It's important to be able to handle your horse well to be able to clean the udder. Some articles recommend sedating the horse, which is an unnecessary practice in general horse care and should be reserved for an unhandled horse requiring urgent care. With time and patience it is quite achievable to be able to clean your horse's udder without sedation.
There needs to be a distinction in udder care to four cases:
- Non-lactating mares.
- Mares in early pregnancy.
- Mares in late pregnancy.
- Lactating mares.
1. Non-lactating mares.
It's a good idea to regularly run your hand over your horses udder, particularly between the teats for any build and more frequently in summer. In summer ticks can easily attach themselves to the soft skin of the udder and gain easy access to the udder when the horse is lying down to rest or even roll.
I rarely wash my horses' udders, as I rarely use shampoo on them, as I dislike stripping the natural oils from the horses. I only apply a spray or wet them if insects are biting or there is crust between the teats that is not peeling off easily.
It's natural for mares to have a black thick waxy build up of sebum between the teats. However this can build up and become crusty. When this happens it can be gently peeled off with the fingers. If it resists at all, then it is preferable to wet or oil between the teats first. This can be done with plain water or adding a few drops of essential oils. A soft baby oil or skin so soft oil can be used to soften the crust and help removal. This build up does not need to be removed very often. Possibly only once or twice a year. As it's natural and shouldn't be entirely stripped from the udder.
If there's any sores from summer itches, a dilute mixture of an iodine solution can be used to wash the udder and does not need to be rinse.
The udder can also be washed with shampoos suitable for horses, but this is something I'd recommend reluctantly, as it is liable to dry the skin out.
During summer or when there's any issues with parasites or fungus, it's important to check the udder. I spray my horses udder lightly with the same insect repellant I use on the remainder of the body, this helps keep ticks at bay.
In a paddock where there's ticks, I will check the udder several times a week. If there's no issues and the udder has no obvious sores I will only check it once a month during summer and less during winter.
2. Mares in early pregnancy.
When a mare is in early pregnancy, care needs to be taken on what is applied, as there's many things, including some essential oils, that can be damaging to the unborn foal.
In this case just check it for crusts and leave it alone as much as possible. Ticks can be hand picked off for that short period of gestation when the organs are being formed. In my opinion it's better to be safe than sorry.
In this case
3. Mares in late pregnancy.
Many horse owners will check the pregnant mares udder regaularly in the late stages of pregnancy to check if it's bagging up, and if the teats are waxing, signs that foaling is due. Some people like to test the milk. Personally, I prefer to leave it alone. Unless there's an issue with it, I just observe and usually take photos of the udder to check for changes.
As discussed under the next section, it's important to leave the sebum from the sebaceous glands to help protect the udder for a feeding foal.
4. Lactating mares.
As with early pregnancy, nothing can be put on the udder that can cause harm to the foal. When a mare has a foal at foot, it's best not to do anything with the udder than keep an eye on it for any unusual appearance. If it needs to be washed, do so cautiously, as anything you wash the udder with, will go into the foals mouth. It may also cause a distaste for the foal and disrupt the foals feeding. The foal also knows the mother's smell, as does the mare know her foal's smell and it's important not to disrupt the natural rhythm of nature that facilitates the bonding process, that ultimately leads to a strong and healthy foal and a settled and secure mare.
If you've regularly checked your horse's udder pre-pregnancy and during pregnancy and removed excess build up between the teats, there's really no need to touch the udder while she is feeding. The foal will nuzzle against the teats and pull on them to stimulate milk production. All the waxing build up from the sebaceous glands between the teats will serve to protect the teats. Any mother who has breastfed will understand the need to care for the teats, as causing the teats to dry out at all can cause feeding to be painful and lead to other issues like mastitis and foal rejection.
The less human interference between a mare and her foal, the better it is for both of them.
Usually with horses, less is more.