Can I groom the sweat back into my horse to create shine and natural oils?
What a good questions - with a fairly scientific answer! This is a common thought, and wouldn’t it be great and easy if it was that simple! You can, of course, curry comb and brush a horse that is sweaty. You can also rinse him, if appropriate. I don’t always like to rinse my horses off, sometimes a quick wipe down with a damp sponge is just fine if they are only sweaty in a few spots.
The natural oils (sebum) that coat your horse's hair will repel water - the water will bead!
But to fully answer the question, we must dig deeper into the skin and find out about natural oils and sweat. Natural oils are the key to a shiny horse! Sweat is created to cool your horse. In the layers of your horse’s skin, he has many glands and follicles that “do things”. Each follicle that your horse has contains one single hair. Each follicle also contains a sebaceous gland, which is responsible for secreting a substance called sebum onto the hair. This sebum is what we call natural oils - the shine maker! Sweat is produced by the sweat gland, which is not attached to the hair follicle. Sweat glands secrete water, salts, and latherin.
Time for some post ride grooming!
Another important distinction between the sebaceous glands and the sweat glands is how it reacts to water. It’s not easy to rinse away the natural oils. For a naturally shiny horse, water will bead on his coat - the oils are repelling the water from your horse. Typically, you need to use a harsh detergent to strip the oils from your horse’s coat. (This is, of course, one of the primary reasons to not use laundry products on your horse. And also, he’s not your sweatpants.) It is easy, however, to rinse away sweat. In fact, doing so can help your horse stay dark and avoid becoming sun bleached. You may also notice that your horse looks salty, dull, or crunchy if you allow the sweat to dry on his coat.
This hard working horse is a bit sweaty - and the latherin in the sweat combined with the friction of the tack creates foamy sweat.
I will, on occasion and weather permitting, allow small amounts of sweat to dry on my horse. Then I will attack with the curry comb, and all becomes shiny again. This is because you are brushing off the dried sweat, and also stimulating your horse’s skin to release natural oils. For significant amounts of sweat, I prefer to do a rinse in the wash rack.
How do you normally deal with sweat on your horse?