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What Can Horses Teach Us About Leadership?

One of the great joys of being able to keep my horses at home is being able to watch them from my kitchen window. I am slowly learning to always have my phone close, as I see the horses do the most amazing things, things you would never see horses do if you had them boarded somewhere.

Watching Ella, my retired dressage schoolmaster, and Holly the pony one day, I was struck by how gently Ella herded Holly around. As I watched, I thought “This is how an effective leader takes care of the herd.” A lot of my knowledge of socially intelligent leadership comes from my Eponaquest training of the Master Herder program, based on Linda Kohanov’s book ‘The Five Roles of a Master Herder: A Revolutionary Model for Socially Intelligent Leadership.’ In the following video, Ella demonstrates most of the characteristics of an effective leader.


Linda calls her leadership program the Master Herder because the Leader is just one of five roles that she sees the horses do, and she asserts that all five roles are needed, in a well-rounded way, for socially intelligent leadership. In the Master Herder program, there are exercises with horses designed that demonstrate the roles and allow the human to experience what it feels like to take on each role. We can learn what the Leader, Dominant, Nurturer/Companion and Sentinel roles are about. The fifth role is that of Predator, which we don’t practice but is a necessary role for any leader to undertake in times of scarcity, sickness, or threat from outside the herd. Some of the roles are more natural to each of us, others may challenge us.

We can also observe the herd and quickly discern which horses are taking on which role. In my herd, Ella is definitely the Leader and Faraona is the Dominant. Holly and Diva are more Nurturer/Companion horses, and all the horses take their turn at being Sentinel. I see this very clearly when two or three of the horses are laying down and the fourth is standing guard.

If you are in a leadership position, there is a lot you can learn from horses that will make you a more effective leader! Check out the Master Herder program at or contact me for more information about how we can create a program for you or your team.

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