Panama's sheath myself yet. However, he usually drops down when I groom him and he gets all relaxed, so I've been thinking about trying to do it myself, too. My vet doesn't use any products because he says they are too likely to cause irritation -- he just uses warm water and those blue paper shop towels you can buy at auto parts stores.

    As for Dawn, I don't know of any other specific exercises, but I think grooming sounds like a good place to start! With Panama (who was not a mustang, but was a rescue and fairly untrusting) I started out by creating a routine of grooming and treats, and although it took a while, I think that's what enabled us to start building a relationship.

    By the way -- the verification word is "peniz." Interesting choice for a post on sheath cleaning. :o)

  2. I think consistency will rule the day with Dawn, Kate, and I agree that doing no more than you are fully comfortable with is the only way to build confidence in yourself AND in the horse.

    I also don't know that I'd be inclined to let her away with much "wayward" behaviour of any type in the near future. Melissa and I have rehabbed several trainwrecks around here, and I've found that the connection comes easier when the horse in question fully respects that you are in control....just the same as he would with the lead horse in his group. To some this comes easily and to others it is definitely a challenge, but I do think anything is possible with enough consistency.

  3. And BTW please don't feel odd about being fearful of Dawn. She acted out (for whatever reason) and she hurt you in the process. I can assure you that if our roles were reversed, I would definitely be nervous around her myself.

  4. I'm sooooooooo glad that I don't have a gelding for the specific reason. I'm also finnicky about cleaning mare parts, but at least it's... you know... not weird.

    Good luck with Dawn. I find that steady, consistent work is the best way to overcome nervousness. Unfortunately, I think it's also the slowest way.

  5. One of mine loves being cleaned (bad luck for me) and I try to keep products to the very minimum to prevent an imbalance in the good/bad bacteria in there.

    You've taken the first step with Dawn..admitting there is a problem. Confidence takes small steps to build and only one big dent (as you had) can crash it in seconds. You're on the road, it'll be back.

  6. I use Excalibur sheath cleaning gel. It's green and may have tea tree oil in it. Both my Boyz and I had to get used to the whole idea because from what I was able to gather, nobody had made sheath cleaning a regular part of grooming. Neither of them will drop for me, so I just reach up in there the best I can. I keep rags at the ready on the off chance one of them does drop. Both of them have actually gotten used to having the hose aimed up in there and will stand for it, so I count that as progress.

    These are my first two horses, so I have had to do a lot of exercises to build my own confidence and mutual trust. Grooming and ground games helped me a lot. Also, try singing to her. Christmas carols are good because it's hard to feel tense or apprehensive when you're singing them. Sounds silly, but try it.

  7. Don't worry about having a confidence crisis moment Kate, I have them all the time!
    Now that you've admitted it you're already on the road to sorting it out. Routine, I think is the answer and as your confidence grows, so will your trust and as you begin to trust her, so, in turn will Dawn trust you.

  8. Kate - There are people who ride and then there are horsepeople. Anyone who can admit they are scared is a true horseperson. Think of that fear as an imposed barrier that will help slow down your work with Dawn so she has time to adjust to you. If you weren't fearful of her you might just start right in and she wouldn't be ready. Now, you will have to take slow baby steps. They may seem silly and slow to you and embarassing if anyone is watching, but it is the right speed for Dawn. Grooming is great, but also hand grazing/leading is so good for establishing a bond. I worked with a TB mare last year who was not easily won over. Her past was horrible and she thought people were the enemy. I hand grazed her until I thought I would die of boredom sometimes, but she needed that to understand that I was a friend. Grooming was not even permitted by her at first. Slowly we worked through it to the point where I was able to lead her, groom and ride. An amazing book (although it is a children's book from 1957) is called "Afraid to Ride" by C. W. Anderson. This book is so applicable because both the horse and the rider in the book are highly experienced. I don't know if your daughter was at the barn a lot recently with Dawn, but if so, then Dawn will also go through the same sadness you are feeling because your daughter is away. Again, a good reason to slow down the process. Don't worry what anyone else thinks of your progress. You want to be safe and the only way to be safe is to make Dawn feel comfortable with you. That won't come from hurrying her. Go for long walks together on a lead, allowing her to graze and sigh and just be with you. That is why I love leading over lunging. You are sharing the same experience when you go for walks on a lead rather than one part of the team standing in the middle while the other teammate is working on the outside. Together you can walk and later trot side by side. It is so good for forming a bond. Sorry, for the long comment - my two cents are always so long.

