At the Races with Rusty

March 05, 2012 01:36pm
Most of the time in my weekly reports, I talk about horses, jockeys or trainers that have earned a spot in the limelight. A jockey that has a big week or a horse that is on the path to something amazing. Maybe a trainer that earns world wide acclaim for his or her accomplishments.

Not this week. This week the spotlight hits someone that has piqued my interest for quite a while. I first saw Rusty Greiner as he rolled his wheelchair past me into the owners/trainers lounge.  He’s at the track practically every day. I could tell that because he‘s known  by every race track worker, and because I see him every time I am there.

What really caught my attention one day, was when I saw his wheelchair sitting by the entrance to the paddock. No Rusty, just his chair. I immediately looked around to see where he was. I thought maybe he needed some help. I found him quick enough, and help is something he was giving, not needing. He was making his way across the paddock.

Trudging along on the tips of his toes, he made it to the stall, water bucket in hand. He had a job to do and no wheelchair was going to stop him.

Rusty, 24,  was born with Cerebral Palsy. His legs, which bend inward at the knees when he walks, have trouble supporting his weight even though he is not a big guy. His handicap doesn't stop him. He was born into racing, and that is just where he intends to stay.

“It’s (racing) natural to me,” he told me. My grandfather was a trainer, my dad (Gary) is a trainer, my sisters gallop and pony horses and my brother does the video and tattoo’s the horses in the morning. I want to become a trainer in the future, when my dad hangs it up.”

Rusty smiles as he proudly talks about his daily jobs in the Greiner stable, but it wasn’t always so positive for him. Even though he was born with the handicap, as a child he was able to walk around without any aide. However, as his body grew, his legs weakened. By the age of 16, he was forced into a  wheelchair because the pain of walking was too much. In an attempt to help him get around, his dad put a challenge in front of him.

“When I was younger, I had a horse and my dad would try and make me walk. He put it at the end of the stable and made me walk to it,” he said. “If I fell down, he made me go back and start over. It was frustrating for the first five times and I got tired of doing it so I stopped for like two days. Then one day I said I’m going to do it and I did.”

It took him a week of trying to make it to the horse, but his determination grew.

Even today he uses that in his job. He cleans stalls for his dad, helps the valet ready the jockey saddle in the paddock and takes care of the water, lead rope and blinkers for the horses. Oh yea, he is also a jockey agent for David Essman and Pablo Flores.

“I spend the mornings at my dads barn but im also on the phone trying to get mounts for my riders, “he said. “Everybody knows me here so I figured being an agent would be a piece of cake. But it’s a little harder than I thought.”

As far as his future goes, Rusty does have options to try and fix his legs. He has mulled over the idea of surgery but the risk of further damage outweighs the reward of getting better. He plans on getting a few more doctors opinions but for now, he is content the way he is.

Meeting Rusty was one of the pleasures I’ve had at Golden Gate Fields. For all he goes through, rarely do you see him without a smile on his face. It’s that kind of person that will make things work, no matter how much the deck is stacked against him.


I Continue to following aspiring jockey Brittany Burrows. This week, from the 18-year old reports from the Frank Garza Jockey School, and she tells us what happened when her horse and her parted ways, accidentally. 

"So what happened was that my horse took off with me and ran 4 laps around our half mile track and she jumped one way and I came off and landed on my neck. The speed didnt really bother me, I was trying to think how I was going to get this horse to stop or why she did it in the first place. What i've learned is you can't panic, if you do, you can't think straight. When I fell, I was just dead tired. My legs felt like Jello and every muscle was just spent."
"Before I fell I was working out almost every day and after I had to take time off to get rid of some of the soreness. So now i'm building myself back up and it's not easy. I do a little more each day again and regain my confidence."


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Older Comments about At the Races with Rusty...

Dom August thank U so much for such an insparational Coluim, you have a good eye for what inspires this world, it's the strong, NOT the weak. Thank You I'm his Aunt (Renee's sister & Gary Greiner's sister-in-law)
Rusty, I am so proud of you, you are my insparation to every day life. My back hurts along with other things getting OLD and I say BUCKup Rusty wouldn't quite he would laugh and say your as old as dirt and it's still here and OLDER than you Auntie Tammy. Thats it in the nut shell. I love you so much Rusty.
rusty your the man i love you
Thanks for the story Don. I hope Rusty & David Essman make a successful team as Essman rode in this part of the country for quite some time.
Thank you for telling us this story of someone with an amazingly positive outlook.
very good story - I love to hear about the people behind the scenes, and Rusty is an inspiring figure!
What an inspiring story! Thanks for sharing this with us, Don.
Way to go Rusty! Just shows that there are many talented people behind the scenes in racing!
WOW such a great story of a great man and I complain cause I have cancer HE has inspired me to do more for my self Thanks RUSTY ''''
There are so many great stories at the track!
Makes me remember never to let the insignificant stuff slow me down ... thanks for telling Rusty Greiner's inspirational story, Don!

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Meet Don August

I have been involved in horse racing, from a fan to sportswriter, for the past 30 years. The first time my dad took me to the track, I picked a horse named "Black Tornado" and when he won, I was hooked.  From then on, I spent weekends and occasional school days at the race track, and my enjoyment of the sport led me to try my hand at being a jockey agent, which i did for 3 years. When that didn't work out as I had hoped, I concentrated on my writing career by covering big races and doing summer fair handicapping, off and on, for the Contra Costa Times.

Today, I stay involved in the sport by being part of a group that currently owns two horses stabled at Golden Gate Fields. As all owners, we have dreams of someday having that special horse.  Besides writing about horse racing I enjoy covering many sports and have had the honor of meeting and writing about some incredible athletes.

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