By nature, horses are social animals that crave and seek out the company of others of their kind. While a handful of equines may be the equivalent of hermits and seek solitude, such animals are exceptions. It’s unnatural for herd animals to travel and spend a lot of time alone. This breaking with the natural state can lead to behaviors that express an animal’s frustration, loneliness, and depression over the isolation. Head tossing, cribbing, box walking, weaving, and wind-sucking are among the few nervous habits observed in stressed horses. Researchers have been studying the effects of mirrors to alleviate anxiety and the results show that the majority of animals respond well to mirrors. Trainers and enthusiasts have also found uses for mirrors on trailers and in the practice ring.
Stall Mirrors Relive Separation Anxiety
Tension and separation anxiety are common in domesticated horses and this may manifest as bad habits, repetitive movements, or other vices like biting. According to an article in Horse and Hound, researchers at the University of Lincoln have studied the effect mirrors have on easing distress. They concluded that overall, equine behavior improved in situations where a stable mirror had been installed when a companion animal was not available.
A minority number of horses with the history of negative social behaviors responded unfavorably and the mirrors were removed, however, the majority were calmed and reassured by the reflection. To maximize the positive influence, a mirror should be placed just inside the stall door and away from feeding locations. The stable horse needs to be free to interact but also to turn away from the reflection.
Horse Mirror as Surrogate Traveling Companion
Transporting a horse by itself can cause a lot of stress and ornery moods even in an animal with an otherwise calm disposition. It’s not always practical to have a second animal, and there are times where a horse must be separated from its regular companion. In such situations, a mirror installed as a substitute can significantly reduce noisy vocals, nervous pawing, head tossing, and reluctance to eat.
Nottingham Trent University conducted a study with adult horses. They found that while companion trailering is the best situation, a 32 by a 24-inch mirror mounted in a single-horse trailer was better than none at all. They noted that isolation stress in animals was reduced. Horses also ate more often, were calmer, vocalized less, and were less inclined to kick.
Mirrors for Recovery
Horses may need to be isolated from time to time for injury recovery, show travel quarantine, or other situations. In such cases, a buddy could greatly decrease the levels of stress and anxiety. A horse who is used to being with others or must be separated from a long-time companion may not do well in isolation. When it comes to health care, keeping the animal in a positive disposition and relaxed is important for recovery and administration of medications and treatments. A simple mirror buddy can assure the animal that it is not alone. Although horses are usually happiest in groups, a reflection surrogate can improve quality of life.
Horse Show Mirrors in the Practice Ring
Ballet dancers understand the importance of seeing oneself to correct position and movement that feels right but upon inspection is not. In the same way, mirrors in an indoor or outdoor training arena can offer riders and trainers the opportunity to coordinate instruction. It can be difficult for a rider to visualize the correction and they can’t see the horses body relative to space.
A trainer and rider can use the mirror to check a horse while they jump or go through maneuvers and pinpoint where, for example, the angle is off or how the hind end is performing. It’s not just side peeks that are important, but the movement towards and away from reflections can provide a full view from all angles.
Of course, in the training ring, riders and trainers can use stainless steel mirrors to evaluate the position and plan improvements on form and execution that can be viewed as they are described and practiced. But more than that, a shatterproof mirror is a low-cost, effective way to provide stimulation and enrichment to horses that must be housed alone or travel as a single.
Many horses suffer from frustration and distress when separated, but shatterproof acrylic horse stable mirrors or polycarbonate mirrors can offer a simple level of security. Stall mirrors can be moved to better positions easily and another can be installed close to a pen to allow a lonely horse to greet and view a reflection buddy.