Coach Interview Series: Kate Neligan

by Brandon

Kate Neligan

Equine-Partnered Life Coach

Our main objective here at the National Coach Academy is to enable aspiring coaches to reach their full professional potential. One of the most effective ways to educate students about the world of coaching is by offering them a window into the world of real, practicing coaches and showing them all the different ways coaches make a difference in the lives of their clients.

We hope today’s interview adds another insightful glimpse into the dynamic world of coaching.

Today we are interviewing Kate Neligan. Kate is an Author, Speaker, and Equine-Partnered Life Coach based in Longmont, Colorado.

NCA: Can you describe your coaching practice and the kinds of clients you typically work with?

Kate: My practice is mostly focused on equine-partnered coaching which is pairing life coaching with horses. I work with their intuitive abilities and the way that they show and mirror things to us through different on-the-ground exercises. That’s the primary focus. I do virtual coaching as well on the phone and through email and texts.

I’ve worked with a lot of women in career and relationship transitions. Some have gone through a divorce and are dealing with grief and loss, and others are wanting a more meaningful career. I also work with corporations for team building and leadership training. The horses work really well in that environment to show how the herd dynamics reflect things to us about our culture and about our leadership styles as well.

NCA: Can you explain a little bit more about how that process works and the unique benefits of that methodology?

Kate: The process works primarily because horses have evolved alongside us in different capacities and different relationships for a long time. They’ve been on the planet longer and they have a well-honed sense as prey animals which they use to reflect our inner states and our ways of being.

They trust people who are congruent and authentic and clearly show us when we are in alignment and trustworthy. We know as coaches that it’s really important to lead with integrity and authenticity and to lead with our heart. Horses reflect to us what’s more in our hearts than what’s in our heads or when we’re trying to force something.

In addition to groundwork exercises, like moving a horse through an obstacle course, a lot of my work can be very mindfulness-based. We’ll meditate with the horses, do some brushing, gently lead and do join-up walking. The purpose is to learn how we are being with ourselves when starting to form a connection with a horse. It’s really based on the premise of “how you do one thing is how you do anything.”

We know as coaches that it’s really important to lead with integrity and authenticity and to lead with our heart. Horses reflect to us what’s more in our hearts than what’s in our heads or when we’re trying to force something.

NCA: Did you grow up around horses yourself or is it something you came to later in life?

Kate: I’ve loved animals, especially horses, my whole life and I started riding when I was ten. For some people, the huge size of the horses brings up a lot around fear. The horses might trigger fears of their own power or about taking up too much space. For me, they really helped keep me grounded and present which is something I used to struggle with more. Because of their unconditional love, they’ve also helped me become more loving with myself and others. I find that my love for them, my understanding of them, and my ability to read them really helps in the coaching environment.

NCA: What initially got you interested in coaching specifically, and did you have to achieve any degree or certification?

Kate: I felt drawn to coaching when I got my master’s degree in spiritual psychology in 2009. It was something that many of us were considering because we were trained in 8 counseling strategies and 26 different communication skills. We had this deep-dive over two years into human psychology and I was a psychology undergrad, too. I really felt we were prepared to be coaches at that time.

At first, I started doing more women’s empowerment workshops and vision board workshops and then the horses came back into my life and inspired me to coach with them in 2014. That became my focus–to always offer their partnership when I coached with clients.

I didn’t know this field existed. I knew that there was therapeutic riding with the disabled or the autistic, but I didn’t know that this was a career path at all. I was with a friend while I was an entrepreneur working on my conscious media channel, and I had started to do some coaching. She said to me, “I can see you coaching with horses.” And I said, “What do you mean? Like we’re going to be horseback riding and talking about our lives?” I had no concept that working on the ground with horses was a growing field of life coaching.

And the way the universe works, I got invited to watch my first equine therapy session with my first mentor shortly after that epiphany. She was working with addicts in recovery and I became her assistant for two years and learned so much from that. Then I realized, “I really want to do this and I want to have a different type of clientele.” I eventually became certified in Equine Experiential Education through E3A Association as well.

NCA: In your day to day practice, what would you say is the most rewarding part of your career and on the flip side of that, what would you say is the most challenging aspect of the work that you do?

Kate: The most rewarding is that the creatures that I love the most in life are my colleagues. They’re my co-workers, my partners, and my greatest teachers. Spending any time with them is an incredible gift and joy to me and I adore being with them and now I get to share that gift with others.

I love watching people get free of things that are holding them back and keeping them stuck. I love watching the horses do this work and how fast the change happens with the horses. It’s much faster than when I was coaching without them and they go very deep.

