05/28/2014 12:40PM

Hovdey: Larry Jones getting used to being in neutral

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Barbara D. Livingston
Larry Jones, shown with his Horse of the Year Havre de Grace, is still recovering from a training accident on April 19.

Dial the number of the guy who just five weeks earlier had his bell run big time after being thrown by a goofy 2-year-old colt and you’re not sure what to expect. Head injuries are the deep, dark waters of physical trauma. No one can predict how the victim will emerge.

It was a relief, therefore, to hear Larry Jones yammering away on the other end of the line like the same drawling cowboy he’s always been. Or at least since the racing world started noticing him because of horses like Hard Spun, Eight Belles, Proud Spell, Believe You Can, and Havre de Grace.

Jones was asked about the accident, which occurred the morning of April 19 at Delaware Park, with his wife and assistant Cindy on the pony alongside.

“I remember getting on the horse in the stall, but that’s all,” Jones said last weekend from his home near Delaware Park. “I guess I’d already galloped him and was on my way back to the barn when all crap broke loose.”

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That was a Saturday. Sunday was a write-off.

“I don’t remember anything until one of the nurses shined their flashlight in my eyes at three o’clock on Monday morning,” Jones said. “He wanted to know if I knew where I was. I looked around and said, ‘Well, it looks like I’m in a hospital. What time is it?’”

Jones was discharged the following day with orders to go slow. This would be like telling Bobby Flay to cook only custard.

“This is the first time in my life they didn’t have to tell me not to overdo it,” Jones said. “I was complaining how sore my chest is. Turns out when I was in the MRI, I quit breathing. They had to do chest compresses on me to get me back to breathing before they could put the ventilator in. All kinds of neat stuff happened, I guess, though I can’t be held accountable for it.”

Trainers are not supposed to get hurt, except for their feelings. Del Carroll, an eight-goal polo star and trainer of 1972 Preakness winner Bee Bee Bee, was killed in a training accident in 1982. Wayne Lukas, John Shirreffs, Richard Mandella, Ron McAnally, and others can show you the scars and X-rays from violent horse encounters.

Jones, 57, increased his chances of harm by galloping his horses daily. He insisted it gave him an edge, and his success made the point hard to argue. Now it will be a while before he can resume anything close to his regular routines.

“There’s people like me who all you ever think about is riding,” he said. “I’ll be honest, though. There was I time in these past few weeks I felt I’d never ride another horse again. And I really didn’t care if I did.

“Now, it’s coming back. I checked over that old pony at the barn today and thought, ‘You sumbitch, I’ll ride you here pretty quick.’ I may not get on a Thoroughbred for a long time, but I will get on a horse.”

In the meantime, Jones is learning to appreciate each baby step.

“I had mowed my yard for the last two weeks, so I still knew how to turn a steering wheel and work the pedals,” he said. “Then we practiced driving my truck a little bit just around here. It felt pretty good. At least you know if you decide to run away from home you don’t have to walk.”

Jones is a talker. At least half of everything he’s ever said in public has been either self-deprecating or homespun funny. He was asked about the last time he was hurt this bad.

“In Iowa one morning I came off a horse and broke my collarbone, three ribs, punctured a lung, and broke a foot, and I was on a horse the next night, ponying one to the gate,” Jones said. “So I’m used to nothing really stopping me. But by George, this one put the brakes on me.”

As far as the fear of any lasting cognitive damage, Jones had another one ready.

“I’ve gone through my life pretty much with no mental work,” he said. “I just never used my brain, so it doesn’t take me long to get back to normal. And I wouldn’t expect a whole lot of improvement.”

But seriously…

“I just never know when I’m going to get tired, and feel like I’ve got to lay down,” Jones said. “Even keeping a line of thought on what I’m watching on TV is tough.

“Cindy’s noticed I can get real frustrated now,” Jones went on. “Needless to say, in the game we’re in, and growing up around cowboys like I did, I know a lot of people who’ve been in my situation. They all tell me, ‘Larry, be careful. You’ll get mad over nothing. And you’ll never know what it might be. Just accept it, and hope the loved ones around you will accept it and understand.’ ”

Jones was asked if he has made peace with the colt who put him in the hospital.

“I saw him at the barn today,” Jones replied. “He come up to the door, and I didn’t know if he wanted to bite me or what. I said, ‘You and I are going to get along, but right now I’m leaving. I will discuss this with you some other time.’”