PASADENA, Calif. — The Bulldogs won’t be the only team of Georgians celebrating a comeback to prominence in Pasadena on New Year’s Day.
Six hours before Georgia and Oklahoma kick off in the Rose Bowl on Monday, a team of six Belgian horses from Milledgeville, Ga., will lead the first of three Wells Fargo stagecoaches in the 129th Rose Parade down Orange Grove and Colorado boulevards.
The lead quarterhorse – or as owner David Helmuth calls him the “quarterback” – is a UGA comeback story as big as Nick Chubb from knee surgery.
Rusty, a 10-year-old Belgian, broke his leg when he was kicked in the shin by another horse before pulling the carriage in the 2014 St. Patrick’s Day parade in Savannah. What seemed like just a swollen leg at the time proved to be life-threatening.
Helmuth took Rusty to the UGA Veterinary Teaching Hospital, where it was determined that surgery was the only hope with no guarantee that Rusty would ever be sound enough to bear weight on his leg again.
“Initially we probably would have given him about a 50-50 chance because of the size of the horse, the location of the wound and the severity of the lameness,” Eric Mueller, chief medical officer of the veterinary teaching hospital at UGA, told UGA Today.
Helmuth elected to try the surgery, and three years later Rusty is healthy enough to lead the six-horse team down the 5.5-mile route flanked by tens of thousands of grandstand seating along to parade route and televised live by both ABC and NBC (11 a.m. EST).
“It’s nothing short of a miracle,” said Helmuth. “I can’t say enough about the UGA veterinary hospital, the students, the vets. They were just wonderful. I believed in them and they believed in me, and we all believed in Rusty.”
Because of World War II, the Rose Parade was cancelled the last time Georgia was here in 1943, but this time fans traveling from Georgia or watching on television will have a Georgia entry to support.
Wells Fargo will send out three separate stagecoach teams in Monday’s Rose Parade, with the six-horse Baldwin County team (Rusty, Rowdy, Cody, Chip, Trooper, Patriot and alternate Pisto) pulling the first carriage. Rusty, who is on the left lead with the largest outfit, has become a bit of a celebrity surrounding the trip as the subject of news stories across the country and receiving a first-place ribbon on Friday’s Equestfest.
“He’s been getting quite a bit of attention,” said Helmuth, who will drive his team of horses in the Rose Parade for the ninth time but the first time in six years.
“It’s a very big honor and exciting – a dream come true especially with him recovering.”
Helmuth calls Rusty a “Bulldog” and believes his presence in the Rose Parade is a good omen for Georgia when it plays down the hill in Pasadena later that afternoon.
“Abolsutely,” he said. “I can’t say anything but the best about that whole school. I am Bulldog fan, 100 percent.”