Petaluma Travel Journal Workshop!

Combine travel journal making with a touristy treasure hunt in the heart of historic downtown Petaluma!

I’m excited to announce I’ll be hosting a Travel Journal Workshop on April 26, 2019, in Downtown Petaluma! Please check out the flyer below and share with anyone who might be interested in joining. Click here for more info about the workshop and to register. Space is limited, so please be sure to R.S.V.P. Hope to see you there!

Travel Journal Workshop_Catherine Anne Held

To download a copy of the flyer, click here.

Meet “Dr.” Peyo: A Horse Who Heals With His Heart

cheval-de-coeurSome of the most interesting science behind equine therapy and equine facilitated learning focuses on the measurable heart connection between horses and humans. But science alone cannot adequately explain how horses heal humans or the sense of wonder it evokes. Recently, as I was writing a chapter in my book about horses and healing, I watched some videos of a very special French stallion named Peyo from the Dijon region of France. In the video, Peyo and his person, Hassen Bouchakour, visit Ehpad des Orchards of Chartreuse de Dijon, a convalescent hospital serving people with Alzheimer’s and other end-of-life issues. After backing out of his horse trailer and negotiating the elevator, Peyo chooses which room to enter. He invariably seeks out people that are very, very sick or close to dying, and his healing presence brings great joy to the suffering. Though the video is in French, no translation is needed to witness the healing power of Peyo’s generous heart.

Peyo originally came to Hassen Bouchakour as a dressage horse. Dressage, sometimes described as horse ballet, requires exquisite wordless communication and trust between horse and rider. Apparently, at first, Bouchakour, a world champion in artistic dressage, and Peyo did not click. In fact, at one point, Bouchakour was ready to give up on Peyo and put him up for sale. However, one day, something shifted between the two and everything changed. It was at dressage shows that Bouchakour first noticed Peyo’s propensity toward tending to the ill. The oft-fiery stallion would instinctively move toward the disabled members of the audience where he appeared tender and docile to their touch.

Bouchakour embarked on a three-year journey preparing Peyo to visit the ill and aged. He worked diligently to help the horse grow used to noise and different levels of flooring so that Peyo would be more comfortable inside of hospitals and convalescent homes.

Tremendous care goes into prepping Peyo for the actual visits. His body is covered in antiseptic lotion and a blanket. His mane and tail are tightly braided, and Hassen stays close to him at all times. Medical staff and patients alike appear astonished by the incredible results Peyo achieves simply from his soothing presence: patients who no longer talk, speak; those who don’t move, walk. The handsome stallion’s loving, gentle presence seems to evoke love from those he visits and helps to remind us that healing is always possible. As we move into spring, the time of new beginnings, may we, too, have generous hearts and deep heart connections. Enjoy Peyo’s special message of hope and healing in this article and the videos below.

Peyo and Hassen Visit Ehpad des Orchards of Chartreuse de Dijon:

Check Out Peyo’s Dressage Moves Here!

Tend and Befriend: The Casserole Brigade

Campbell’s Soup Casserole Ad Published Redbook, May 1977, Vol. 149, No. 1 by Classic Film licensed under CC BY 2.0

I am currently writing a chapter about trauma, and how horses help heal trauma for my forthcoming book, Called by the Horse: Women, Horses, and Consciousness. In writing about how trauma affects women differently than men, I took a fresh look at the research that Shelley E. Taylor and her colleagues published in 2000 in the American Psychological Association’s Psychological Review.

Essentially, the article reveals that because of gender bias, previous studies related to the biological results of stress were done on men and male animals. The prevailing idea of “Fight or Flight” from the 1930s came from studying men and male laboratory animals, not female subjects. The research from Taylor’s team showed that while the biological Fight or Flight responses applied to men and women, in women there was a different hormonal response that kicked in: the “Tend and Befriend” response.

“Feel good” and bonding hormones such as oxytocin (found in breastfeeding, giving birth and orgasm) are released in women under stress. Oxytocin is also released in mutual grooming activities like grooming a horse or petting a cat. The hormones cause a biological drive to take care of each other (tend) and to gather with others (especially women) for support, to gather resources and for protection (befriend).

I checked out Taylor’s book, The Tending Instinct. The book is great, but I was disappointed to learn that the genesis of this groundbreaking research came from a lecture that Taylor attended with her graduate students on the amygdala, the part of the brain responding to threats. The bias towards using male subjects in stress research was so obvious that it triggered the drive to study how stress affects women.

