To those of you not so much interested in the gentleman’s portion of the male horse, this post may well contain too much information. But as a lot of my thinking over the last few days has been focused on this area, so too is this blog post.
For any who are not clear on these matters, the horse’s penis, when not in use, telescopes back into the body and is contained within a pocket of skin known as the sheath, where it is protected and out of the way. Only the outer layer of skin on the sheath is exposed to the environment when the penis is fully retracted.
Recap on the situation with D:
A couple of months ago D fell over in canter. Common consent is that he wasn’t quite right beforehand, although there was nothing you could put your finger on. Post fall – walk was dodgy, trot was a no-go. The physio declared him sore in both withers and one hamstring and put it down to jarring injuries from hard fields. Gradually I bought him back to work until at the beginning of last week we were working happily in all three gaits again.
On Tuesday we were suddenly back with a bump to a dodgy walk and a no-go trot. What happened?
Well back at the original physio visit I remember telling her, “I imagine it’s unrelated, but his sheath is pretty swollen from fly bites.” She agreed it was probably fly bites and didn’t think it was related. It subsided as the weather changed and the flies were less of a problem as it was cooler with a lot of wind. But when the weather got warmer and the wind dropped the flies came back, they bit his sheath and it swelled. On Tuesday it was suddenly very swollen again. It could be a coincidence that on Tuesday he was suddenly unridable again, but I suspect not.
My theory, such as it is:
Flies bite sheath. Sheath swells in reaction. To avoid soreness, D stands with his weight over his front legs and his back legs in awkward positions and remains in these positions for hours, and walks funny when he moves, resulting in abnormal use of his muscles, leading to stiffness and soreness and being unable to trot safely with a rider aboard.
What to do?
Of course we had to have a thorough sheath cleaning to ensure it was just fly irritation and there were no foreign bodies tucked up inside him. Since that was ticked off the list I’ve spent a while cold hosing his sheath to bring down the inflammation, and getting him moving to aid his circulatory system in getting rid of the swelling. In terms of preventative measures his allergies to commercial fly repellents make things more difficult. Ideally I would use a fly-repellent-cream on his sheath but can’t really make one of those at home the way I do his fly spray. So we’ve started slathering his sheath in Sudocrem (a thick antiseptic cream marketed mainly for nappy rash but often used on the yard for cuts, minor skin ailments etc) in the hope that it will be a barrier that the flies won’t get through that easily. Some bloodsuckers are still getting through but I think it’s greatly reducing them. There also is something quite amusing about a black horse with bright white cream highlighting his nether regions!
I have spent so much time staring at his privates, and at those of other horses for comparison in the last few days. I am fortunate that he has no issues these days with my handling his junk and, considering his dislike of water, he’s been very good about the cold hosing.
The physio was supposed to come out on Friday but she was unable to make it because her own horse needed to see the vet. She’ll reschedule when she can. Not ideal but I can’t fault her excuse!
Unfortunately, all this intent inspection of his male anatomy has revealed a tiny area of concern. On the underside of the black skin of his sheath there is a tiny white growth, the size of the head of a pin, which is proud from the surrounding flesh. My fear is that it is a sarcoid tumour. My hope is that it’s just an innocent wart. I photographed it today and will check it daily. If it starts growing or changing I will be getting the vet out to it sharpish. Sarcoids are a type of skin cancer thought to be caused by a virus transferred in fly bites and they are not uncommon. The tumours do not spread beyond the skin but they are difficult (and expensive) to treat and can be horrific. Based on the images on the internet (warning, do not image search it unless you have a seriously strong stomach and are feeling particularly brave and even then think twice, seriously) this does not look like any of the various types of sarcoid, but I will be watching it very closely. A friend whose horse has several sarcoids has looked at it and agrees that it might be, but equally it might not be. Because it’s on the underside of the sheath it’s not a place you usually see, so I’ve got no idea whether it’s just appeared or whether it’s been there for a while.
So if you see me bent down and staring at the underside of a horse, don’t be surprised – that seems to be my normal posture of late and I’m definitely going to be keeping an eye on things over the coming days and weeks!
P.S. I’m feeling a bit better myself and so more positive than when I last posted. Thanks for all your good wishes. I still haven’t felt well enough to try riding him again yet, but hopefully tomorrow I’ll be ready for that.