Yes! Horses have sweat glands like other animals. They sweat as part of their cooling system. Horses sweat a lot, especially during exercise. They may also sweat when ill, nervous, or under duress. Horses tend to sweat a lot when relieving heat build-up after a trail ride, running and when they are being trailed. In most cases, sweating is a good thing for horses. However, it can be a cause for concern.
How Do They Sweat?
During exercise, a horse’s muscles generate heat – a byproduct of metabolism. Horses remove the heat when breathing as well as through the skin. If this isn’t enough to slow down heat build-up, the horse will start sweating to accelerate cooling and return the body temperature back to normal.
Horse Sweating Process
The process of sweating starts with physical activity. The heat generated by working muscles is circulated by blood from the muscles to the lungs. Some of it gets released when the horse is breathing while the rest is radiated out from the body via blood vessels near the skin.
If a horse is producing a lot of heat (more than they can be able to release through radiant cooling and breathing), the core temperature will start rising beyond the normal resting temperature of 99 to 100 degrees Fahrenheit.
This sends signals between a region in the horse’s brain (hypothalamus) and the sweat glands marking the onset of sweating. The sweat glands start pumping out sweat, which is mostly water and electrolytes. As sweat evaporates, it carries the heat away, resulting in a cooling effect.
Horse Sweating Vs. Human Sweating
Horses sweat differently when compared to humans. Unlike human sweat, a horse’s sweat contains more electrolytes (dissolved minerals) than human sweat.
As a result, horses tend to lose electrolytes faster than humans. In fact, horses tend to have a white lather/foam when they are losing electrolytes. The lather/foam is usually present on a horse’s neck or between their hind legs where their hide makes contact with the reins.
Do Horses Sweat A Lot? How Much Does A Horse Sweat?
During exercise, a horse will produce approximately 4 gallons of sweat per hour. This will obviously vary depending on factors like weather and exercise intensity. Horses are bound to sweat the most when they are subjected to intense exercise during hot weather.
While 4 gallons of sweat per hour may seem like a lot of sweat, horses can drink 20 gallons of water daily, sometimes more. When compared to humans, horses are capable of sweating twice as much per square inch.
During intense exercise such as endurance training, polo, or cross-country racing), horses lose the most sweat. Their intense cooling needs can result in additional water loss via water vapor when exhaling.
Unlike humans, a horse doesn’t need to be dripping sweat. On hot, dry days, a horse’s sweat can evaporate very first to the extent of going unnoticeable. At the same time, your horse may not get thirsty immediately. In fact, humans get thirsty faster than horses.
What Does A Horse’s Sweat “Tell” You?
Sweat is a good thing for horses. Any horse that goes through a relatively intense exercise/activity period should sweat. Sweating is an indication that the horse’s cooling system is working properly. Horses that drink enough water don’t have problems sweating after receiving the recommended one hour or more of exercise in a day.
However, excessive sweating is a sign of underlying problems, especially if your horse hasn’t exercised. You should see a vet immediately, as this may be a sign of underlying sickness. In the meantime, keep your horse on his/her feet walking.
You can wash/bath your horse to help him/her cool down. However, this remedy depends on the air temperature. Sweating problems can be eliminated by a horse shower that washes away dirt, sweat, and grime that may be clogging sweat glands.
When Should You Be Worried?
Sweating may not stop a horse’s body temperature from increasing. While this doesn’t matter if it is temporary, prolonged increases in body temperature can be a problem. This can occur in long-distance races, where stress on the body is long-term. Hot humid weather can make the problem worse since sweat doesn’t evaporate fast in humid air. As a result, sweating doesn’t serve its intended purpose in humid weather.
Your horse’s physical condition is another factor to consider. Horses manage their body temperature best when they are fit. The reason behind this is simple – fit horses use energy better, resulting in less heat. The resulting sweat also contains fewer electrolytes.
It also helps to get your horse used to hot weather. Horses that are used to high temperatures regulate body temperature better. If your horse is exposed to hot weather during exercise for 1 to 2 weeks, he/she should be able to prevent overheating.
Heat Index Indicating Overheating
You should focus on the heat index (a combination of relative humidity and air temperature) to get a precise measurement of how hot it is.
Horses that aren’t able to regulate their body temperature risk overheating and suffering a heat stroke resulting in a sudden rise in internal temperature (106 to 110 degrees Fahrenheit).
If the horse is sweating excessively, he/she may suffer dehydration resulting in other problems like compromised circulation and digestion. This can, in turn, cause organ damage and death in extreme cases.
General Attitude Changes
A horse suffering from heat problems will give general attitude clues noticeable as the desire to eat, and drink. While the severity of heat problems may vary from one horse to another, most hoses that build up excessive body heat become fatigued and exposed to serious consequences. They can turn down food and choose water instead. Severely dehydrated horses can be so depressed to the extent of refusing to take both food and water.
A small hydration loss is enough to alter a horse’s performance. As a result, water should be readily available at a show or during trail rides. Rides/exercise for long periods without water is a problem. Horses should have a choice to drink water whenever they feel like to avoid problems like excessive sweating.