I love watching people change. I love watching transformation. Quite frankly, they’re doing the energy work which a lot of people go to alternative healers to receive. The horses surface emotion very quickly. It’s not something that a lot of people know about horses and so I feel like I almost discovered their secret of who they truly are inside.

As for the most challenging aspect, it goes back to the fact that people usually don’t know this about horses, so it takes education. People don’t know about their gifts because many see them as livestock. So it’s sometimes hard to convince someone that horses are actually as powerful as they are in the coaching environment and that the process generates long lasting change.

NCA: What would you say is the therapeutic or intuitive comparison between dogs and horses?

Kate: I get asked this a lot. There’s a difference in that a horse is a prey animal and the dog is a predator. Prey animals are commonly like bunnies and deer. They flee from us. They do not come and put their head on our heart the way a horse will. Horses remind us to be in our hearts the way they are and their hearts are five times the size of ours.

Horses have a different teaching for us than dogs. A dog is often seen as man’s best friend. They’re in our homes while horses are not. There’s something kind of unique and mysterious about horses. People don’t really know them as well whereas many people see dogs every day. I just think they bring up different conversations and have different energies. Dogs will accept us and forgive us, waiting at the door no matter what we do whereas horses have “bullshit meters.” That’s what we often call them. They are not going to hang out with you just because you want to do that. They will hang out with you because you’re in the right mindset and way of being.

I love watching people change. I love watching transformation. Quite frankly, they’re doing the energy work which a lot of people go to alternative healers to receive. The horses surface emotion very quickly. It’s not something that a lot of people know about horses and so I feel like I almost discovered their secret of who they truly are inside.

NCA: And that’s the feedback mechanism that you need, right?

Kate: Yes. Exactly. A lot of therapists are bringing clients to equine coaches because we have the action, the plans and the forward movement. We’re not just processing the past. It’s also because horses expose a lot of things very quickly, so they’ll start to mirror what’s going on in the family that a therapist might not get to for like ten sessions.

Even with companies. Sometimes they’ll just go bowling for team building rather than investing in a deeper coaching experience. Sometimes it’s more of a challenge on the enrollment side but once people do experience this work, they love it, talk about it, and will recommend it.

NCA: Can you think of a mentor who was the most vital to your success as a coach or even as a person and in what ways did this mentor help you thrive in your career?

Kate: I had two mentors in the equine space but they’re polar opposites. The first was the one who showed me that this work was even possible. She has been a horse woman her whole life and is very skilled at working with addicts. She taught me a lot and gave me the foundation for this work and I got to start coaching at her ranch in Malibu at the time. She was very much human oriented. She wanted the best experience for the people and that came first and foremost.

My second mentor was 100% horse-centric and you had to ask the horse permission to even walk into a stall. The level of respect for the horse was unlike anything I had ever seen. I was able to really take two very different women’s approaches to horses and to humans and find a middle ground. For me, humans and horses are equals and I want the horse to have an amazing experience when they’re coaching and I want the human client to have the same, as well. It really was the blending of two different mentors that helped me create my own specific way of doing this work and forging my own path.

NCA: What is one piece of advice that you would give to somebody who is just starting out? They might not necessarily know what kind of coaching, what kind of niche they want to occupy but they know in their hearts that coaching is probably for them. What piece of advice would you give to somebody in that situation?

Kate: The first thing is always to just start. As a coach, I watch so many people not start programs because they don’t know yet and they won’t start writing their book or doing their podcast or whatever it is that they want to do because they don’t know exactly how to do it. I just started. I started with nine friends in a workshop in my apartment and I put together a curriculum that I felt really inspired to teach. I sat down and I just worked with what’s helped me and then I invited them and they came. I think it was either free or super cheap at the time — this was like 10 years ago — and I asked them all for testimonials.

Once you have an idea, putting the intention out is really important. The intention is that you want to coach and the intention is that you’re going to meet the mentors who will help you. My heart wanted to do something with horses and then the mentors showed up and then the work showed up. It was literally just the willingness to start and the intention to meet the right people.

I’ve learned everything by just doing it. That’s been my whole life. You just figure it out as you go. I have a lot of confidence so that’s why I can do that. Getting trained is really important in order to boost confidence for many people. A certification program gives you the right skills as well. If I hadn’t had my master’s program, coaching wouldn’t even have been a conversation. I had to have some training in psychology to develop coaching skills, so I am a believer in getting education to move forward because the world needs more people helping each other grow.

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