So Pas resident Ned Jones became fascinated with horses when he was a teenager.
A friend of his owned several and offered to teach him how to care for and handle them. It was during this time that Jones discovered he had a real passion for these regal animals, which, ultimately, led to him becoming a horse trainer.
“She put me on this horse named Duke and he and I bonded,” he recalled. “I learned how to take care of them on the ground first before learning to ride. This led to me having a better understanding of how they communicate, their behaviors, and the best ways to handle them. There are too many aggressive hands out there with horses—I believe in gentle hands. Horses are our partners, and people would be amazed at how intelligent they are.”
Jones got his first job as a newspaper delivery boy for the South Pasadena Review when he was in junior high. He fondly remembered delivering hundreds of papers every week for Mrs. Ericson, who owned the paper at the time.
“I just wanted to get a job so I could buy Christmas presents for friends and family,” Jones explained. “I asked Mrs. Ericson if she was hiring and she said ‘yes.’ I ended up working for her for several years and loved it. She had a great sense of humor and was like a grandmother to me. I would deliver the papers in the afternoons after school, and I liked that I was getting exercise by riding my bike and getting to see different neighborhoods during my routes.”
Jones eventually left his job at the paper to play sports in high school. Then, after graduating from South Pasadena High School, he joined the Navy and served in Vietnam. After his return home, Jones attended Pasadena City College for two years before going to the University of Washington to study physical education and communications. As soon as he moved back to Pasadena, he got a job with Pacific Northwest Bell and relocated back to Washington. It was when his mother came down with lung cancer a few years later that Jones made the move back home to Pasadena and got a job with Pacific Bell in Burbank.
“I started training horses after Pacific Bell, and I worked for TransAmerica right here in town,” he said. “Then I was a groom at San Pascual Stables, and from there I went to Altadena Stables. I used to show horses too, but I preferred working behind the scenes. I started helping people with their horses, and I enjoyed seeing the progress and how the relationships with horses were getting better.”
Despite riding and working with horses for the next two decades, Jones did not own a horse until 2004. While he was volunteering for MACH 1, a program in Pasadena that provides equine-assisted activities for children with disabilities, Jones was introduced to a retired thoroughbred racehorse by the name of Evander—and the rest is history.
“He’s named after Evander Holyfield, but he wasn’t bitten on the ear,” Jones shared. “Evander raced for five years, earned six figures as a racehorse, and even won a stakes race. His owner at the time was another volunteer for MACH 1, and I was talking about how much fun I was having training other people’s horses. She told me she had a horse for sale and suggested I take a look at him. What’s funny is I wasn’t going to take him, and when I sat down and ate lunch in his stall with him, Evander knew I wasn’t going to take him, so he deliberately portioned some of his food and placed it on my leg. He chose me.”
Fourteen years later and the pair is still going strong. Both are retired—Evander from racing, Jones from training—but they hang out regularly and enjoy each other’s company at Bonelli Stables in San Dimas, where Evander lives. Jones and his wife of 31 years, Kathy, live in South Pasadena, but Jones visits Evander four days a week, and the two have developed their own special routine.
“He’ll eat half of his breakfast, then we’ll go for a walk,” said Jones. “Sometimes I’ll run around a post and he’ll chase me, other times he just likes hanging out. I just love being with him. When I eat lunch with him, he always gets a little piece of Trader Joe’s Raspberry Preserves and some almond butter. I take naps with him in his stall, and he’ll gently put his muzzle on my cheek. I want him to enjoy life, because he did his part as a racehorse.”
Kathy, who grew up with horses, added in jest, “I can take or leave horses. Mostly leave them.”
When it comes to Evander’s personality, Jones pointed out that his horse pal has come a long way throughout the years.
“Evander’s part human, part horse, and he has a sense of humor,” Jones said. “Like a kid, a horse will test you, and I can tell when he has humor on his mind because he gets a gleam in his eye. He’s mellowed out quite a bit since when I first got him. When we arrived at the stables, he let out a grunt to let the other horses known that he’s an Alpha horse. He was full of pep and energy, like racehorses are. It takes a while to retrain them, but over time he became a great trail horse and an excellent arena and lesson horse. He informs me if another horse is sick or a person is upset. He communicates with me by taking his nose and pointing at me to get my attention, then gesturing towards the horse or person.”
It’s stories like this and others that compelled Jones to write a book about his interesting experiences with Evander. In 2008, “Life with a Thoroughbred Named Evander” was published, and Jones sold over 500 copies and had a book signing at Borders Bookstore.
“I was in an online horse chatroom and would always share the short stories I had written about Evander,” Jones pointed out. “Some of the other members were twisting my arm and telling me to write a book, so I condensed all the short stories I had written and put it into book form. I wanted to write the book from Evander’s perspective about some of the funny things he’s done. It’s a comedy and a light, fun read. Horses don’t know spelling and grammar, but they do know punctuation.”
So what’s the secret to having a good relationship with a horse? According to Jones, gentleness goes a long way. Whether it’s horses he’s trained or his buddy Evander, being gentle and letting the horse know he’s not a threat has opened the doors to trust and communication.
“Some people say that when horses are rubbing on you, they’re showing disrespect, but they’re not,” Jones affirmed. “In fact, Evander rubs on me and he knows where I need a backrub. He knows how to untweak what I’ve tweaked. He knows English because I talk to him all the time. I love horses because of the funny things they do and the way they communicate. They’re like magnets, you get stuck to them because they’re so therapeutic and relaxing. And it’s wonderful seeing how they touch people’s lives, like when a kid comes into the barn upset, and after meeting Evander, he or she leaves with a big grin on their face.”