Worth the Headache

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If you don’t have a concussion before you take the imPACT test, you might feel like you have one afterward. The 20-minute session tests your memory, your reaction time, your ability to recall seemingly basic facts like shapes, numbers and words.

But it’s not easy. To get a feel for what jockeys will deal with this year, the National Steeplechase Association allowed me to take the imPACT test. I did OK, though I’m not going to start riding races any time soon. Mary Guessford explained the test process, logged me into the system, told me some ground rules like “read the instructions twice” and then left me to it.

The test includes several sections. By themselves they seem relatively easy – like a game of some kind or something a substitute teacher would assign for busy work. Together, the various sections create a mind-bender. They make you think, make you think fast, make you devise ways to remember things. The most taxing sections to me involved shapes and numbers, I was OK with words and the keyboard reaction time. One devious question flashed three letters on the screen for you to remember, then sent you to a screen with jumbled numbers 1-25 and the instructions of clicking on each number in descending order 25-1. After a set amount of time, I swear it was different each time, the number game stopped and the test asked for the three letters.


In the end, I felt like I did as well as I could, but I was tired from all the thinking. I’d do better the next time, I think, unless I had a concussion. As jockey Robbie Walsh put it, “If you have a concussion it will find it.”

 NSA steward and former jockey Gregg Morris check my scores and provided the following rankings (among people my age to take the test – not many):

  • Memory composite verbal score: 45th percentile.
  • Memory composite visual score: 41st percentile.
  • Visual motor speed composite: 88th percentile.
  • Reaction time: 80th percentile.
  • Impulse control composite: 5 (the lower the better apparently; at 30 you’re doing something wrong or you’ve been drinking five-hour energy all day). 

Apparently, for a 47-year-old I’ve got quick reflexes on the keyboard, I’ve got my impulses under control and I should probably work on my memory, though – again – the test is used only to provide a baseline for the next test I take should I ever get a concussion and try to ride a horse race.

Hopefully, neither occurs.

Taking the test did make me think how far we’ve come. Bravo to Morris, the NSA, all of steeplechasing for adding this safety feature. In the old days, very little protected jockeys from falls or from themselves. Jump jockeys were the first in America to wear safety vests and approved helmets. It’s only fitting that they be the first to add concussion testing as well.