Culture

Goat Yoga? One Woman's Hilarious Solution for Handling Stress and Modern Life

Lainey Morse found an innovative way to alleviate the stress and debt of chronic illness.

Goat Yoga goats.
Photo Credit: Jesse Andrew Clark

For her evening happy hour ritual, Lainey Morse sits on a lawn chair at golden hour in the middle of the field behind her farmhouse, sipping a glass of white wine, covered in goats. Her chair rests in the very place where yoga mats unfurl during the internet-sensational Goat Yoga classes, which Morse hosts on her little slice of land, No Regrets Farm.

The sudden fame of goat yoga has transformed her quiet, rural life in Albany, Oregon quite literally overnight. Now, it appears goat yoga might just be the serendipitous remedy to the stress and financial woes of a divorce and chronic illness diagnosis.

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Photo: Lainey Morse holding Adams during goat happy hour. Photo by Jesse Andrew Clark.

“It’s just crazy how it’s happened, and I just think it’s so hilarious that my legacy will be goat yoga,” she says. “When I’m dead, and my grandkids are rich from goat yoga, they will be laughing about it—I hope.”

As she speaks, she balances the wine in one hand while she pets a miniature goat named Ansel with the other. There are two more mini goats on her lap, Preston, and Annie, the littlest goat. Annie was born on the farm earlier this year and is still a kid. A black-and-white goat named Adams stares off into the distance, uninterested.

“Adams is over the fame; he’s bored,” Morse jokes, as the last of her six goats, and the only full-sized goat on the farm, insists I take off my jacket by biting my zipper between his teeth and tugging.

“That’s Dodger,” Morse says, explaining that “he’s not all there” because he had some brain trauma when he was young. “He couldn’t be a breeder or a buck or anything, and he was supposed to be going in someone's freezer."

Dodger lets out a big bleat.

Morse is full of comical plans for her goats—Adams is "running for president," for example—but she's quick to mention the more tangible reasons to promote goats and goat yoga, aside from “how funny they are.” She says she thinks the reason people are so excited about goat yoga is because there is so much negativity in the world, and goats are the antithesis to that.

Photo by Jesse Andrew Clark.

“I honestly don’t think this would have taken off if politics wasn’t happening so crazy,” she says. “People are sick of hearing about ISIS and war and negativity. They’re just grasping for something positive and uplifting.”

She remembers one woman who came to a goat yoga class and wore sunglasses the whole time.

“Afterwards she told me she’d sobbed through the whole class because she’d just gotten done with chemo and radiation, and it just made her feel so peaceful,” Morse says. “When you are laying out here in that field and you’re looking up, and then there’s just a goat right next to you, how can that not be healing and therapeutic?”

So far, Morse has hosted only two goat yoga sessions. It started after a yoga teacher named Heather Davis visited the farm for a children's birthday party, which Morse had auctioned off. She asked if she might use the setting to teach yoga, thinking maybe a friend or two might get a kick out of it.

Davis teaches the goat yoga classes, while Morse provides the goats and the farm and does the organizing.

"If goats could think about this stuff, I bet they're like, What is going on? Why in the world are there humans laying on our field? But then they’ll sit down and want to be petted," Morse says. "It’s pretty funny.”

Photo courtesy of Lainey Morse.

Goat yoga has gone viral, fast. When you Google “goat yoga,” you get pages upon pages of stories from all over, heralding it as “the most relaxing yoga in the world,” and the “greatest yoga trend of all time.”  

“I’m seeing things like people selling goat yoga T-shirts already; I saw some farms that are gonna do their own goat yoga [sessions] this weekend.”

Morse says one lady called her to ask her for advice about starting a “mini-horse" yoga class, but she wonders if the horses can “hold it.”

Even before goat yoga, these goats had some fans. Morse says roughly 200 people have come through in the past year for goat happy hour, to spend time with the goats in this setting removed from the rush of daily life. As we speak, goats swirl around us. They nudge their heads into our laps, and nibble gently at my clothing. 

“They won't rip a hole or ruin anything; they just like the texture, the mouthfeel,” Morse reassures me.

I imagine doing yoga with these goats is a mixture of laughter yoga and animal therapy. The goats are friendly and very into people. Morse says that's because, “they’ve been held or cuddled probably every single day of their lives.”