My Version: The Casserole Brigade

I was disappointed in Taylor’s version because I had heard a different story about how she and her team chose to study women and stress that was much more relatable. Years ago, I heard the story that Taylor and some of her women research colleagues noticed that when work was especially stressful, the men tended to disappear back to their desks (flight), while the women brought goodies to share and gathered in the work kitchen to eat and commiserate together (tend and befriend).

I recognize the urge to gather and share food; when there is a serious illness or death in a family, women are often the first responders, arriving with casseroles and sweets to share. In September, when my neighbor heard that my beloved cat died, she immediately brought chocolate.

Tend and Befriend as an Evolutionary Advantage

While I prefer my origin story, what is more important is that this research has an interesting hypothesis and important implications. During the million or so years our ancestors were hunter-gatherers, there were evolutionary advantages to the biology of stress; faced with the threat of dangerous animals or human attackers, men were more likely to flee or fight.

It is theorized that women, on the other hand, especially of childbearing age, had to stand their ground in order to take care of babies and small children. They were probably also taking care of the sick and elderly. Fleeing would be more of a threat to themselves and their vulnerable dependents. Women’s biological Tend and Befriend programming encouraged nurturing and banding together with other women, thus protecting their small groups and ultimately the human species.

Why is this important and what does it have to do with horses? Women’s Tend and Befriend instinct shows an evolutionary advantage toward cooperation rather than the competitive and brutal assumptions we have of the survival of the fittest as “natural.”

Horses are one of the oldest surviving species on the planet, probably because they recognize mares as leaders. It’s time to come together and take our place as leaders as we just saw with the U.S. 2018 midterm elections. We need to access the cooperative herd consciousness and leadership skills that come naturally to horses—and are hardwired in women—for the survival of our own species.

Bring on the Casserole Brigade.

More Interesting than Grass

Most Tuesday mornings find me pulling on my barn boots and threadbare jeans for “Tuesdays with Primo.” In my left back pocket is a scrap from some flannel pajamas that I use to wipe his face. I did not intend to fall in love with another senior horse but I did. Primo lives eight minutes from my urban bungalow down a country lane.

Four years ago, I overheard a woman mention that she was taking care of her friend’s horse. The woman was quite ill and her mare needed attention. It seemed like an ideal situation because I wanted a horse in my life. I offered to walk and groom the mare, but after our first meeting, Freddy, the woman taking care of her friend’s horse, said that it wasn’t a good match. She did, however, see or intuited a connection between Primo and me that I didn’t see.

Primo was about twenty six we met. I was much more interested in hanging out with a younger horse. My heart had broken when Guiness died a few years before and I was reluctant to make another deep emotional attachment to a senior horse. For the longest time, Freddy told me that Primo really liked me. I had a hard time believing her, especially because he rarely did what I asked of him.

But I fell in love anyway.

Tuesday, the week before Valentine’s Day, I walked into the pasture filled with lush green grass. Primo knew I was there but continued eating. Without putting his halter on, I nudged him to walk with me toward the gate. Unrestrained, he followed me like a puppy. Each time it feels like a certified miracle. When I first worked with him, he would wander away when I came toward him with the halter. I would chase him all around the field until he gave up on the game. I never blamed him, though sometimes I got frustrated. I blamed my own inadequate horsemanship skills. (It would be several years before I learned that he evaded Freddy, too, unless she lured him with a small carrot.) The only way to get him through the gate was haltered, and getting him to allow the halter was difficult.

Every small act four years ago was hard; finding a halter that fit Primo among the jumble of different sizes, figuring out how to latch the gate, and remembering that the buckle on the halter goes in my left hand. Through it all we learned to love and trust each other. I’ve learned to drop into Horse Time. I relax now as I walk out to the field and let Primo take some transition time before coming with me.

I take my time as I groom Primo before our walk. Long bundles of brown horse hair fall off as I brush him. As I touched him, an image came. I am riding him. I feel the visceral feeling of being held and supported by Primo. We haven’t ridden for at least two years because of his age, though now a young boy rides him every week.

Primo almost died two years ago, and every time I see him, I treasure our time together. I notice details about him as if to etch him more fully into my very being. A bit of his mane lies on his left side like an angel’s wing. His rear legs have white socks. His tail almost reaches the ground. His stiff right hind leg is getting harder for him to lift up when I clean his hoof. Like his forebears, this Peruvian Paso is known for his steady gait, but sometimes I can hear his right hind hoof slipping and I brace myself for his inevitable last day. Tears appear as I allow myself to feel my anticipatory grief, quickly drying again as I drink in my gratitude that we are both here now.

