Larry Jones rested in a hospital bed, fighting for his livelihood and his life in a medically induced coma.
His wife, Cindy, sat in an empty waiting room on this Easter Sunday, praying to God.
“We just need a little miracle,” she prayed. “One little one, please.”
Hours earlier, Larry Jones, a former soybean and corn farmer turned successful trainer of a group of graded stakes winners, was thrown from a 2-year-old at a Delaware race track, startled by something along a trail. Still new to the concept of being ridden, the horse jumped to the right then started a dead run which tossed Jones in the air.
Jones landed hard, his face buried in several inches of pea gravel and sand.
Cindy, watching nearby, ran to him, turning Larry over so he would not suffocate. She screamed.
To the hospital
Lucky for Jones, who turned 57 in April, Christiana Care Wilmington Hospital was located across the street. Cindy rode in the front of the ambulance, which arrived within minutes.
Updates in the waiting room seemed like decades apart. An MRI revealed a hematoma, or collection of blood, outside and within his brain. He also suffered broken ribs, a bruised lung and a broken hand. Doctors told Cindy they were prepping Larry for surgery. Then he stopped breathing.
After being revived, surgery was no longer an option. Now on a respirator, doctors placed him in a drug-induced coma in hopes of reducing the energy requirements of his brain through a decrease in blood flow and pressure, allowing for rest.
A second MRI, later that afternoon, showed decreased evidence of bleeding. The outside still showed a slow bleed, placing deadly pressure on his brain.
Larry was taken out of the coma periodically so medical personnel could test his progress. An unfavorable exam crushed Cindy’s optimism.
She was still wearing her barn attire when her daughter and granddaughter arrived at the hospital later that night from Tennessee. A nurse convinced Cindy to go home and rest. He’d call her if anything occurred before the morning.
She returned around 6 a.m., sitting alone in the waiting room.
A nurse approached Cindy with results from a third test.
“You want to see the MRI?”
“Yes, you do.”
No major signs of bleeding.
“This is unbelievable,” the nurse said.
“This doesn’t happen,” said another hospital staffer. “We don’t know what this is.”
“It’s my miracle I prayed for.”
By Monday, Larry was taken off the respirator. The following afternoon, he returned home.
Still sore and under medication, he couldn’t bathe or dress himself for several days. Later, dizzy spills made traveling from the bed to the recliner in the den a task.
Around this time, Cindy, Larry’s co-trainer, gave assistant trainers Corey York and Deidre Jackson two options: If you want to keep the stables going, you know what to do. If you don’t, we can just shut it all down.
Larry was her only priority. York and Jackson took over operations.
After a week, Larry was healthy enough for Cindy to return to work, leaving him at home. But not before parking his truck at the barn and keeping the keys. Even in his fragile state, she knew his stubborn ways could have led to a road trip.
After three weeks, Larry wanted to watch some 2-year-olds work, so Jackson drove him over, parking on the race track’s front side. The attention from the racing community was too much. His head started to throb.
“I got to go back home,” he said.
Back at the race track after five weeks, Jones tried to ride his pony for the first time. He couldn’t do it.
The next day, he climbed atop. Surprisingly, it ended his dizzy spells.
Slowly, he returned to galloping race horses — he was banned from 2-year-olds — although Cindy’s adamant stance only kept him off for about two months.
Unlike most trainers that manage thoroughbreds from the barn, Jones prefers to ride, offering a unique perspective. It’s how he learned the business: hands-on. And he’s ridden horses for more than five decades, dating to his Kentucky farming days. Too late to change.
He’s considered heavy for an exercise rider, around six feet, 180 pounds. Doctors have told Larry he can’t afford a repeat fall.
“They want me to stay off of them,” he said. “And I’m not going to argue with them too much, I guess. I don’t have to be the cowboy anymore. I’ve proved myself over the years that I was a cowboy. Maybe I should leave that to the younger guys.”
Almost back to normal
Jones is nearly back to his regular, sometimes 20-hours-a-day workload, with a caveat.
He tires easier. Two or three consecutive long days must be supplemented with a rest day. He may need a break in between a busy morning training session and afternoon of races. He’s training 45 horses, nearly a third of his all-time high of 114.
Maybe it’s the fall, maybe age.
Jones, who returned from a brief retirement dating to 2010, said he’s back because this is what he does. It’s not like he had to do it. It’s just that it’s the only way he knows to live. Get back on that horse.
Plus, he hates gyms.