Saturday’s Feehan Stakes meeting will mark an unwanted birthday for top jockey Dwayne Dunn.
It will be two years since Dunn’s quality of life deteriorated after a barrier accident at The Valley in September 2020.
Dunn suffered broken necks and a severe concussion when his Shot Of Irish mount came up in the stalls sending the jockey’s head into the barrier early in the race.
Still, Dunn managed to stay aboard Shot Of Irish and complete the gelding course.
The fractures healed months ago, but the concussion still has a hold on Dunn’s life.
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Dunn can’t allow his heart rate to rise too high or too quickly because his brain reacts by sending the wrong kind of messages throughout his body.
Dunn and the team at Epworth Hospital’s Concussion Clinic are trying to correct the problem.
The jockey knows it’s a slow process.
“My blood pressure shoots up when my heart rate hits 100 or 110,” Dunn said.
“A lot of this is from messages sent into the body from the brain that have been scrambled.
“Part of what we do is try to retrain the brain.
“They put me under controlled stress and take me away from it and then back into it, trying to reset my brain.”
Dunn was once desperate to return to racing, but his thinking changed after an aborted return in February 2021.
The Caulfield Cup-winning jockey said he had worked hard to convince doctors he was fit to return to riding five months after suffering his brain injury.
Dunn even rode a winner on his second comeback on Cielo D’Oro in a Friday night meeting at The Valley.
But his body sent several signals of stress, prompting Dunn to pull the pin after riding Wolves in a midfield position in the Blue Diamond Stakes, a race he had won four times while in full swing. form.
“A lot of times I rode with injuries but I shouldn’t have done that (back in 2021),” Dunn said.
“I was pretty much a crook in Moonee Valley and shouldn’t have ridden. I still don’t remember having participated in the race.
“So Blue Diamond Day is Blue Diamond Day. I don’t need to say how successful that day was for me and it was something I wanted to do.
“It was one of those instances where the fall carnival was here and I wanted to come back and I thought I was fine.
“I was probably telling the doctors the information to tick the boxes to get me back, not that I was healthy to come back.”
Now Dunn has no timeline to get back in the saddle.
He just wants to get back to a normal life without his brain constantly telling him what he can and can’t do via painful messages and headaches.
“I haven’t given up on riding, but the box I need to tick now is getting my quality of life back,” Dunn said.
“It means being able to do things like come back and play golf and do normal things as best I can.
“The golden ticket is obviously to be back in the saddle.
“I’m getting closer to returning to golf but it’s still a bit far.
“The thing that’s stuck in my head, the longer I’m gone, the less I come back.”
Dunn provided his expertise during Racing.com’s coverage of last Saturday’s Memsie Stakes day at Caulfield, which he said turned out to be a demanding day.
“I really enjoyed it, but at the end of the day, I was just buggered,” Dunn said.
“I had to lie down and do nothing for a day on Sunday just to recover.
“It was very physical but just the mental side was really tiring.”
Dunn spends his days quietly snooping around his farm on the Mornington Peninsula, checking water levels at dams while tending to the horses he and his wife have on the property.
He said those serene pursuits had been good for his mental health as he took steps, both forward and backward, in the slow process of recovery.
Dunn’s son Dylan, also a jockey, is working on getting his dual license to become a trainer.
“I helped him a bit and that kept me busy too, thinking about how he’s going to do this,”
“I like working with horses, so maybe I could sit next to Dylan and help him while he runs.”
But getting back in the saddle would be the ultimate for the 49-year-old.
Originally published as Dwayne Dunn still in rehab for concussion symptoms two years after Feehan Stakes day barrier crash