How we helped jockey Brian get back in the saddle

Posted on in Services, The trust

The neuropsychology team at South Tees Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust are proud to have played a significant part in helping Brian Toomey resurrect his riding career, by developing a bespoke assessment to test his riding skills.

Jockey Brian had a life-threatening fall at Perth racecourse in July 2013 and was initially treated at Ninewells Hospital in Dundee before moving down to The James Cook University Hospital in Middlesbrough, where Professor Phil Kane, chief of service for neuroscience, performed further surgery. Brian’s recovery as further aided by the neuropsychology team at the Teesside hospital.

Dr Don Brechin, consultant clinical psychologist, and Dr Jenna Moffitt, clinical psychologist in neuropsychology, review jockey Brian Toomey’s assessment

Dr Don Brechin, consultant clinical psychologist, and Dr Jenna Moffitt, clinical psychologist in neuropsychology, review jockey Brian Toomey’s assessment

As part of Brian’s recovery and to test his competency to competitively ride again he underwent a bespoke in vivo assessment, specially designed for him, that included a series of tests. The first test involved hearing a typical speech a trainer might give a jockey before a race (these speeches were developed by Tom O’Ryan, a coach registered with the British Horseracing Authority, who volunteered his time to develop these materials). The speeches mentioned six key messages that Brian needed to recall immediately and then after a 20-minute delay.

Brian also had to participate in a horse-based hazard detection test that was designed specifically for him. This involved Brian sitting on an exercise horse and riding it as if it were a race, while watching head-camera footage of a real horse race on a big projection screen. During ‘the race’ Brian was asked to keep up a running commentary of the hazards he noticed. Another jockey who had not had a head injury also completed the test to provide a comparison. Brian’s responses were filmed (by Alison Williamson and Debbie Banks from the South Tees Medical Illustration department) to allow later analysis of his performance.

This test was developed by the NHS Neuropsychology Department (Dr Jenna Moffitt and Dr Don Brechin) in collaboration with Helen Wilson from the Injured Jockey Fund and Louise Broom, private physiotherapist, who gave their time freely to the project.

Dr Jenna Moffitt, who led the tests, said: “Brian did very well in the assessment and while details of his performance cannot be discussed, the team did recommend that, considering Brian’s cognitive profile, the British Horseracing Authority should support Brian’s application for his jockey’s licence. The BHA reissued Brian’s licence on 8 June 2015 and our assessment was one of several the authority took into consideration before making its decision. We wish Brian all the best in his future horseracing career.”