This humorous column originally appeared on the Chronicle's website in 2008...
In 1932 the famous ornithologist, Roger Tory Peterson, introduced millions of people to the pleasures of watching birds in the wild when he published A Field Guide To The Birds. Here I hope to similarly inform and educate the hordes of ignorant spectators who throng to events throughout North America so that they may more fully experience the thrills of identifying eventers in their wild natural state.
Let us begin our study with the three most common species, ITAGS, Pre-ITAGS, and Post-ITAGS.
In real bird watching, the bane of the novice watcher is the infamous PBB (plain brown bird).
Eventing has its equivalent to the plain brown bird, here broken into three age groups, the Pre-ITAGS, the ITAGS, and the Post-ITAGS (all genus Horsecrazyatus). All ITAGS (Interchangeable Teen Aged Girls) look alike, from a distance, when dressed for dressage. There are millions of them, sort of like cluster flies, at all American events.
Similarly, there are millions of Pre-ITAGS, tiny jodhpur-wearing people on tiny ponies, wearing wild cross-country colors like hot pink, lime green and blaze orange. Then there are some millions of Post-ITAGS, usually riding bigger horses, and usually wearing less flamboyant outfits.
As these three groups are pretty interchangeable, give yourself 1 point each per sighting, and leave it at that.
The Hovering Mother
If Hovering Mother was treated by her normal employer the way she is treated at events by her ITAG or Pre-ITAG offspring, she would: a. Quit on the spot; and, b. File a lawsuit seeking punitive damages for emotional distress.
But, no, not at events. Look for someone who, while being ordered about like a galley slave, will lug water buckets, braid manes, polish spurs, hold horses, adjust stock ties, muck out stalls, shine boots, provide lunch and drive trailers. Add 2 points for each Hovering Mother.
The Cross-Country Jump Builder
This fixture of eventing, usually male, can often be identified by its plumage, which consists of dirty, creosote and crankcase oil-stained apparel. Unusually strong and stalwart, Creosotus will be observed carrying a shovel, a crowbar, a chainsaw, a case of Bud, a sledgehammer, and a coil of rope, while dragging a massive 12-foot log. 10 points (11 points if spotted dragging ITAG instead of log).
Young Male Rider
In virtually every respect, these few young males resemble nothing so much as young male lion cubs, simply waiting out the few years until they can become full-fledged Lion Kings.
The females do all the work, while the cubs bask in the adoration of the Hovering Mother and the hordes of worshipful ITAGS, who braid for them, clean their saddles, clean their stalls, clean their horses and follow in their wakes when these lordly creatures deign to actually remove themselves from their lawn chairs, take their iPods out of their ears and climb aboard their immaculately prepared steeds to sally forth into battle. 10 points per Lioncubus.
Adult Male Riders
These are easy to spot, because they are: 1. Male; 2. Wearing boots and breeches; and 3. There are only three of them in the whole event. 15 points each.
Of all creatures to be identified at an event, Despondantus is the most pathetic. He will most likely be spotted holding his ITAG’s horse, or lugging her water buckets, or hauling her hay bales.
He is fervently to be pitied because he has not yet come to grips with the answer he received when he asked the one question that The Boyfriend should never ask, “Who do you love more, anyway, me or that horse?”
Hints: Look for young males not in riding clothes, especially those with bored, despondent, “I’d rather be anywhere else” expressions. 15 points.
Since sometimes The Boyfriend morphs into The Husband, the casual observer might well conclude that Resignatus might also be in evidence. Not so. The Husband is resigned to the fact that he cannot in 10,000 years compete with “That Horse” in his wife’s affections, so he is somewhere else—anywhere else! Anywhere but at an event! If you actually identify The Husband, give yourself 50 points.
Famous Event Riders
Cutting through all categories, species and genders is the virtually unbridgeable gap between Famous Event Riders (genus Godlikus) and Lower Level Riders (genus Smurfs).
By Royal Decree of His Most Lord High Poobah and Supreme Being of American Eventing, there are, in the United States, exactly 25 Famous Event Riders at any given moment. The other 25,000 will be now and forever, Smurfs.
So, spot the BIG 25, at 30 points each, and you know everyone else is a Smurf.
Godlikus wears a red coat with a blue collar, lives in Middleburg, Va., Ocala, Fla., Unionville, Pa., or Aiken, S.C., has a tractor-trailer bigger than an Allied moving van and rides horses imported from every country in the world except the United States and Canada.
The lowly Smurf wears a black coat with a black collar, lives in some dumpy state that has snow in the winter, and rides a horse foaled in some dumpy country like the United States or Canada. As befitting Smurf’s status, 0 points each.
The Dressage Judge
This severe looking creature is shunned and feared by all the other eventing species, as it alone has the power to spread misery and disappointment in its wake.
Look for Despairus in its natural habitat, small wooden huts, and listen for its most frequently repeated call, “Three, three, three…”
Deduct 10 points from your total score for each sighting of Despairus.
The Father is easily identified because he will always be in one of two places, the cab of a pickup or in a folding chair next to the trailer of his offspring. When not dozing, he will be seen reading a newspaper. (3 points per sighting)
Look for something walking the cross-country course that resembles a Mother Duck followed by helpless, waddling little ducklings. The one in front will be the Trainer. (5 points)
And, finally, remember to add up those points. The winner gets a lifetime subscription to the cool new eventing magazine Smurf Weekly packed with inside tips from riders you absolutely will not see on the covers of any other horse magazines.
Denny Emerson rode on the 1974 World Championship gold-medal eventing team. He served as the U.S. Eventing Association president twice and won the USEA Wofford Cup for his lifetime dedication to eventing. At his Tamarack Hill Farm in South Strafford, Vt., and Southern Pines, N.C., he trains horses and riders and stands stallions. An original Between Rounds contributor, Emerson began writing his column in 1989.