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Horse Sweating: What’s Normal And What’s Not

by Wendy Sumner
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The right amount of sweat is normal and needed to keep a horse healthy. On the other hand, if they are sweating too much for the situation, it is not normal. Worse is not sweating at all when the situation calls for it. Horse owners need to know what is a healthy sweat and what is not, so they can keep their equine partners hydrated and reduce the chance of heatstroke. Are you concerned about how much your horse is sweating? Read on to learn about horse sweating: what is normal and what is not. 

horses sweating

Sweating Is About Cooling Down

Sweat is necessary to cool a horse’s body down. Heat is generated by muscles during exercise or high temperatures. The blood absorbs heat from the muscles and carries it to the lungs. In the lungs, some of the heat dissipates when the horse breathes. Heat is also brought to the skin to be radiated out of the horse’s body. It is the evaporation of the sweat that cools the body down. 

A Horse Thermostat

The normal temperature for horses is 99-100 degrees. Horses have an internal thermostat called the hypothalamus. (The hypothalamus has other jobs also.) If the temperature goes above normal, the hypothalamus sends signals to sweat glands to get to work. Heat is carried away from the skin as the sweat evaporates, reducing the body temperature. 

“Lead a Horse to Water, but You Can’t Make Him Drink.”

The harder a horse works or, the hotter the weather, the more sweat is produced. Compared to humans, horses sweat twice as much per square inch of skin. During extensive exercise, a horse can lose anywhere from 2 ½ to 4 gallons of liquid.

It is important to know that a horse loses electrolytes when it sweats. People lose mostly water, resulting in an electrolyte imbalance that leaves us thirsty. Horses lose enough electrolytes with sweat to not trigger this imbalance as fast. Therefore, they are slower to feel thirsty. 

Allow your horse to drink often. If they refuse, come back later. Don’t wait too long, and try again. It only takes 3% dehydration to affect a horse’s performance. One way to tell if your horse is starting to be dehydrated is a “skin-tenting” test. Pinch the neck midway, high on the shoulder, and low on the shoulder. The skin should snap back into the original position if the horse is hydrated. If the skin stays folded up for a few seconds, then there is a lack of fluids, and the horse is dehydrated. 

Sweating Might Not Be Enough

Sweating, breathing, and radiant heat loss from the skin may not be enough to lower a horse’s body temperature if the exercise or stress is prolonged. A horse can suffer heatstroke when their body temperature rises to 106 – 110 degrees. During times of high temperatures, especially coupled with high humidity, keep workouts short and allow him to cool off. The adage “Walk the first mile out, and the last mile back” comes to mind. Hosing off with cool water will not only cool him off, but he will appreciate not having the itchy dried sweat all over. 

Build up a horse’s body condition before you ask too much of him. A better body condition will produce less heat. They will sweat more readily and lose fewer electrolytes. You wouldn’t expect a “couch potato” to run a marathon.

Acclimate the horse to the weather if you are taking them somewhere different than what they are used to. 

horse sweating

Horses That Sweat Excessively

Horses that sweat excessively can become dehydrated and lose electrolytes and proteins at high rates. Horse sweat that is thick white and foamy is often called “lather.”  This type of sweat is usually produced when they are exercised beyond their level of fitness or extremely stressed. According to Horse Side Vet Guide, there are some general things you should do to assess your horse’s general health, to discuss with your veterinarian if you are concerned about how much your horse is sweating.

  • Look for underlying illness or injury that might cause the sweating.
  • Pay attention to eating and drinking habits.
  • Pay attention to hydration.
  • When does the sweating occur, exercise or weather, or odd times?
  • Is sweat all over, or in just one area?
  • Take your horse’s heart rate. Normal, at rest rate is 48 beats per minute. Take the heart rate immediately after exercise. Then again, ten minutes later. The heart rate should not be over 60 beats per minute, ten minutes after exercise.   
  • Take your horse’s temperature. Normal is 101 F.

Horses That Don’t Sweat

Horses that don’t sweat are more of a danger to themselves than horses that sweat excessively. Without sweat, the horse’s body temperatures will remain high, building up to levels that can cause heatstroke. This condition is called anhidrosis or non-sweater. A horse can develop this over time, or it can come all at once. Anhidrosis is more common in climates that are hot and humid. 

If a horse develops anhidrosis, it is up to their human partners to help them control it. Here is a list of signs to look for:

  • Look for sweat under tack and between the hind legs. These areas may be completely dry or slightly damp, depending on the severity of anhidrosis. 
  • Rapid shallow breaths, with nostrils flared, and sides are heaving. Keep in mind how hard you would expect him to breathe for the amount of work he has done. 
  • Does the horse seem tired and reluctant to work?
  • Hair condition is thinning, and loss of hair on the face can be early signs.
  • Vets have a test they can run to diagnose anhidrosis.

Heat build-up must be limited in a horse that is a non-sweater. Here is a list of ways to lower the body temperature of a horse with anhidrosis:

  • Please take advantage of the cooler times of the day to exercise, and take frequent breaks to allow him to catch his breath.
  • After a workout, cool him down with water and fans, consistently keeping track of his vitals. Don’t stop until all vitals are at normal rates.
  • Make sure all turnout areas have shade. If the horse is kept in the barn, make sure there is plenty of ventilation and fans. 
  • Horses with anhidrosis will sometimes benefit from extra supplements such as a combination of vitamins, amino acids, and minerals.

Final Thoughts

Let’s face it, horse sweat is one of the unpleasant necessities of horsemanship. But sweat is essential to cool the horse down. To be a good horse owner, we need to understand how, why, and how much our horse is sweating. If they are sweating too much or not enough, we need to take action to help our horses keep hydrated and lower their body temperature. A body temperature that is too high can lead to a heatstroke.   

 

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