Lainey Morse created a media whirlwind when she combined the words ‘goat’ and ‘yoga’ at an event in summer 2016. Since then, she’s appeared in hundreds of publications and media outlets around the world. She explains how it all got started:
‘I’ve been an animal lover all my life. When I was a child living in Muskegon, Michigan, my family always raised dogs, so I was constantly surrounded by furry four-legged friends. I loved those dogs, but the animals I had always wanted were goats – I just never lived in a spot where I could have them. That all changed once I moved to my farm in Oregon 4 years ago. The very first thing I did was get chickens, barn cats and my long-awaited goats. I started with two: Ansel and Adams.
Moving to the farm was the start of many transitions in my life: two years after moving, I asked my husband of 10 years for a divorce. A few months later, I was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease called Sjögren’s syndrome. The only escape from the emotional and physical pain I was experiencing at that time was animal-assisted therapy.
I looked forward to coming home from work every day so I could go out in the field or in the barn and spend time with the goats. Goats are incredibly special animals: they possess a very calming demeanour, yet they’re also really mischievous and do things that make you laugh all the time. It’s the mixture of those two qualities that makes them such unique animals and why I always find time with them to be so therapeutic. They are ruminants that chew their cud (a portion of food that returns from a ruminant’s stomach to the mouth to be chewed for the second time) for around 8 hours a day. Cud chewing is a very methodical and meditative process, which, as a human, is very calming and fascinating to watch: you snap into the present moment and don’t think of anything else.
Most of the time, I enjoyed my goats by myself, but I gradually started inviting other people over who I knew were stressed out or ill – whether it was just a bad day or something more serious, I could see that being with goats really made people happy. I started hosting weekly gatherings where friends could come and enjoy some drinks, conversation and animal therapy – I called the nights Goat Happy Hour, and I couldn’t believe the response. Attendees enjoyed their wine, sure, but I knew what they really wanted was a good snuggle with one of the goats.
At one of the Goat Happy Hours, Heather Davis, an attendee who happened to be a yoga instructor, and I were standing out in the field surrounded by goats. As she observed the beauty around us, she suggested holding a yoga class at the farm. Though I thought it was a great idea, I warned her that goats would definitely climb all over the humans if they were anywhere near the class. She was not deterred; in fact, that’s exactly what she had in mind!
We decided to give it a go – since I was a photographer, I had her out to do a promo shoot to see how ‘yoga with goats’ might look and if we could get anyone to come to the farm for such a thing. Sure enough, as soon as Heather got into a pose, my baby goat Annie jumped onto her back. It was such a spontaneous, fun and happy moment, and with that photo, goat yoga was born.
After seeing the pure joy on Heather’s face as Annie accompanied her through her flow, I knew we were on to something. I saw how my Goat Happy Hours brought people joy, so why not pair goats and yoga? The two seemed to fit perfectly together: goats are meditative, calm, peaceful creatures who aren’t afraid of a little exercise – who better to accompany yogis through their poses? We held our first class the next week, and 40 people happily showed up. It’s the best decision I ever made!’