  9. Hey Kate thanks for the info on the flower in my pasture!! I must have missed your post about Dawn kicking you in the jaw! Oh my goodness, I'm glad you're O.K.? Do you feel comfortable leading Dawn to/in the round pen? Do you have one? I'd start out with just grooming her in there and what you feel comfortable with to begin. Then she'll realize when you're in there you mean business/work. Going outside is a good start, are you in an enclosed area? My trainer told me the stall and area you feed can be the worse places to groom or build trust. I agree with Jason....she needs to respect you. I'm speaking from my own experience with Derby! (With our set up we have to lead to the round pen) She prefers my husband handling her in her stall and on the ground (when I'm riding she is fine to me) but she knows I'm afraid of her(she bit me once when she was younger and a pecking order had changed with her and her brother, has never tried it again. I screamed because it hurt and backed her up for about 3 miles fast) not be ashamed of being afraid, it's a "healthy fear" that was instilled in our being and helps keeps us safe. I had to give myself permission for it to be "O.K." to not connect with certain horses....we bought Derby for me (I fell in love with her as a foal)but for some reason she really connected with my husband instead so I just let it be. Horses are kind of like the people we meet, some we really connect with right away and takes time then when you get to know them more and understand them you feel comfortable. My husband is a real laid back type and Derby is very sensitive to everything so his calm slow manner works well with her, I think it gives her assurance and she looks to him for confidence. I'm more energetic (move faster) and precise about things. I expect them to respond to me NOW not ignore me. My husband may put up with a whole lot more than I do behaviorally but I cannot afford to because of my size. I have to make myself bigger and more exaggerated or I'll get ran least with these young ones that we're training. He worked more with her and is trained to the way he does things (just like your daughter & Dawn) which has made it difficult for me to handle her. You may laugh but here's something I do when I get nervous....I whistle a happy tune softly. I can tell it calms the horse (why do you think cowboys whistled and sang out on the range, to relax)it's good for breathing that nervous energy away and good for the soul...I just feel better and helps me focus too. Hope this helps you you remember the movie "What About Bob" baby steps, baby steps, baby steps...LOL!

  10. Kate I think what you are feeling around dawn is healthy. I think sometimes we forget that any horse at any time can seriously hurt us. Then we get a reminder! Like Jason said we've had some real trainwrecks here as far as ground manners. My approach is very consistent in that I try to act exactly like a boss horse. We're friends and can hang out all day as long as the "beta" in question is being respectful. I won't hesitate to have a "come to Jesus" talk if I'm not being respected. Being really consistent with this approach has allowed me to forge relationships with some really tough horses over time. One of them was just flat out mean and extremely aggressive with his ground manners.

    Being totally frank I would not have let a couple of the horses even come if the owners had been completely honest with me about their horses. It is always after the horse is here and I start relaying things that have happened and hearing "yes, XXX does tend to act that way." Before they came it was "they can be a little pushy" on the ground sometimes. After they're here then I get the REAL story from both the owners and their horse.

    As far as sheath cleaning I usually use Excalibur. Be sure to get your fingertips up into the folds around the very tip of the penis to check for a bean. If Noble objects just take it slow and usually they will let you go all the way after a few days. I do have a couple of residents here though that have to be sedated in order to safely clean their sheath.

  11. I actually don't mind sheath cleaning. Too bad I live so far away, I'd come do it for you. I guess I just like making them comfortable and clean. Tucker on the other hand thinks it's totally invasive and will kick your head off, so he needs to be sedated to do it. I think perhaps he's wary since one time he lost a couple parts when someone went exploring there... haha.

