Kate Naylor, Equine Assisted Psychotherapy

I had no idea that a horse could make me feel so intensely.

Hold on, folks.  I’m gonna let you in on an amazing experience that shifted the Earth beneath my feet.

I met Kate Naylor about six months ago and was blown away by this woman’s groundedness, extensive training, and approachable manner.  I also was instantly fascinated by the Equine Assisted Psychotherapy (EAP) she does called Natural Lifemanship.  This modality of therapy is meant create an environment that is grounded and safe where you can experience all the feelings and reactions that may be troubling in the real world.

Right.  Let’s review that again.  You and the horse, create a relationship.  In this relationship you feel and experience reactions that happen in your people relationships that cause problems for you.

Yes, I said you are in a relationship with a horse.

I thought it was crazy, too.  But it gets crazier, because, you really have a relationship with a horse where you feel all this stuff TOWARDS THE HORSE…

Lesson 1: Horses know what’s going on inside you (maybe better than your therapist).


When Kate offered a day-long intensive for therapists to try out EAP I jumped.  I was thrilled she was doing this.  I wanted it both to learn about EAP but also for me to learn about me.  I went in to it open-minded and ready.  I showed up in the middle of Leander, on a gorgeous morning, to find Kate and her co-therapist Kathleen Choe. ready with cute journals, delicious treats, and two other eager therapists.

After spending time creating a foundation of understanding of the theory of EAP and how it works, we got to meet the horses.  We spent the first part of the day slowly getting used to being around the horses and interacting with them — this training isn’t intended for people with horse experience, so Kate and Kathleen let you move as slowly as you need and give lots of guidance in understanding horse language.  I cannot emphasize enough how these two women have powerful ways of making you feel safe, seen and held.

In the morning, I learned that horses, as prey animals who have been raised for generations around humans, are highly attuned to us.  In fact, they are very attuned to our nervous systems.  They want to know what creatures around them are feeling so that they can gauge their safety, and that applies to us as well.  They won’t trust your report of “All’s cool, Horsey, no tigers here!”  Oh no.  They will trust, however, your energy, your tension, your subtle cues that show how your nervous system is operating.  In other words, while horses can’t understand what your words, mean, they are highly in tune with how you are feeling.  Maybe better than you are.

Lesson 2: Horses Don’t Like Liars

When your body language tells the horse one thing and your nervous system tells them something else, they deem you untrustworthy.  Horses want your outside presentation to accurately represent your internal experience.  If you are pissed off and saying sweetly, “Come here, little horsey,” they are not by any means going to come near you.  They know you are pissed off.  They can feel it oozing off of you.  And, they can tell that you aren’t acting like you’re pissed off.  Which means, something dangerous and weird is going on and they are going to stay far away from you until you get a clue and start acting honestly.

How often during the day do you act the way you feel?  This is harder than you think.  I mean, I spent a lot of time at a school event this morning acting very friendly towards people while all I wanted to do was sleep.  This is not to say that I didn’t like the people around me, but I was crazy-tired and my energy inside was not matching up with the smile I had plastered on my face.​  Syncing up our inside and our outside doesn’t always come so easily since we don’t always practice it.

Lesson 3:  People Relationships and Horse Relationships are Eerily Similar

​As Kate explained, many interactions follow this template:


I wish someone had told me this as a kid.

But seriously – seeing this very simple, very true model play out with a horse as a way to replicate relationships was really astounding.

Summer, my dear dear horse, was VERY good at ignoring.  Let me give you a picture of my experience:

Me:  Snapping fingers, “Come here, summer” [said in a sweet voice]
Summer:  Standing still
Me:  Snapping fingers, patting leg, “Come here, summer” [said in a sweet voice]
Summer:  Standing still
Me:  Pounding leg, “Suuuuuuuuumer….” [still sweet but maybe exasperated]
Summer:  Standing still
Me:  Pounding leg, waving arms, jumping up and down, “Suuuuuuuummmmmmmer!” [pleading]
Summer; Standing still
Me:  Pounding leg, waving arms, jumping up and down, “Suuuuuuuummmmmmmer!” [pleading] for another twenty minutes.


