Research Ramblings: Horse Workout Sweat Vs. Nervous Sweat

My current work in progress involves chariot racing, and given its substantial equine components, I’ve recruited the aid of horse owners Julie and The Boyz’ Mom to keep it real. (For more about them, read this post.) They love sharing about their horses, and I love learning from them, and hopefully you’ll get some entertainment out of our exchanges.

Not long ago I asked my horse ladies about the physics of horse sweat as described in this post. A couple days later I found myself with yet another sweat related question. This time, it wasn’t about the how but the when of horse sweat.

Sweating is not an across-the-board phenomenon in the animal kingdom. That’s why pigs lie in mud and dogs pant while horses and humans get drippy when temperatures go up. The thing about people though is heat isn’t the only thing that causes a sweat. Excitement or nerves can also put human sweat glands into overdrive.

So I wondered as I reviewed a scene where a charioteer’s palms grow damp right before race time whether his horses might be sweating nervously as well. A quick e-mail to my horse ladies ensued, and here’s the answer I got from the Boyz’ Mom:

Indeed they do, and like people, they can drip with sweat from excitement, frustration, nervousness. It isn’t foaming like when they are working. It is a clear dripping sweat that slowly foams. The working foam comes on quickly due to the exertion of muscles… Latherin, a soaplike protein in horse sweat and saliva, helps spread sweat over the coat, maximizing evaporation of water for heat loss, and causing the foam that we see when horses sweat profusely. Latherin is also found in saliva, which explains the foam often seen around a bitted horse’s lips.

Interesting! Not only can heightened emotions trigger a sweat response in horses, the sweat generated has different qualities than workout sweat!

So the take away (for me at least) is that a horse that has been working hard will look like he’s come out of a bubble bath while one who is jittery or excited will just be drippy. Wouldn’t it be interesting if the same were true for people, if nervous sweat was distinctly different than exercise sweat?


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