How 1 Horse Forced Me into Healthy Dominance with Horses

by Danielle MacKinnon

How Horses View Leadership and Healthy Dominance

In a horse herd, leadership and healthy dominance between horses are good things. They are employed to keep the horses safe. Yes, that’s right – the dominance is occurring in a positive way, for the outright good. And whether the horse is being the leader or is being healthily dominated doesn’t matter. One role does not hurt the other role – they are working in tandem.

A Skewed View of Leadership

Because of the abuse in my early childhood experiences, “leadership” was more predatory dominance than healthy dominance. In my version, the “leader” had no regard for the follower’s well-being. The follower was expected to blindly heed the “leader’s” direction, even when it was harmful.

Until the experience I’m about to share, I never experienced healthy dominance or leadership energy in my own life. In fact, my response to predatory dominance was to avoid it in every way possible – including disassociating from my body when it comes up.

And yes, this is exactly what I did when I went to hold dominance energy with my horse. I suddenly left my body.

Healthy Dominance With Horses Versus Predatory Dominance

I was in a workshop in Costa Rica and we were doing an exercise where I was supposed to demand that my horse do what I asked. It seems like a small challenge, right?

As soon as I was asked to stand up to my horse, my defense pattern kicked in and I temporarily lost my body. I couldn’t move my arm to point my horse in the direction I wanted him to go. I couldn’t go into my brain to come up with words to say. I couldn’t find emotions or experiences within me to rely on. For about 30 seconds I just left myself. I had nothing. I went into the ultimate protection mode that I have created for when icky things were happening to me as a child.

The difference here was that I wasn’t in this situation with an abuser, but instead with a horse who was completely tuned in to me and what I needed. My horse wanted me to find that healthy dominance energy within myself. Not the predatory dominance energy – but the healthy, I’m protecting you and leading you to safety dominance energy. He waited while I worked on that. He’s used to that dominance energy as it’s a part of the natural order of horses. I needed to prove to him, and myself, that I could hold that healthy dominance with horses energy in order to protect us both.

I Failed

It took a lot of trying and failing (experimenting with the different feelings in my body), to understand how beautiful healthy dominance energy really is. And yes, I did fail at it many times. But it wasn’t a personal failure, it was me, learning something new – a new aspect of living that I wanted to be able to embody beautifully so that I could live more fully and more happily.

As I worked on feeling healthy dominance energy in my body, the energy became a fun game between he and I. I would hold dominance energy and he would react appropriately to that. I’d move into another more passive energy and he’d shift his energy to react to that new energy.

And although it was tiring for me, he was LOVING it and in no way wanted to stop his fun. I could feel him smiling and going, “nice one!” when I would step up with more dominance or “ha ha – nope that’s not dominance!” with me as we played and created a little dance together.

And because I became lovingly able to hold that healthy dominance with horses energy, he trusted me to protect him. It was that simple. (Although, so not simple to get there!)

Healthy Dominance With Horses and Beyond

Until this experience, I didn’t know that it was possible to put yourself in the hands of someone else and not have them hurt you. My horse did it for me and I did it for him. When he was dominating me. I felt safe. When I was dominating him, he felt safe. We played our roles and trusted that we were each doing our job. And both jobs required us to be in communion with one another.

If you’re someone who struggles with saying “no,” or with putting your own needs first, you probably have some lessons to learn around healthy dominance too.

Cool Homework Experiment: Get to know the difference

Try this experiment with a close friend:

  1. Stand with your friend and set the intention to go into predatory dominance energy.
    1. Think to yourself, “I have to push her this way. I have to MAKE her do it because it’s what I WANT. Because this is how you get things done you push, push, push!” and move your friend in a particular direction. Feel how that feels in your body.
  2. Now try healthy dominance energy: 
    1. Instead of sending a spike of energy to your friend, imagine your body as solid and full. Move your friend physically again – but from this beautiful, full, solid place. Notice how this feels between the two of you.

PS: The horses that did this work with me are going through a challenging time because of the Pandemic. Please consider supporting them here.

4 replies
  1. María Coloma
    María Coloma says:

    I love all your blogs but this one really hit home and I believe there is something huge here.
    I was the queen of people pleasing and never saying no to others. It was my own body that stopped me and saved my life by giving me an autoimmune disease (Scleroderma) and the perfect excuse to say no to others. Now it’s not me saying no, it’s the illness. Which means if I want to cure myself from it I have to learn to say no for myself, set up those healthy boundaries and stop using the illness as a crutch.
    I need to learn and welcome this Healthy Dominance Energy! I say this is huge too because ALL the people I encounter with some form of autoimmune disease (autoimmune: our bodies attack ourselves, which is exactly what we do in the outside by not honoring our true feelings) have problems saying no to others.
    Danielle, you should write a book about this positive healthy dominance, I really feel so many would be positively affected by it as it is the key to open our road to recovery!
    Thanks so much for the post, truly inspiring! Can’t wait to go to Costa Rica and meet in person these beautiful souls!!! And youuu! Big hug from Spain!

  2. jodi
    jodi says:

    This was awesome Danielle… I too have been blogging occasionally about my lessons from horses, and although I didn’t go into as much depth as you did… this is one of the articles I wrote… thought it might interest you… I wrote another one a couple of days after it also. Best wishes to you on the coolest journey ever 🙂

  3. JoAnn L.
    JoAnn L. says:

    I sometimes do not know how to say “no” when I know in my heart I would prefer not to,but I am learning to say no when I don’t want to do something but it still feels uncomfortable for me.I guess its that inner child always wanting to be accepted and liked.I have felt many times that I just don’t belong anywhere.It sounds like you are doing a great job with the horses Danielle and they with you. Enjoy your trip!

  4. Mady
    Mady says:

    Nice read! Got me to thinking of how I give advice in a predatory way sometimes. I too grew up in an abusive environment. I’ll think about this & a better way to guide & keep others safe!


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