Lesson 3:  Horses Can Make You Feel Feelings

​I really wanted my horse, Summer, to move towards me.  To do this, I needed to state what I wanted (in horse terms) and if she ignored it I had to find a way to increase the pressure until she cooperated..Let me detail in the example above what Kate and Kathleen helped me to understand…

Me:  Snapping fingers, “Come here, summer” [said in a sweet voice]
Summer:  Standing still
Me:  Snapping fingers, patting leg, “Come here, summer” [said in a sweet voice]  I’m starting to feel frustrated but my voice is not syncing up with that.
Summer:  Standing still
Me:  Pounding leg, “Suuuuuuuuumer….”  More frustration, same pleading voice, some increase in pressure.
Summer:  Standing still
Me:  Pounding leg, waving arms, jumping up and down, “Suuuuuuuummmmmmmer!” More frustration, but an increase in pressure.
Summer; Standing still
Me:  Pounding leg, waving arms, jumping up and down, “Suuuuuuuummmmmmmer!” for another twenty minutes.  ​More frustration, but no more energy… no increase in pressure…

At this point, Summer closed her eyes.

I am standing in a ring, jumping up and down, clapping and waving, and the f*ing horse closed her eyes.

Do you know what changed in my actions?  Nothing.  Nothing changed.  But oh my goodness, was I ever feeling feelings.  Kate and Kathleen helped me to understand that when that freaking horse closed her eyes something very deep and very sensitive got triggered into rejection mode and I just gave up.  Not in the dramatic throwing down the rope kinda way.  (I think Summer might have actually responded to that in hindsight.  A temper tantrum would have been more authentic.)  Instead, I kept “kinda-trying”.  I honestly didn’t notice the “kinda.”  But everyone around me could feel my heart wasn’t in it.

As soon as Kathleen named it, I started to cry.

Stupid therapists.  Always making people cry.

Here was a horse replicating my fears and pains of being ignored in a relationship… very dramatically demonstrating for me that I get stalled out in my ability to connect when triggered in this way.

Lesson 5:  Horses don’t hold a grudge.  Which means, they are awesome teachers.

Summer didn’t care about relational patterns.  She didn’t hold me to my history.  With Kate sitting near me, helping me to ground, and gently supporting me in trying something new, I was able to move past my stuck point.  As soon as I did, Summer responded differently.  And with time, and continued attunement on my part, she finally cooperated… and man, that felt good.

Thanks to Kate and Kathleen!

Kate Naylor, Equine Assisted Psychotherapist

Kate is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist Associate living and working in the Austin area.  As a teacher before, and now as a therapist, her experience in a variety of settings built an understanding of people as an interconnected system – the internal system of mind/body/spirit as well as the interconnectedness of family, society, and the larger web of life.  Kate’s work with parents, clinicians, and families is focused on safely recognizing what is, compassionately letting loose the parts that no longer serve, and consciously practicing a new way of being.  She draws from interpersonal neurobiology, trauma research, mindfulness, yoga, and systems theory, among others.  As a life long horsewoman, her introduction to Trauma- Focused Equine Assisted Psychotherapy offered a science-based foundation from which to integrate horses into her therapy work more holistically, and now, she rarely works out of a traditional office.  Kate is currently in private practice and sees clients in several locations around the Austin area; she offers equine sessions in intensive and retreat formats.  For more information please visit

Kathleen Choe

Kathleen Choe
Licensed Professional Counselor – Supervisor
Certified Equine Assisted Psychotherapist​After spending 15 years in my office doing talk therapy I began yearning for more tools to offer my often extremely traumatized clients.  I became certified in EMDR but still found I wanted a more experiential protocol for clients who didn’t respond, who remained “stuck” in their pain.  The moment I saw a demonstration of the Natural Lifemanship model of Equine Assisted Psychotherapy I knew this was the type of therapy I had been searching for.  I became trained and certified in Natural Lifemanship and now practice as a clinician as well as leading trainings around the country.  Horses provide a unique partnership for clients to work through trauma and learn to have healthier relationship patterns.  Mounted work offers opportunities for Equine Assisted Trauma Processing, essentially EMDR on horseback.  My favorite days of the week are the ones when I put on my boots and go to my “outdoor office” at the ranch where I conduct sessions with my co-therapist, Kate Naylor, and our four legged partners!