Everyone loves a miniature horse: They’re adorable, sassy, and fun-sized. Tampa Bay Downs found the perfect mini to become the track’s mascot: Mouse. What makes this little horse newsworthy, though, is how much she overcame on her way to becoming a beloved fixture at the Oldsmar, Fla., oval.
In 2009, Tampa Bay Downs’s Vice President of Publicity Margo Flynn heard that there was a miniature horse who was rescued from an abusive situation in Florida’s Panhandle. Flynn immediately swung into action, deciding that the little horse would find her forever home as the mascot at Tampa Bay Downs. “We found out about Mouse through an affiliate with Tampa TROT (the racetrack’s rehoming center for retired racehorses) and we looked at each other and said, ‘Why don’t we adopt her?’”
Mouse started her time at Tampa Bay Downs underweight, skittish of people, and with minimal training. While the filly had had a period of initial rehabilitation following her rescue, Mouse came to the track with a few idiosyncrasies stemming from her life before the track. “She had to be reintroduced to a feeding program, which she’s really never gotten the hang of. Basically, if it’s in front of her, she eats it,” explained Flynn.
Mouse when she first arrived at Tampa Bay Downs
Constant walks around the backstretch in the morning helped Mouse regain trust in people as well as give the large racehorses the chance to get used to such a little horse in their midst. Mouse also found joy in the racetrack’s round pens, usually used for turning out Thoroughbreds in the afternoon when the racehorses were done with their morning training. For Mouse, these pens were the perfect place to run, play and roll.
Mouse also learned a few tricks along the way, such as fetching the mail in the racing office, stepping on the jockeys’ scales, and bowing.
With her new regimented feeding schedule, exercise regime, and and socialization, Mouse soon became ready to meet her public. She was an immediate hit, especially with children. And the feeling was mutual: Mouse is particularly calm and patient with the younger set. When Tampa hosts members of Generation Z in the winner’s circle each weekend to meet jockeys, Mouse is usually there. “She is a perfect angel. The kids are all over her, and she is just as sweet as she can possibly be.”
Mouse meets members of Generation Z in the Tampa Bay Downs winner’s circle.
Elizabeth Swarzman, Publicity Assistant at Tampa Bay Downs, always makes sure Mouse looks her best for public appearances. The mare’s mane, forelock, and tail are normally braided; and, if there’s a holiday coming up, Mouse will usually be appropriately festive. “The public loves it,” explained Flynn. “They’re looking forward to seeing what she’s wearing for the upcoming St. Patrick’s Day, for example. She has an outfit for every occasion, including glitter hooves, roses for her hair – she’s done to the nines.” Don’t worry: Mouse adores the attention of being dressed up for a day at the races. “She loves the limelight, so to speak. When that light doesn’t shine anymore, she comes back to her usual self, but she’s very much all about the stage.”
Mouse serving holiday looks
One of the benefits of Mouse’s role at Tampa Bay Downs is that she gives children the opportunity to really get to know a horse, something that’s increasingly rare in urban environments. “A lot of kids don’t get to see farm animals one-on-one anymore,” Flynn explained. “This is an opportunity to actually get to touch one. You’d be surprised at the reaction she gets. They expect her to be like a stuffed animal, almost, so when they see how nice and soft she is, it’s surprising to some of the kids. It brings everything full circle: that all of these horses, whether big or small, are living, breathing animals and something that should be revered.”
That hands-on horse experience stays with people, too: Flynn explains that Mouse has regular visitors, some who remember the miniature horse from when they were little. “We get people who come out every week to see her, and some kids that say, ‘I remember her from four years ago!’”
Mouse with some of her similarly-sized admirers
If you want to see Mouse, you can see her on most weekends when weather permits at Tampa Bay Downs during the live racing season; but if you’re not able to get to the track, you can follow her exploits on Instagram and Facebook.