A number of horse owners have found that their horses are happier when their stables are fitted with  a 'horse mirror'. In addition, they find that these mirrors can help treat certain behavioral issues (e.g. box walking, weaving) associated with boredom or loneliness, or even help prevent such behaviors developing. Despite these advantages, an incorrect use of a mirror can have the opposite effect, causing the horse stress and potentially injuring it. This article describes how to use a horse mirror, to maximum the benefits and avoid the dangers.

How they work

Horse mirrors are mounted in the horse's stall (for this reason, they are often known as a 'stall mirror' or 'stable mirror') where the horse can see it. Although many horse owners report that this is beneficial, the exact reason for the benefit is open to dispute. Possible explanations include:

  • Companion. The mirror provides a reflection of the horse and it is believed that the horse sees this reflection as another horse, which it accepts as a companion. Since horses are herd animals and social creatures, it is very important that they have a companion and the mirror thus provides such a companion (at least at the visual level). For this reason, such mirrors are often known as 'companion mirrors'.  
  • Space. As we know from our own homes, mirrors provide additional light and the illusion of additional space. It is well known that horses are happier in a large box than in a small one and happier in a well lit area than in a dark one.
  • Mental Stimulation. One of the main causes of stress and behavioral issues is boredom. A mirror provides an alternative view and makes the box more mentally stimulating, thereby reducing boredom.

Of these possible explanations, it is believed that the companion element is the main factor. However, the space and mental stimulation provided by a mirror are possibly contributing benefits.

When to use a mirror

If a horse is unhappy in its box or has developed box-related behavioral problems, one should try to address the root problem (e.g. insufficient pasture time). In almost all cases, the issue is boredom and/or stress and one should take steps to correct these (see horse stress and horse mental stimulation for specific actions).

Unfortunately, it is not always possible to provide the ideal environment (e.g. large box, free pasture access, friendly companion horses). Consequently, one should provide as good an environment as possible first and then consider the use of a mirror as an additional action. One should not consider a mirror as a solution on its own, as a substitute for a suitable environment.

Choosing a mirror

The mirror should be of an unbreakable material (e.g. polished stainless steel) as materials such as glass can break and cause injuries. If it is within reach of the horse, it should have no edges or corners that a horse could injure itself on (putting the mirror in a simple wooden frame will avoid injuries on the hard edges of the mirror).

Small to medium mirrors can be better than large mirrors, as very large mirrors can give the illusion that the 'companion horse' in the mirror is very big, which may be perceived by the horse as a threat, especially since the horse is in a confined area.