Larry Jones poured his heart into his hockey career as a young boy growing up in Alberta, Canada, skating on frozen parking lots for what seemed like days at a time.
"My mom pretty much had to call 911 to get me away from the arena," he said from the barns at Pimlico, where he is helping care for Kentucky Derby winnerI'll Have Another.
The end of Jones' hockey career helped him find what would be next. He played two years in the WHL, one of Canada's elite junior leagues, until a back injury slowed his development. Surgery and other treatments proved unsuccessful, and Jones turned to a chiropractor in Calgary, who fixed him up after 12 days of intense therapy.
From there, Jones, who had worked with animals on the farms of Alberta for much of his childhood, knew what the next step in his life would be. Equine chiropractics became his calling.
"I didn't even have to think about it twice," he said. "I would do 30 or 40 horses a day, volunteering my time. I don't know if I knew what I was doing. But it wasn't hurting them. So I kept doing it."
Thirty years later, Jones, or 'Thumper' — a nickname that could come from the power he exerts in working on horses, or maybe the six points and 130 penalty minutes he racked up during the 1978-79 WHL season — now owns and operates Equine Athletes, LLC, with his wife Laurie, in Morgan Hill, Texas.
This year, he has been balancing his business back home while also working with I'll Have Another and the horse's trainer, Doug O'Neill. He typically spends three to four days on the road, then three or four days back home rehabbing and helping the horses of his clients.
"He brings his experience, his knowledge and his size," O'Neill said. "He's the first one I've seen that adjusts horses and you can really see an immediate response. He's got a great attitude and he's fun. And that rubs off on us and the horses, too."
Jones works in various areas of horse rehabilitation and recovery using 'biomechanical manipulation,' a method he stumbled upon by accident while working on a horse more than 20 years ago.
Jones' method involves stretching and massaging the horse's backside in order to ease his or her tension. This, he says, allows all four legs to operate in harmony and in stride during a race in order to achieve maximum efficiency.
When the horse gets sore on the backside, the motion in the legs is restricted, which transfers the weight and power of the horse to the front side. Jones' method attempts to relieve that soreness and tension in order to return the horse's power to the backside, which will allow it to exert more force and thus, run faster.
Jones has made an effort to get more trainers involved in his method of biomechanical manipulation, although he admits it is difficult to learn and master. The long-term health benefits, which Jones said are clearly evident, became a primary reason for his refining and practice of the method.
"The way we as humans work and the way the horses work is very similar," Jones said. "When the back is tight the blood flow doesn't get to the organs, which hurts them in the long run."
I'll Have Another recovered very well from the Derby and has progressed leading up the Preakness, according to O'Neill, who said that is in part because of the rehabilitative work Jones performed.
After the fanfare and celebration ended at Churchill Downs, the winner returned to his stall for a cool down and wash. He got a massage from Jones, drank a bucket of water and fell sound asleep for six hours, snoring the whole time.
"He's done a tremendous job of keeping the horses happy, and open," O'Neill said. "And that has a been a huge part of the [team success] surrounding the horse."