The Anxious Eventer: On Perfectionism

Erin Lassere is an Area III eventer who contends with the auto-immune disease Ulcerative Colitis as well as chronic anxiety. In order to sort through her riding thoughts and journey, Erin’s started a new blog and we’re honored to share her first posts here on EN. Please give Erin’s blog, The Anxious Eventer, a follow by clicking here. Many thanks to Erin for writing and thank you for reading.

Photo courtesy of Erin Lasser.

I’m Erin Lassere. I am an Area III eventer. I have been diagnosed with an auto-immune disease called Ulcerative Colitis, as well as chronic anxiety. I have been toying with the notion of starting a blog, and I am so excited that I am finally in a place to take the plunge. I want to use this platform to document my experiences struggling with both a physical and mental condition, while, somewhat ironically, competing in a physically and mentally demanding sport.

When I was first diagnosed with UC in the fall of 2018, I was both shocked and a little scared. I, however, was not scared of the physical pain, doctor’s visits, sick days, etc. that would come in the future; I was, naturally, scared of how I would continue to ride and compete.

The next Spring season, my competition outings were quite sparse. I think I may have shown two or three times. Each of these times were relatively unsuccessful. I was, at the time, riding a green mare I lovingly named “Palladium”, or Athena. She is a lovely horse, but required a consistent schedule. I, being as sick as I was, could not give that to her.

I had always been an extremely confident rider, and was sure of my own abilities. However, I watched as my record became dotted with letters, my friends moved up the levels, and sure enough, my own confidence tanked. In the summer of 2019, I slowly began to recover from the worst of my UC symptoms, after a course of prednisone. The scars that UC left behind were not just physical; they were mental. I lost all confidence in my riding abilities. Even so much as walking out to the barn gave me extreme anxiety, and riding went from a refuge to something I wanted to escape. I pushed through because I was too hard on myself not to, but quitting was constantly in the back of my mind.

Photo courtesy of Erin Lasser.

Around this time, I began riding with my current coach, Zachary Brandt. Through his guidance, my riding abilities strengthened and I started to form a true partnership with Athena. My record began to show my efforts, and I competed in my first Training Level successfully (minus the jump I missed on Cross Country, of course). However, better results did not mean a better mental outlook. The saddle, and especially competitions, gave me anxiety to the point of throwing up most show mornings. A new year and a new horse later, I am still going strong. My anxiety is horrible, but it is manageable. I am learning to cope, and starting to truly enjoy the process. In this blog, I will document this process as I embark on my journey of loving riding and eventing again.

Along with anxiety, I am diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, or better known as OCD. I truly do believe that some OCD tendencies have sharpened my skill set in the equestrian world, especially with horsemanship and grooming. I may be extremely hesitant to applaud myself about my riding abilities, but I am not afraid to advertise my beautiful sewn-in braids.

However, with OCD comes perfectionism. Anyone who knows me personally knows that I am an EXTREME perfectionist, to put it lightly. I will obsess, and obsess, and obsess, until I get it right. “It”, in this case, literally ranges from schooling a single jump, to an entire lesson, to an entire competition. “Right”, in this case, only means perfect.

Unfortunately for me, a perfectionist’s standard of perfect is unattainable, because no amount of “right” is good enough. At this stage in the vicious cycle, my anxiety takes over. I convince myself that if I am not absolutely perfect, the consequences will be dire and someone will be unbearably disappointed in me. It is humorously dramatic, albeit.

My hesitancy to ride last year, and admittedly sometimes now, does not derive from fear of falling off; it comes from fear of letting myself down. I set myself up for failure in that department, as every tiny mistake left me displeased. Over time, however, I have recognized how unfair this way of thinking is. Self-realization is the first step, and I have conquered that.

I’ve began to remind myself that I need a break; whether that means taking a quiet hack on a day I was going to flat, or listening to uplifting music during my rides, or watching videos of myself riding well and mentally repeating the mantra “you look good”. It is truly a work in progress, though. I have re-written this post several times before I was satisfied enough with it, ironically. Perfectionism is habit hard to shake.