Who`s lucky enough to have mirrors in their arena?
Unfortunately I don`t have access to them at my yard, but one of the previous yards I`ve been at has them and they`re really useful for teaching lateral movements with, as well as self-checking your position and straightness.
It`s always funny the first time a horse is introduced to a mirror; they can often spook as they trot towards it! One winter I used to put Otis into the indoor arena whilst snow on the ground prevented turnout, and he used to spend ages gazing at his reflection in the mirrors! Usually letting a horse sniff and look at themselves in the mirror is enough for them to understand what they are, and soon they ignore them.
I find that horses who are used to working in company adapt to mirrors quicker than those who usually use the school alone. Those who aren`t worried about the proximity of others are the ones who don’t spook at their reflection as they trot parallel to the mirror, whereas the more claustrophobic ones are likely to sidestep away from their reflection.
When I moved to a yard without mirrors I found that I way relying on my visual observations far more than I should, and I needed to redevelop my feeling for each movement. After all, in a dressage test you won`t necessarily do shoulder-in down the long side towards a mirror!
However, last weekend at a dressage competition I was warming up in the luxurious indoor arena, where they had mirrors across the full length of the short side (the short side being about 40m long!) I don`t usually do a lot of lateral work in my warm up unless its in the test because I risk Otis trying to leg yield one way or the other as we go up the centre line. However, with these beautiful mirrors gazing at me I couldn`t help myself, and did a bit of leg yield in walk (avoiding trot for the centre line reasons) and then some shoulder-in in both walk and trot. It was really useful because I could now see the slight difference between each rein and the comments from my last lesson made more sense.
Unfortunately though, mirrors are expensive and can be fairly difficult to install and position. In an indoor arena the walls are the obvious place to mount the mirrors but in an outdoor you need to find a sheltered area so that they aren`t battered by the wind, and you need to construct a board for the mirrors. Which obviously means that you need to have the correctly positioned outdoor ménage, with a couple of nice big hedges alongside!
Most arenas that have mirrors only have them on the short sides, reflecting the track. This is great for checking the lateral work in the beginnings, but one step better is to have a mirror reflecting the centre line. Then you can work on your straightness without the help of the fence line, check you are straight through transitions, and practice lateral work without the support of the fence. I think people are cottoning onto this idea, as I`m seeing more mirrors across the majority of the short side now.
Unfortunately the yard Otis is at currently is not a candidate for having mirrors installed in the outdoor arena because it is at the top of the hill and always has a breeze blowing through. Which is great for riding in summer and discouraging flies (Otis`s sweet itch has never been better). So I wouldn’t say that mirrors were a deciding factor in my choice of yards, but it would sway my decision about venues if I were travelling for a clinic or training session as I would want to maximise my learning.
Using the mirrors last week reminded me of their value when teaching, and whilst you can end up relying on them and forgetting to “feel” what is happening, it can be useful to check your way of going, especially if you cannot have lessons as frequently as you would like, and it can give you a real confidence boost to see that you are achieving your aims. Alternatively, getting a friend to video you in strategic positions can be useful for checking your and your horse`s way of going.