At the time of shamanic traditions, a totem define a tribe, a group (villages wore the colors of the animal much like today’s sports teams!) The totem animal in question here are rather the equivalent of guides, protectors, who call more precisely: power animals.
And the power they hold is to allow us to know us better! They are true archetypes with which it can be helpful to be familiar because their messages often reflect real life lessons in drawing our attention to our relationships, our unease, our repressed feelings. Do we communicate with others with kindness and efficiency such as horses or with force and aggressive persuasion like lions?