Do horses sweat? The short answer is: yes, horses do sweat. Sweating is one of three methods horses use to cool down—breathing, skin, and sweating. During hot weather, high humidity, or intense workouts, horses use sweat to thermoregulate. As a horse owner, it can sometimes be challenging to determine the “right level” of sweat and what is safe or not.
What Horse Sweat Accomplishes in the Body
As with humans, horse sweat accomplishes a big goal in the body, and when this mechanism isn’t working, there are special precautions you need to take with your horse.
How Sweat Cools Horses Down
Horses sweat for thermoregulation during hot weather, high humidity, during a workout, or when they are stressed due to an illness or pain. Horses can cool down and dispose of excess heat through breathing and through their skin. When this is not enough, the hypothalamus will cool the horse down by activating the sweat glands. As the sweat evaporates, it moves the heat away from the horse’s skin, cooling them down.
Why Does Horse Sweat Get Foamy and White?
Horse sweat is mostly water but also contains electrolytes. When you see white, foamy sweat on a horse, it signals that this sweat is higher in electrolytes. Horses should always be given access to fresh, clean water to replenish any fluids lost from sweating. The same is true for electrolytes. If a horse is producing foamy, white sweat, they will need to replenish their electrolytes.
Replacing Water and Electrolytes from Sweat
Horses need constant access to water to help make up for the loss of fluids from sweating. This water may or may not need electrolytes added, depending on the horse and the situation.
Electrolytes are minerals in the horse’s body to protect them from dehydration. Electrolytes also help regulate muscle function and other processes in the body. They are primarily made up of sodium, chloride, potassium, calcium, and magnesium and are lost in large quantities when a horse sweats.
Generally, if a horse is getting a good, balanced diet, they get enough electrolytes to make up for any losses during routine work. Highly competitive horses or horses living in very hot or humid conditions are the most likely to need daily electrolyte supplements.
There are a few other situations where one dose or a few days of electrolyte supplementation can be beneficial.
- A hard workout where the horse sweated significantly on the neck/chest/sides
- Before or after a long trailer ride when they may not want to drink
- If the horse is not drinking well.
- Before competition
Electrolytes are available commercially in a paste or powder form. The powder is easily dissolved in water which can then be offered to the horse. The paste can be added to feed or given orally as you would with a dewormer. You can also make an electrolyte mixture by mixing three parts table salt and one part lite salt in water. A general guideline for giving electrolytes is 2 oz. of the mixture per hour of hard work. This guideline can vary depending on the heat or humidity.
Why Sweating Isn’t Always Enough
There are cases when horses overheat, and sweating isn’t sufficient to cool them down. This, unfortunately, can result in heatstroke. When the horse’s sweating mechanism fails, the body temperature can climb very quickly.
Keeping Your Horse Cool in the Hottest Months
Keeping your horse cool during the summer months usually requires some minor management changes.
- Ride during the coolest times of the day
- Keep your horse inside during the day and do turnout in the evening
- Install a fan in their stall
- If they are in turnout during the day, make sure they have shade.
- Make sure they have access to cool water at all times
- Skip exercise on very hot or humid days
- There are several “cool coats” available to help keep horses cool
- Ensure your barn has good airflow during hot temperatures. A large fan near the entrances can help to reduce temperatures in the building
- Keep your horse out of the direct sun
Signs of Heat Stroke in Horses and How to Prevent It
Heatstroke can occur in horses when they are unable to regulate their body temperature. The horse’s sweating mechanism fails, and the body temperature rises quickly to 106-110 degrees Fahrenheit. Noticing heatstroke early on can make a significant difference in recovery. Common signs of heatstroke include:
- Rapid, shallow breathing that does not slow fairly quickly after rest
- Body temperature stays high
- Depressed, lethargic
- No appetite
- Skin lacks resiliency (pinch test to check)
- Quiet gut
If your horse is experiencing any of these symptoms, they may have heat stroke, and you need to cool them down as quickly as possible. Move them to a cool place and use a hose on their body and legs to help reduce their body temperature. Offer them water, though they may not choose to drink depending on the severity of the heatstroke. If your horse is not visibly cooler in 30 minutes, consider contacting your veterinarian.
Preventing heatstroke is always better than treating it. Aside from acclimating your horse to the climate and building up endurance, always make sure your horse has access to clean water. During periods of hot or very humid weather, try to limit exercise. This may mean keeping your horse in a cool barn during the day rather than the pasture or skipping your regular ride.
