They’d been showing up on my Facebook feed for at least a year: videos of beautiful women doing yoga with little goats. I was overcome with envy every time I watched one. They featured the same sort of yogis you always see on social media — smiling wide, casually showing off their flowy hair, contorting their limbs into graceful crescent lunges, and, obviously, living their best lives. And now they had goats, too.
I like goats more than they do, I thought, bitterly. I had to look into this.
One part petting zoo, one part therapy, with a little exercise mixed in, “goat yoga” was started in Willamette, Oregon, in August 2016, by a woman named Lainey Morse. During the 30- to 60-minute classes, yoga practitioners of all experience levels stretch and flow in a paddock filled with exuberant baby goats. Since its introduction, the young practice has swept across the US, with classes sprouting up in the Pacific Northwest, New England, Arizona, and, of course, California, where I live.
I desperately waited for my chance to get in on the trend. I’d dreamed of having my own miniature herd — long before the New York Times dubbed 2017 the “Year of the Goat.” Somehow, I’d fallen behind the farm-animal curve, but I didn’t intend to stay there.
When my animal-loving freak of a friend, Tara, told me about a baby-goats-in-pajamas yoga class last May, I didn’t need to think about my answer. I immediately paid the $20 fee to reserve my spot in a June class at Lavenderwood Farm, a working farm in Thousand Oaks, about an hour away from my house on the Eastside of LA.
Lavenderwood began offering yoga classes with its 15-or-so dairy goats in early 2017. When I signed up, proceeds from classes were being used to send teen girls in the farm’s youth agriculture program to the national dairy goat show in Wisconsin, which took place last July. The farm made enough money to both fund the girls’ trip and buy a brand-new milking machine. And goat yoga remained a year-round offering. Lavenderwood owner Danette McReynolds runs classes about three days a week during warmer months and once a week, on Saturday mornings, in the winter. Classes tend to book up a few weeks in advance.
Why the goats were clad in human sleepwear, I didn’t (and still don’t) know. I assumed it was to keep their adorable little bodies warm during cold California nights. This made them even cuter to me. They were vulnerable. They needed protection. My protection.
“I really want a goat to jump on my back,” Tara said, picking me up on a sunny Saturday morning. “Like in the videos.”
“Same,” I replied. “I just want to be in the middle of a pile of goats.”
I had never heard of goats piling on top of a human being, but I hoped it would happen anyway. Growing up in a dysfunctional family, I’ve long found solace in animals, specifically the family dogs. I’ve often joked (kind of, not really) that my “happy place” is me in the middle of a mound of puppies. In fact, I’d like a mound of puppies to be available to me at all times — Need a hit of serotonin? Just head to the mound of puppies and dive in.
I needed these goats to like me. In the car, I worried they’d be able to smell my desperate need for goat acceptance. And if I drove all that way just to be rejected by a companion animal, it would reinforce my deepest, darkest beliefs about myself: that I’ll never be good enough, not even for a goat.
What the hell is wrong with me? I knew I’d gotten stuck on a ridiculous train of thought. But inner voices can be hard to quash. And I was coming off a spring of life-altering, anxiety-producing experiences, like buying a house (and co-signing on a mortgage) with my boyfriend and nearly losing the beloved pet pit bull I’ve had since I was a teenager. So, I had some stress to work out.
As soon as we stepped out of the car at Lavenderwood, I realized I’d left my yoga mat at home. I didn’t want to do child’s pose in straight-up hay. So, with no rental mats available, I resorted to using Tara’s spare Cardio Barre towel that lived in the trunk of her car. Then we saw the goats, and all my towel-related concerns vanished.
A group of about 20 women, plus a handful of goats, were finishing up in the early-morning class. The goats wandered from mat to mat, occasionally pausing to sniff a practitioner’s face or trip over their legs. Some of the women flowed through their vinyasas undisturbed. Others giggled when (goat) kids blocked their postures. I hoped to be like the gigglers; I wanted roving ruminants to invade my personal space.
When that class ended, the women, all of them beaming wildly, paused to snap goat-selfies. One woman in a yellow t-shirt lifted a white-and-brown baby goat, clothed in a white onesie with yellow ducks, and cradled the kid like a human infant while her friend took a photo. A woman in a tank top positioned herself in tabletop as another woman placed a goat on her back, forming a sort of human-goat pyramid, and a third took a perfectly curated, Insta-ready picture that looked just like the social media videos I’d seen.
Then it was our turn. Tara and I moved to the front corner of the paddock, right near a pile of goats. Tara laid out her mat, and I arranged my towel on the ground. I could feel the sharp strands of hay under the cloth. We positioned our iphones nearby and tried to play it cool.
The ratio of humans to goats at Lavenderwood is roughly 3:1. Between 10 and 15 Nigerian Dwarf goats attend each class, depending on their moods (goats get irritable, too). Nigerian Dwarfs, the smallest breed of dairy goat, are known to be gentle and smart. And they’re having something of a moment. While Pygmy goats used to be the go-to breed at petting zoos, Nigerian Dwarfs are gaining steam.
A few goats came over to check us out, before making their way around the paddock to sniff our classmates. Moments after we settled into our first downward dog, a tan-and-white goat sauntered over to Tara’s mat, looked up at her, and softly bleated. “Get a picture,” she whispered to me, before melting over the animal.
I quickly dropped to my knees to capture the moment. Within seconds, dark brown pellets were all over Tara’s mat. Being the polite goat-yoga practitioner that she is, Tara waited until the goat walked away before brushing the pellets aside.
I was less concerned with the yoga part of goat yoga. When my first lingering visitors approached — the duckling-clad baby and what could have been her mother — I was in a spinal twist. So I immediately de-twisted, stopped paying attention to the instructor, and got to work petting the goats.
And that’s how I behaved for most of the class: When the goats came over, my focus was on goats and goats alone. When the goats walked away, I went back to following the simple postures, but ceased the practice as soon as a new four-legged friend made my acquaintance. Then I’d brush away whatever poop it left behind.
No one on social media had posted photos of the poop. It wasn’t bad poop. It was hay poop. Dog poop can be disgusting. Baby poop, too. Goat poop, I learned, is no big deal.
Soon enough, my class participation was reduced to hugging and petting goats.
My experience just about peaked when a little brown boy goat, covered in a navy-and-white onesie, stood over my thigh as I moved out of a one-legged head-to-knee bend. I was on my way to bliss, cradling this baby goat, when I started to feel a warm sensation spread down my leg and around my crotch. It was wet. I was confused. Did I just piss my pants? Nope, a baby goat had urinated on my lap.
Proponents of goat yoga claim the practice works as a form of animal therapy — whether or not you follow the stretching routine. And there’s some science to back up their claims.
Equine and canine therapy have well-recognized health benefits related to combatting depression, anxiety, ADHD, and other chronic mental illnesses. And goats are a relatively recent addition to animal therapy. A 2016 study at London’s Queen Mary University found that, like dogs and horses, goats form deep attachments to humans, with whom they’ll communicate for help. Christian Nawroth, co-author of the study, told NPR that a goat relationship “might affect humans in a positive, stress-relieving way.” Other studies suggest that human-animal interactions (which, yes, include goats) improve cortisol levels, heart rate, blood pressure, and mood.
I can’t say whether or not my heart rate or blood pressure improved during that Saturday morning class. (And I won’t pretend my anxiety magically disappeared.) But I can say that, even with the excrement and the crotchful of another creature’s pee, the day I went to goat yoga was one of the best days of the year. I laughed. I exercised (sort of). I took a selfie to rival those I’d been so jealous of. And, most of all, I didn’t get rejected by any goats.