    But seriously, I like Ex Calibur, because it gets nice and sudsy and I think gets things very clean. People have also told me that KY Jelly works best, so you could try that too. I use latex gloves so I don't accidentally scratch any tender skin with my fingernails. Not that I have long nails, but still. Use warm water and lots of suds/gel. Just put a bunch of gel in your hand and insert, gently scrubbing to remove smegma, and repeating and rinsing as necessary. Clean out the bean last once things have had a chance to soak and soften up a little. Just be aware that's usually the part most horses dislike, so even if he's been fine for everything else, he may react once you start feeling around in the tip for the bean. If Noble will let you, when you are done you can actually insert the tip of the hose into his sheath (with low water pressure of course) to give everything a thorough rinse. I usually rinse that way once and then do another gentle scrub and rinse again. Before I quit, I scrub their belly and the inside of their hind legs with Ex Calibur, just in case there is external smegma that needs to be removed. I am sure you will be just fine.

    And don't let your emotions get the best of you with Dawn (easier said than done) though of course you have every right to feel afraid. Focus on the positive aspects of your relationship, and take things as slow as you need to. You SHOULD call yourself a horseperson, because you are a great one. Which is why I have every confidence that you will figure things out with Dawn.

    Whew... this is a long comment! Hang in there Kate and keep us posted!

  12. I use Excalibur for sheath cleaning too. I work it around really good in there, especially around the folds at the end of the sheath, and then I let it soak while I go in and get a bucket of warm water. I reach up in there with little squares of old towel, wet with warm water, to try to get all the gunk scrubbed off. Recently I had a really good idea for the rinsing, since I'm not willing to use cold water from the hose. I used a cleaned out squirty bottle that had had agave nectar in it. It has a cone shaped squirting end. An old-fashioned ketchup bottle would work too. I just kept my finger next to the tip to make sure I didn't poke him hard with the plastic, and rinsed many many times, refilling from the bucket of clean water, to make sure I got all the Excalibur out. Tonka has an especially nasty sheath that needs cleaning every 3 months. He doesn't like the procedure but he cooperates. Speaking of which, I need to do that again very soon.

  13. Sounds like your fear of Dawn hurting you will eventually turn into the healthy respect she deserves. As you get to know each other better with your daily handling, trust will come for both of you. You have the know-how to build this relationship, I just wanted to remind you that altho Dawn can sense your fear, she probably has no idea that it's a fear of her, so is nervous around you because she's looking for what you're afraid of. Just a thought.

    Easy ideas? I like leadline work, almost like dog-training in that they start moving when you move and stop instantly when you stop--just from your body language. You can add in turns and try to fool them so it becomes a game, etc. I feel very safe being next to their shoulder, even if they're nervous types. I use this as an obedience-building thing when I get a new horse. They seem to "get it" quickly and there are usually lots of moments when you can praise them. I use a rope halter, at least to start, so you get enough respect and carry a dressage whip. You can keep adding challenges--lead over cavalletti, onto plywood, thru doorways, backing up--whatever. This is more work than just going for a walk, but it lets you be pro-active (leader) instead of reactive (follower).

    Finally, when you are checking for beans in the sheath, they usually come in 3's. A vet told me that years ago, and I've found that he was right. Sometimes you'll find the biggest one and think you're done unless you look a little longer.

  14. Haven't used Excalibur (and I'll have to look into it now!) but the vet here and one of my vet books both recommended a mild, warm, Ivory dish soap solution.

    Sunny's never minded as long as he gets clicked a couple of times in the course of the cleaning. Thunder objected the first time - he basically lifted one hind leg very slowly on the side I was working on and used it to push me away. Not a kick, just a, "hey! that's uncomfortable!" notice. I went back to small steps and more frequent clicks with him initially, and he's been a champ ever since.

    I think others have described the process pretty well - one thing I'd add: for comfort's sake, if you have long-ish fingernails, it's not a bad idea to trim them a bit or wear rubber gloves...

    But it really does help to have someone stand at their head and let you know what they're thinking about!

  15. Hi Kate, sorry to be a little behind on my blog reading....

    The sheath cleaning thing is not for Fawkes and I to do. He will try to kick my head in or anyone elses head that gets to downright personal. I Have to let the vet take care of that one. I do keep an eye on it when he drops to make sure it doesn't look to bad.

    And as far as the being afraid of your horse that kicked you in the face... I would think of it as more of being respectful of thee dangers and less than of being scared. Yes, you have work to do and a relationship to build with Dawn. She needs to trust you as the leader as well as to respect your personal space. I have a strong feeling that you already know what you need to do to make it all work out. And in the end a stronger bond will be created.


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