Prolonged Hard Breathing
If your horse is breathing hard, this is a cause for concern. Horses take rapid and shallow breaths after exercising in warm weather. However, the rapid breathing should slow down after a while to the normal resting rate. It can be followed by panting to increase the rate of cooling down. If the breathing rate is hard and prolonged, there is cause for alarm.
Prolonged High Temperature
During intense workouts, a horse’s temperature can rise to 106 degrees Fahrenheit fairly quickly. You should be concerned if the temperature doesn’t start dropping (by 1 to 2 degrees) within 20-30 minutes.
Poor Skin Resiliency
A well-hydrated horse has skin that easily snaps back in place when pinched. When dehydrated, the skin takes time to snap back. It will remain folded for a while then flatten slowly. You can test for skin resiliency by pinching your horse’s skin at the mid-neck and shoulder.
You can listen to your horse’s gut using your ear or stethoscope. Listen to both sides of his flank for noises. A healthy horse has a noisy gut characterized by healthy gurgles or bubble noises. You should be alarmed by a quiet gut or one with little noises.
The “quiet gut test” works because horses hold a lot of water in their guts and use this water when the need arises. When dehydrated, gut motility slows down, resulting in digestive problems i.e., things stop moving via the intestines. Acting fast can help save your horse from heat-related problems.
What To Do If Your Horse Sweats Excessively Or “Overheats”
1. Consider A Cold Water Bath
You can hose or sponge your horse with cold water to cool him/her down. However, this remedy works only in hot and dry weather. In hot and humid air, the water may fail to evaporate and produce a cooling effect.
For this remedy to be effective in humid air, hose your horse repeatedly while “scrapping off” the water and hosing again to initiate a heat transfer. Alternatively, you can use some alcohol and water mixture since alcohol dissipates heat better than water.
2. “Fan” Your Horse
Blowing air with a fan can also help your horse cool down. A misting fan will work better if available since it utilizes water vapor to reduce air temperature.
3. Give Your Horse Plenty Of Water, Small Amounts At A Time
A horse that has lost a lot of water sweating should be given a chance to replenish that water. Ideally, horses should be allowed to drink small amounts of water (approximately a gallon) at a time to avoid dehydration.
4. Replenish Lost Electrolytes
Electrolytes must be restored after they are lost excessively from sweat to restore internal balance and trigger thirst. Electrolytes protect horses from dehydration. They also regulate muscle function, among other processes. They are made up of minerals (mainly sodium, potassium, chloride, magnesium, and calcium).
When horses sweat excessively, they lose these minerals in large quantities, yet they play a critical role. In typical cases, horses don’t need electrolyte supplements. If a horse eats a balanced diet comprised of good forage and commercial feeds with balanced minerals and vitamins, he/she will be able to replenish lost electrolytes during a 1 to 1.5 hour a day workout in moderately warm weather.
The horses that need electrolyte supplements are those that compete as well as train at the highest levels, in hot or humid conditions. Replenishing electrolytes makes sense when:
Your horse has engaged in significant physical activity that has resulted in excessive sweating (a wet neck, chest, and sides). A wet patch under your horse’s saddle isn’t enough to warrant electrolyte supplementation. What’s more – a single dose of electrolytes is enough to replenish lost electrolytes. Giving your horse water alone will only dilute their electrolyte pool.
Electrolyte supplements can be administered orally (as a paste), dissolved in water, or mixed with feed. You should consider a high-quality commercial electrolyte supplement and administer it as recommended. Alternatively, you can make a homemade electrolyte supplement using table salt and potassium chloride in a 3:1 ratio.
Give your horse 2 ounces for every hour of excessive sweating/activity. The supplement should also be given alongside clean water and feed/forage to avoid irritation. Electrolytes are known to irritate a horse’s mouth and empty stomach.
FAQs About Horse Sweat
Why Is Horse Sweat White?
The foamy white sweat is linked to the ingredients in a horse’s sweat. One of the main ingredients is Latherin – a protein that also qualifies as a non-glycosylated surfactant. Latherin acts like soap. It is slippery and contains ingredients with water repellent characteristics. The white sweat is produced when Latherin’s soapy properties are activated by rubbing. This explains why horse sweat is only foamy in areas where there is friction.
While it’s usually a cause for concern among individuals who aren’t experienced with horses, the foamy sweat is a confirmation that a horse’s cooling system is working. Horses that don’t sweat or sweat partially may be suffering from anhidrosis.
What Does Horse Sweat Smell Like?
Horses have a unique odor like all other animals, and their sweat tends to smell the same as their body odor. This smell can vary from one horse to another depending on many factors, from diet to exercise levels, husbandry, body region/part, and even gender. The scent can be described anywhere from earthy to natural with a hint of pungency, especially during the hot season when horses are bound to sweat more.
Where Are Horse Sweat Glands?
Horses have sweat glands located all over the body. They have two types of sweat glands – apocrine glands (the primary ones located all over the body) and eccrine glands located in the feet (frog).
All healthy horses sweat, and it’s for the same reasons all animals’ sweat – to cool down. The above information highlights the most important information about a horse’s sweat from the process to what a horse owner needs to do in case of excessive sweating.