The first goat yoga class was in August, the second happened earlier this month, and the third is coming up next week. Since it's still so new, Morse says she’s still working out the necessary guidelines, like: “don’t bring your purse into the field with you,” and “put your phone under your yoga mat.” She's also going to recommend solid-colored mats going forward because last class she assured people the goats wouldn’t try to munch their mats, but because some people had leaves and flowers printed on their mats, the goats were enticed to nibble.

Photo: The yoga goats of No Regrets Farm. Photo by Jesse Andrew Clark.

Between cracking up at goat antics and juggling my wine glass with my recorder, I take in the serene setting that is No Regrets Farm. It’s the last official day of summer and farm homes dot green-gold crop fields, glowing in the last hours of sunlight. Oregon’s Coast Range mountains frame the view, with Mary's Peak, the tallest peak on the coastal range, at the center. It’s so quiet here that in the pauses of our conversation and between goat bleats we can hear the thump of plums as Morse’s trees release their last fruits of the season. The intoxicating aroma of summertime fills the air: overripe fruit mingles with fresh-cut grass, damp soil, hay bales—and to my surprise, not a hint of goat.

“I think people have that misconception that a) they stink, and b) they eat everything,” Morse says. “My goats are about the pickiest goats in the world, and they have a personality of a cat and a dog, so it makes them loving, yet mischievous and funny.”

With comedic timing, Ansel plops a neat pile of dark round pellets the size of marbles onto the ground. Laughing, Morse recalls that when an editor from Vice arrived to do a story, a goat clip-clopped right up to pee on his shoes. But, she says, that kind of thing is rare, and so far “instances" haven’t been too significant an issue during yoga classes.

Goat Happy Hour Therapy

When eventually the nibbling of my coat becomes a distraction from our interview, Morse insists I follow her into the barn to set it down. The little herd follows, like ducklings. When we reach the antique barn, which Morse has decorated with throw pillows and hay bales, the goats hop onto chairs and tables.

“Usually all the humans are standing and all the goats are in chairs,” Morse says.

Photo: The goats follow Morse around like ducklings. Photo by Jesse Andrew Clark.

The hooved grace of the goats, as they prance from chairs to tables and round up onto their hind legs, is impossible not to smile at. Morse says goat happy hours like this got her through some of the worst days of her life. She moved to No Regrets Farm two years ago and adopted two goats, Ansel and Adams, because she’d wanted goats for years.

“Then I bought a book on goats for dummies,” she says. “I thought, oh, I should find out how to take care of them now. It was a learning process. I just love them. I just always dreamed of it.”

She began adding goats to the herd. Then, she was diagnosed with Sjogren's syndrome, an autoimmune disease she describes as “a lot like Lupus.” It became debilitating to the point that she couldn’t even walk outside to visit the goats, and she was issued a handicapped sticker for her car to get to work.

In addition to her current job in marketing and HR at an upscale remodeling business in Corvallis, Morse is a photographer.  When her illness set in, she could no longer carry her camera to photo shoots, so she started taking photos of her goats and posting them to her Tumblr blog, Your Daily Goat.

Photo courtesy of Lainey Morse.

“You know, I’m in this horrible state but they're making me laugh—that’s the therapy part, goats just being goats,” she says. “It was just so hard to be depressed and sad when, even when I was in pain I would forget about it because of them. They use horses a lot for therapy, and dogs, but nobody uses goats and I just wonder why. They’re hilarious animals!”

Photo: Yoga goats play inside the barn. Photo by Jesse Andrew Clark.

When she realized how much it was helping her just to sit with the goats, she started inviting friends over, and goat happy hour was born.

“Everyone left happy, whether they drank or not,” she says. She remembers in particular a retired Phoenix police chief who came over.

“He was one of these K9 unit guys, and he didn’t even wanna come back here, he was like, I’ll just wait out there," Morse points toward her house. “And once he came in—well, I’ve got pictures of him ecstatic carrying a baby goat.”

Until recently, Morse says, she wondered if she’d be debilitated for the rest of her life. Then, three months in, the medicine started to work, and for now, she says she feels fantastic.

Photo: Lainey Morse stands at the edge of her barn, wine glass in hand. Photo by Jesse Andrew Clark.

