Last Updated on March 11, 2022
It is not uncommon to see a horse sweat foam, creating a lather around certain areas of the body during periods of intense exercise. But why does a horse sweat foam, and is it a bad thing?
What Is The Purpose Of Sweat?
Sweating is a perfectly normal bodily function, designed to help animals – and humans – maintain the optimum body temperature. Although we think of sweating as something unhygienic and horrible if we did not sweat we would quickly overheat and become very unwell.
When a horse sweats, it secretes liquid from sweat glands on the skin surface. This liquid moves to the surface of the coat and then evaporates, taking heat with it. If you think how refreshing it is to splash cool water on your skin on a hot day, sweat does exactly the same thing!
Horses will sweat over most of their body, with some areas more likely to sweat than others. Often the first places to become sweaty are the areas behind the ears, under the girth, and between the hind legs. If this is not enough to cool the horse down then it will start to sweat over larger areas of the body, such as the neck and the flanks.
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What Is Sweat Made From?
The sweat of a horse contains water, minerals, and protein. The main minerals contained in sweat are sodium, potassium, and chloride. Together, these three minerals are known as electrolytes.
The protein in sweat is called latherin. This helps to move the sweat from the surface of the skin up to the top of the coat. Without this protein, the sweat would not be able to evaporate so effectively.
Why Does Horse Sweat Foam?
The protein in a horse’s sweat serves a very useful purpose, as it helps to carry liquid away from the skin to help it evaporate. However, if a horse sweats too much this protein can become counterproductive. It does not evaporate with the sweat and starts to accumulate on the coat in larger quantities.
When latherin is concentrated, it starts to react with the sweat and creates a white foam. This does not evaporate as easily and reduces the heat-relieving properties of the sweat. A horse that has a lot of white foamy sweat is much more prone to overheating.
The first places that foamy sweat appears are the areas where friction occurs. Many horses will develop white foam between their hind legs, and this is not necessarily a problem. But if horse sweat foam appears over larger areas of the body, the horse is not able to cool down as effectively.
What Happens If A Horse Sweats Too Much
When a horse sweats it loses a lot of water and electrolytes. Water is essential to maintain the health of various body systems, and if a horse loses too much water through sweat it may become dehydrated.
The loss of electrolytes through sweating can also cause problems for the horse. Electrolytes are vital to maintaining fluid balance within the body. They help with circulatory function, nerve function, muscle contractions, and maintain homeostasis.
If these electrolytes are not replaced, these vital body systems can become compromised. The horse will also be reluctant to eat and drink, making recovery from exercise even more prolonged.
Excessive sweating can lead to the horse overheating, and also a muscular disorder called exertional rhabdomyolysis. This is a severe form of cramp, with stiff and trembling muscles that are incredibly painful for the horse.
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How To Look After A Sweaty Horse
If a horse is excessively sweaty, it needs to cool down gradually while the coat dries. The best thing to do is gently walk the horse until the sweat is completely dry. Alternatively, you can use a cooler rug to wick away the sweat whilst keeping the body warm.
The horse will also need to replace fluids and minerals lost during sweating. Tempt the horse to drink by offering clean, tepid water. Electrolytes can be added to replace those lost through sweat.
Horse Sweat Foam Summary
So, as we have learned, you will see a horse sweat foam on areas of the body under friction, such as between the hind legs and under the reins. A small amount of foam is normal during periods of intense exercise, but if the horse is sweating large amounts of lathery foam then this is a sign that it is being overworked. If your horse often sweats a lot of foam during exercise you should seek advice from your veterinarian.
We’d love to hear your thoughts on why a horse might sweat foam! Do you have a horse that always gets too sweaty when ridden? Or maybe you’ve got a great trick to cool your horse down after exercise? Leave a comment below and we’ll get back to you!
Why Is My Horses Sweat White?
Sweating is a perfectly normal process for a horse, and normal sweat will be clear in color. Sometimes a horse's sweat will be white and foamy; this is because it contains a substance called latherin. A lot of white sweat is a sign that the horse is being overworked.
Why Do Horses Lather When They Sweat?
The lather in horses sweat is caused by latherin, This substance helps to move moisture away from the skin, up to the surface of the coat. Latherin is a protein and will create the foaming appearance seen in the sweat of horses during intense work.
What Causes A Horse To Sweat Excessively?
The purpose of sweat is to cool the body down. A horse will sweat excessively during periods of intense exercise, especially if it is not fit enough to withstand the work being done. Horses will also sweat in hot weather or if they are wearing too many blankets.
What Helps A Horse From Sweating?
To stop a horse sweating we need to remove the reason it is sweating. So, if the horse is too hot, it needs to cool down. If the horse is sweating due to exercise, the level of exercise should be reduced.
Kate Chalmers is a qualified veterinary nurse who has specialized in horse care for the vast majority of her career. She has been around horses since she was a child, starting out riding ponies and helping out at the local stables before going on to college to study Horse Care & Management. She has backed and trained many horses during her lifetime and competed in various equestrian sports at different levels.
After Kate qualified as a veterinary nurse, she provided nursing care to the patients of a large equine veterinary hospital for many years. She then went on to teach horse care and veterinary nursing at one of the top colleges in the country. This has led to an in-depth knowledge of the care needs of horses and their various medical ailments, as well as a life-long passion for educating horse owners on how to provide the best possible care for their four-legged friends.
Kate Chalmers BSc (Hons) CVN, Dip AVN (Equine) Dip HE CVN EVN VN A1 PGCE