Visual feedback can help any rider in any discipline. Watching a horse’s movement, as well as keeping an eye on one’s own riding position, helps the riders in your barn improve and learn. And that is where installing mirrors in your arena can add value to your barn.
However, mirrors can be a substantial investment, and like any other barn equipment, they require planning, selection, setup and maintenance.
Long side, short side? Most arenas have mirrors on one or the other. On the short side, mirrors in the two corners can show the rider a front view. A top-of-the-line facility would mirror an entire short side, allowing riders to view themselves anywhere in the arena.
For a less expensive setup, install individual large mirrors at intervals on the long side. Riders will have to turn their heads to see themselves, but they still get the benefit of instant visual feedback.
California dressage trainer David Wilson uses three mirrors. “The large one is at C [the center of one of the short sides], and the other two are on two sides on the long sides. I can see myself at K, all the way down to H.”
Should you install glass or plastic mirrors? Glass mirrors will be heavier and more resistant to scratching than plastic, and the hard surface of glass reflects a true image. But, as we all know, glass breaks. Tractors, horses, a flying rock—all can damage your expensive investment.
To ensure that glass holds up, it’s important to mount it properly. Plate glass mirror should be mounted to a frame (backing) for easier placement. A frame can be plywood or medium density fiberboard (MDF).
For large arena mirrors, a glazier will cut the mirror to size and bond it to the frame with mastic. Molding and fasteners also help secure the mirror to the frame. Edges should be coated to prevent moisture from seeping into the glass and tarnishing the mirror.
Shatterproof plastic sheets, such as acrylic (also called plexiglass), form mirrors that are lighter weight and safer in case of impact. “The plastic is a lot lighter per square foot, and it is easier to handle,” says Hank Hagenau of Silk Tree Manufacturing, Inc. Comparing plastic to glass, plastic weighs about 1.38 pounds per square foot, and glass is 3.28 pounds. At the same half-inch thickness as glass, though, plastic is more flexible, which means that the reflection will have some distortion.
Whichever material you prefer, decide if you want a mirror of rectangular or square shape. Then you can form a large mirror by mounting a series of smaller ones to form the shape you want. Silk Tree’s most popular size is 4 x 8 feet. The final size should be large enough to allow riders to view themselves and their horses either straight ahead or looking to the side.
Inside an arena, it’s easiest to mount a mirror so its bottom edge rests on the top of the kickboard. Using the kickboard as a base helps support the mirror’s weight, especially a glass mirror.
In most arenas, mirrors will angle slightly downward, with the top of the mirror positioned away from a vertical wall. This allows riders to not only get a look at their riding positions, but see all the way down to the horse’s feet. “The angle is not as important the further away you get from the wall,” says Hagenau.
With a smaller, less heavy framed mirror, you can hang the frame from picture hooks. Screw a D-ring to each side near the top corners of the frame, and attach heavy-duty mirror wire to the D-rings.
You can secure a large, heavy framed mirror onto wood studs or the wall of the arena. Screw heavy-duty picture hooks into the studs. Hang the wire of the mirror frame on the hooks, so the mirror’s top edge is level. Form an angle by inserting shims behind the mirror’s backing along the top and upper sides.
In an arena with posts spaced every 10 feet, Hagenau recommends, “You have to flatten out the wall with 2 x 4s or 2 x 6s to bridge between the posts.” This allows the mirrors to hang flush with the posts. If the interior is finished with plywood, the mirror backing would simply attach to the wood.
You can also choose to use freestanding mirrors. For example, Wilson has a set of three mirrors in steel frames, mounted on pedestals. He sets them along the rail in his outdoor arena during the warmer months. “I stake the pedestals into the ground. They are very heavy and withstand strong winds,” he says.
For maximum portability, you can try a plastic mirror on wheels. Ballet supplier Alva’s offers a vertical 4’ x 8’ mylar mirror on wheels, designed for dancers’ use. It weighs only 12 pounds and so would work only indoors. You could align a series of these mirrors side by side on the short side, or space them wherever needed.
Other ideas for mounting mirrors depend on the riding space and location. For example, for arenas that are next to a building, installing the mirror perpendicular on the wall of the building works well.
Both glass and plastic mirrors should be cleaned regularly. Wilson cleans his glass mirrors twice every workday, using Windex and a squeegee. Hagenau advises using a spray wax product and a soft cloth on the plastic mirrors. “It picks up the dust, and the wax will fill in any tiny surface scratches,” he says.
Mirrors not only help your riders improve, they can assist you in your training. Just imagine: you have told your student for the tenth time that her leg is in the wrong position—now you have an image to prove it.