“I think when you go through something like that, it gives you this crazy tenacity to make things happen,” she says. She’s ready to take this goat yoga thing as far as it can go, she says. 

“You realize, you could be in bed tomorrow and not be able to do these things; once you lose your health, you’re done,” she says. “And so, I just don’t have a choice to fail. I have to be a goat mogul.” 

A Leap of Faith

The goats keep us laughing and Morse smiles through the interview, but there’s an underlying seriousness to the situation. 

All the expenses that come with a serious diagnosis added up fast. On top of all of the medical expenses, she was paying alimony following her divorce.

“I thought, I’m gonna be in debt for the rest of my life, I have no idea how I’m gonna pay this off," she says. “And then, something like this happens.”

And, as is the way of the internet, it happened overnight.

Photo courtesy of Lainey Morse.

After the first goat yoga class, which was a casual affair with Heather teaching a few friends, Morse submitted the story to Modern Farmer magazine.

“They replied within minutes,” she says. “They were like, ‘Oh my gosh, this is hilarious.’”

Since then, things have been “absolutely crazy.” 

“The night everything started going viral I went on Legalzoom.com and trademarked Goat Yoga,” she said. “We just had to figure it out really quickly,” she says. “We didn’t know it would get big. We were just doing it to have fun.”

Now, emails are flying in from all over the world and she’s had more than 500 inquiries for the upcoming goat yoga session next week.

“I’m getting email from London, Germany, Italy and Australia—Australia! That’s a long ways. Just to do this.”

Morse says she’s got “major big plans” for goat yoga. She’s looking for a larger farm with more space that will allow for the goat yoga classes to grow, and exist more or less year-round.

Photo courtesy of Lainey Morse.

“I hope to have a property with a covered area away from the rain or the wind, because goats hate both of those things,” she said. “They don't even like fog.”

She’s launching additional goat yoga classes in spring 2017, and a new website is in the works to connect goat farmers with yoga teachers via a directory.

“If you're gonna have goat yoga, you have to have really friendly goats,” she warns. “You can’t do it any other way, otherwise it’s too much of a liability. So, it’s gonna be a very select few goat farmers. But I’m on a Facebook page of goat farmers and there are thousands, all over the world. They’re always posting pictures of them in their laps, so this isn’t uncommon. There’s lots of just pet goats.”

Eventually she’d like to hire an animal therapist and offer official goat therapy through her farm.

“It really doesn’t get more 'Portlandia' than that, now does it?” she smiles. She’s totally in on the goat yoga joke, and cracks up at the idea that she’s being lauded in the press as this out-there goat lady.

“I’m listening to so many people think I'm like an international whack job, you know? But it’s because they don’t know,” she says. We’re sitting cross-legged in the grass, and some goats are up on their hind legs stretching toward the leaves of plum and cherry trees, or falling playfully on top of each other. Adams sits beside us, lovingly nuzzling into Morse's hip. Looking around at the goats, she says, “You don’t know until you know."

Photo by Jesse Andrew Clark.

Leaps of faith are "what it’s all about right now,” as far as Morse is concerned. She tells me her decision to move to Oregon 10 years ago was based on a picture she saw in a calendar of a waterfall. She’d been living in Phoenix, Arizona, at the time. It was time for a change of scenery.

“I bought a ticket to Portland, flew here—I’d never been—rented a car, drove down the I-5 and just took exits to see what city I liked," she says. "When I drove down the 34 into Corvallis—you see Mary’s Peak, you see the golf course, you see Benton County Courthouse which is beautiful, the river—I just fell in love.”

Nine months later, she moved to Corvallis and found her job via an ad on Craigslist.  

“It was a leap of faith and it was the best decision I ever made.”

Photo: Lainey Morse in the field at No Regrets Farm. Photo by Jesse Andrew Clark.

She says part of her is sad to leave her current job, in pursuit of goat yoga, but, "I can’t not do this."

Once she has a larger property, she plans to add new baby goats to the farm, help expand goat yoga into new farms via the website and outreach, and take it from there.

“I really think goats can help people,” she says. “They’re just happy animals.”

April M. Short is a freelance writer who focuses on health, wellness and social justice. She previously worked as AlterNet's drugs and health editor.