How to Properly Warm Up and Cool Down Your Horse
Properly warming up and cooling down your horse slowly increases/decreases their heart and respiratory rate as well as the blood circulating through the body. During warm-up, spend 10-15 minutes in a ground covering walk either under saddle or on the lung line. You want a long stride to help increase blood flow, move joints and stretch the muscles before asking for more. Next, increase the heart rate at the trot before adding lateral movements for an additional stretch.
Cooling down is equally essential for horses, especially when the weather is hot or they are sweating a lot. Ask your horse to continue walking until their respiratory rate comes back to normal. Feel their neck or shoulder to make sure their temperature is within normal limits before stopping to untack. Never return a horse to their stall or turnout when they are hot or have a high respiratory rate.
Tack & Sweat: How to Take Care of Your Tack Post-Ride
While sweating is a handy way for a horse to cool down, you’ve probably noticed it is a nightmare for your tack. It gets caked onto your saddle pads and sticks to the leather. If you leave sweat on your tack after a ride, it will cause damage to your tack over time.
Always clean and dry your tack after a ride, especially if it was exposed to sweat. Leather is susceptible to the salt in sweat, and it will cause the leather to rot and break down over time. A leather cleaner or saddle soap can be used to remove sweat from your tack.
Saddle pads often absorb a lot of sweat. This results in cakey, stiff, and dirty pads. Regularly washing your saddle pads will remove the sweat and keep them in excellent shape. A thorough wash of saddle pads after every ride is not always feasible, though! Spray your saddle pads and allow them to dry in the sun between washes.
What is a Normal Amount of Sweat vs. Excessive
The hotter the horse is, the more the horse will sweat. Horses can produce more than twice as much seat as a person can per square inch of skin. During intense workouts, such as cross-country or endurance rides, a horse can lose 10-15 liters of fluid in an hour. This can happen even if you do not see the sweat dripping off the horse because sweat can evaporate almost as quickly as it forms on very hot, dry days.
If your horse has a soaked neck, chest, and sides after a ride, this might be considered excessive sweating. Make sure to cool down your horse until their respiratory rate and body temperature return to normal. You can use a cold sponge or cold hose to help remove the sweat. Make sure to remove any excess water and keep them out of the sun as they dry off. It can take horses a while to recover from excessive heat, so be sure to monitor for lack of appetite, lethargy, or abnormal behavior.
What if Your Horse Never Sweats?
If your horse does not sweat, they may have a condition called anhidrosis. Unfortunately, anhidrosis is a poorly understood condition and is not always easy to notice. Horses with anhidrosis will generally be more lethargic in hot weather and have a dry coat even after a lot of exercise. They will often have higher respiratory rates, heart rates, and elevated body temperatures after brief periods of movement. Horses in hot, humid climates are most commonly affected by anhidrosis.
If you are concerned your horse may have this condition, contact your veterinarian. There are several experimental treatments for anhidrosis, though many have proven ineffective at this time. The most effective option at this time is making environmental and management changes, for example, moving the horse out of a hot and humid climate, training during the coolest time of day, and providing constant access to water and shade. Working with your veterinarian can help develop strategies that fit your horse and their living and work situation.
- Do horses sweat?
Yes, horses sweat just like humans. Sweating can be from hot weather, excessive exercise, or even pain.
- What is a normal horse temperature?
A normal horse temperature is 101 degrees Fahrenheit.
- How much should a horse sweat?
During intense workouts, such as cross-country or endurance rides, a horse can lose as much as 10-15 liters of fluid in an hour.
- Do horses foam when they sweat?
Horses can have white, foamy sweat, which is a result of electrolytes in the sweat.
- Do horses sweat through their skin?
Horses produce sweat from the apocrine glands. These glands are located all over the horse’s body.
- Is sweating bad for a horse?
Sweating is a healthy, normal function for a horse.
- Do horses sweat a lot?
Horses can sweat a lot during strenuous workouts or hot/humid weather.
- Is horse sweat white?
Horses can produce a white, foamy sweat. This sweat contains electrolytes.
- Do horses sweat when in pain?
Horses can sweat from pain or high fevers. It is the body’s way of trying to expel excessive heat.
- Do horses sweat foam?
Horses do not sweat foam. Horse sweat is made up of water and electrolytes, and the electrolytes create the foamy, white sweat.
- Should horses be sweating at rest?
Horses can sweat at rest during very hot or humid weather. You should continually monitor a sweating horse for signs of distress. Consider moving them to a shaded area and make sure they have access to water.
Horse Sweat Has a Big Job
The horse’s sweat mechanism does a fantastic job of cooling the horse down during hot weather or exercise. Understanding the function of sweat and why your horse is sweating can help you notice signs of heatstroke, excessive sweating, or no sweating quickly. Ensure your horse always has access to clean water and shade to replenish lost fluid and electrolytes during sweating.