By Susan T. Hessel  

You are in the middle of a yoga pose and you feel a goat nibbling on your hair as you concentrate. Or, a little friend plops itself down under your belly when you do a bridge, or gets comfortable in another pose on your legs. One might even mooch in on your mat. No worries. It’s just goat yoga as practiced at Rainbow Ridge Farms in Onalaska, Wisconsin, on Tuesday evenings and Saturday mornings.  

What to do if a goat gets friendly during the class? “If you’d like, you can stop what you are doing and pet the animal,” said Tammy Zee, owner of Tammy Z’s Yoga Studio in La Crosse and one of two instructors who taught at the demonstrations during Goats Everywhere. Her goat yoga classes take place on Saturday mornings during the summer. 

“If you are petting a goat when I tell you to go to a pose, and if petting a goat makes you happier, I say, stay right where you are,” said Jennifer Monsos, who owns Simplicity Wellness in Wabasha, Minnesota, and offers goat yoga on Tuesday evenings during the summer. “We do yoga between petting goats.”

Goat Yoga and Goats Everywhere

Yoga is a discipline that includes breath control, simple meditation and a variety of body poses done for health and relaxation. You can also find all sorts of variations of yoga, including goat yoga, hot yoga, even programs like Monsos has for those experiencing grief and/or trauma. In some places, yoga is done with dogs or cats who roam the classes. 

Goat yoga

Goat yoga, which is offered twice weekly at Rainbow Ridge Farms during the summer, has an additional benefit, according to Cindy Hoehne, who owns Rainbow Ridge with Donna Murphy. “People leave here happier than when they came. They are more relaxed after being with the animals. Often, they’ve never done yoga before, but they just want to spend time with the goats.”

Hoehne grew up outside Chicago, and Murphy grew up outside Washington, D.C. They came to Wisconsin to have a less stressful life, buying a hobby farm they operate with a variety of animals and programs.

In the first year of Goats Everywhere in 2017, they planned for 200 visitors but 1,200 people showed up. In May 2018, there were 2,200 paid attendees. The monies raised at this yearly event support 4-H and the Goat Project. It will fund volunteers’ attendance to the American Dairy Goat Association National Convention in Minneapolis and additional educational opportunities.

“I think goats are small enough for small kids to relate to. They are gentle. They are joyful and there is a peace about them,” Hoehne said. “They are funny and comical for kids, who watch them spring and sprawl, climb on things, head butting each other. We have goats walk uphill with our guests. They lean on our guests, making sure they get up the hill okay. It’s just wonderful.”

Why goat yoga? “Why the heck not?” Zee said. “We live in a stressful world. You can press ‘stop’ and do yoga and let go of everything on your to-do list. That is one of the great benefits of goat yoga.”

Mats are provided and are cleaned and sanitized between uses. No need to worry about cleanliness if on rare occasion a goat does what nature intended—peeing or pooping nearby.

Zee loves seeing a participant relax on a provided mat. “Lie down and get comfortable with the goat nibbling on your hair,” she said. 

The first goat yoga class Zee taught had 25 students, soon it was averaging 50, and there have been as many as 100. “It’s a fun family affair,” she said. “I have had all ages from babies in strollers to senior citizens.”

“The people who come love it,” Monsos said. “People who come to classes are not doing serious yoga. We do what we can. It’s more about being with the animals, being out in nature, and letting go of the expectations.” 

While it is not as formal as a traditional class, goat yoga may be a gateway to it. “Goat yoga brought people to yoga who might not otherwise have tried it,” Monsos said. “It’s a novelty event. Several people came to goat yoga and then came to a community class or contacted me about grief and trauma yoga.”

Rainbow Ridge Farms and the Goat Project

Rainbow Ridge offers much more than goat yoga. It has a bed-and-breakfast on the farm that opened after city/suburban slickers Hoehne and Murphy bought it and remodeled a building in 1996. They work with schools and young people, including offering 10 weeks of summer camp in which young participants learn a different aspect of farming each week they attend. “They learn what goes into raising the food they eat and respecting farmers. People go to the grocery store and have no idea what went into raising that meat they are buying,” Hoehne said. 

About 18 years ago the farm began the Goat Project, which allows 4-H youth to choose a goat of their own to care for through at least weekly visits to the farm, year-round. 4-H, which stands for head, heart, health and hands, is operated through the University of Wisconsin-Extension and other public university extensions across the country.

“It’s more than just coming out and having fun and playing with the animals,” Hoehne said. “It teaches kids and adults responsibility by caring for an animal. Sometimes their goats get sick; sometimes they die. That hurts. The Goat Project promotes bonding between parents and children. Parents get to come out and experience this with their kid.”

Ups and Downs

4-H kids not only experience the joy of helping with the birth of a baby goat and then watching it grow, they sometimes feel the sorrow of losing a goat. “Some were with the animals when they were put down. The kids are there for the end of life. Some handle it better than others,” she said.

One student had a goat and its kid both die during delivery. When problems occur, the student steps back. “If it could go wrong, it went wrong,” Hoehne said about this particular experience. “It was horrible, absolutely horrible, and the 4-H girl who chose her was here expecting to help deliver a baby.” 

When the mother’s uterus was ruptured, the kid came out lifeless and the mother had to be put down. “Instead of delivering a kid, she went to the kid crib (where all the baby goats live) and cried. It was one of the most difficult experiences. I sat with her and cried, too,” Hoehne said. “It is heartbreaking, the things that happen with animals. On the other hand, it is so heartwarming and exciting when 4-H kids deliver the baby goats. They get in there and help the goat have the baby and take care of the newborns. We walk them through it.”

The Rainbow Ridge owners have so many stories about participating 4-H youth. Among their favorites is a girl from a struggling home who dreamt of becoming a doctor. “It’s hard to put into words, but she grew so much and learned about the value of life and responsibility,” Hoehne said. “We promised her a donkey if she got a Ph.D. She is getting a Ph.D. in chemistry this year. We owe her a donkey.”

You can learn more about Tammy Z’s Yoga for All at www.tammyzyoga.com, Jennifer Monsos’ programs at www.yogafitnesswellness.com, and Rainbow Ridge Farms at www.rainbowridgefarms.com.