Safe Harbor
Tuesday, we walked calmly past the two dogs behind the neighbor’s fence. They bark at us every week as we pass. Schooner is grey, black and mottled. He used to bark at us only half-heartedly until a few months ago when the younger all-black dog joined him. Now, the two bark at us hysterically each week. Schooner barks for the last time under his favorite spot under the pyracantha bushes laden with orange berries. Dogs may be man’s best friend but historically they were not so to the horse. The wolf ancestors of Schooner and the young black dog are natural predators of horses. At first, we both startled at this weekly cacophony, but Primo looked to me for cues. He learned that I was a safe harbor. We take the barking dogs in stride now. Primo has been my safe harbor, too. I remember a moment of terror when one of Freddy’s mares, Rosebud, charged us both at a full gallop as we were coming through the gate from one of the fields. Primo stood in Rosebud’s way and shielded me from getting mowed down at the open gate.

Down the lane, but before the five red mail boxes, I let Primo stop for a bite of grass at our usual spot. I saw a small white rabbit munch something nearby. Overhead was a lone  mourning dove. Later I heard the familiar trill of red winged blackbirds. Surprisingly, Primo wasn’t very interested in the grass at the side of the lane. Later when we reached his home, he spent a few minutes lingering with me before joining the other horses out on the field.

Years ago, when I hung out with Guiness, Alyssa Aubrey said that I needed to “be more interesting than grass” to get the attention of a horse. Today, I can say that when given the choice between a field full of new grass, and spending time with me, Primo found me more interesting than grass.


Launching An Imperfect Website

I am nervous as I write this, because in doing so I am launching I would not be going live today with the website if I did not have an event coming up with Cammy Michel on November 4th.

I have had the URL since May 2008, and have since felt guilty and foolish for not activating it. The “.com” part threw me off for years,  because it announces “me” as a business. It has been hard to reconcile my image of myself as a healer, teacher and generally good-person-in-the world with the business aspect that the “.com” part of the web address denotes. I have been more of a dot org kind of gal—often giving or deeply discounting my services whether in non-profit work, or to clients asking for energy healing services.

In addition to self-esteem issues related to being in business, part of my reluctance resides with my previous website experience. Shortly after establishing my energy healing website, the designer took off and I was unable to make any changes. So now, with help, I am on a steep learning curve so that I can make changes to this website myself as I go.

Am I Too Much or Too Complicated?

I have also been confused about how to express myself and my ventures through the website. Marketing experts tell me to hone in on my marketing message, to simplify, to let go of anything that might confuse my branding message. How do I share my talents, skills and interests in one place? Do I give up my Ancestor’s Way website to focus only on my books? How do I share my art which has been so private but now wants to be seen? What about my fascination with women and horses or my years of working with cancer survivors? Or the women’s center in the Ukraine that is still a passion after twenty years? Can I share my spiritual practices with others on a business website? And of course, how many websites does one woman need?

Can I Maintain the Blog and Website?

Not surprisingly, my self esteem issues trickle down to all my electronic communications. I have an email newsletter that I sometimes send out. In the past there have been big gaps, even as much as a year between them. Then there is my blog history. It has been years since I added to my Dream Horse Women blog I started ten years ago. Can I commit to regular blog posts, now, knowing that I may fail miserably? Plus, I write longer pieces—the “wrong” length for blog posts. This blog is probably the size of three or more “correct” blog posts.

Wanting to Look Good: An Imperfect Website

Over the years, I have wracked up many good deeds and accomplishments. Grants received, non-profit work, clients whose lives have been transformed, people who are grateful for Delia’s Book. All the marketing seminars I have ever taken suggest that I share those things with you, yet here I am sharing my self-doubt, my vulnerability and my crazy obsessive self-talk. Throw in a large helping of perfectionism drilled into me early, and it’s a recipe for never launching an imperfect website.

I want to look good to the outside world, but my pretty accomplishments are not the whole story. I also have some spectacular failures and insecurities. It makes sense to project an air of confidence to encourage trust, yet my skills helping others are probably more about taking baby steps when those obsessive self-doubting voices start their crazy town talk, than some impressive list of achievements.

Deep Breath Needed

Today, I will take my own tagline “Emboldening women to greater creative and spiritual exploration,” seriously.  I am one of the women that I need to embolden. Shortly, I will push the magic button that will reveal my imperfect, work-in-process website. In order to do that, though, I make the following commitments to myself and to you.

  1. I commit to share my gifts and imperfections.
  2. I commit to share my authentic voice, especially when I am afraid or neurotic.
  3. I commit to writing on a schedule that fits me.
  4. I commit to asking for help when I need it.
  5. I commit to having an imperfect (but live) website.

Here I go, deep breath!







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