When yogi met billy: Goat yoga trend gains foothold in Missouri

Ever since the first goat yoga class opened in 2016, the experience has become a national business trend for goat and yoga enthusiasts alike. The idea is simple: it’s a yoga class, except there are miniature goats roaming around that people can interact with.

Over the years, it’s grown in popularity. Lainey Morse, the founder of the original goat yoga class in Monroe, Oregon, estimated that it’s now a $5 million industry. Today, there are about a dozen goat yoga classes affiliated with Morse spread across the country. Goat yoga has become a popular hashtag on social media, with users posting more than 138,000 #GoatYoga pictures on Instagram. Now, a goat yoga studio has come to Columbia.

Jessica Baker owns Goat Yoga of Missouri, which opened on July 19. She operates classes on her family’s farm outside Columbia on the weekends. Baker said she received advice from Morse, and Baker’s operation is now among the many in Morse’s original goat yoga affiliate network spread across the U.S. As an affiliate, her classes show up through a calendar on Morse’s website.

Baker said she sets her own prices for the class, which currently runs at $35 for an hour-long sunset class that occurs at 7:30 p.m. Morse handles credit card processing for the affiliates, and makes weekly payouts to the business.

Another goat yoga business in Hannibal is opening and will also be featured on Morse’s website in the upcoming months, she said.

One reason why goat yoga businesses are so bountiful is because the business is easy to replicate, Morse said.

“If people have a farm, and they have really friendly goats, there were able to spool up a business pretty fast,” Morse said.“Especially if they have a business sense, and marketing experience … it wasn’t too complicated to spool up a business pretty quickly.”

Baker considers her goat yoga business a side job. She works a full-time job in human resources at the University of Missouri. Baker said when she first heard of goat yoga, she didn’t take it seriously. But when she started seeking ways to give back to the community, goat yoga re-emerged as a viable option and business opportunity. She did research into stories about how goat yoga could function as animal-assisted therapy — the use of animals to help relieve stress and promote mental health.

“And so I was just listening to stories and reading stories about people who really benefited from the mental aspect,” Baker said, “and so I thought this (farm) is something I could also give back to the community.”

Baker doesn’t do the job alone. She receives help from her longtime friend Emily Heartman, who helps with administrative tasks and with the goats during classes. Heartman said that between being a new entrepreneur and dealing with unpredictable goats, the job can be a mix of stress and relaxation. But ultimately, she said it is rewarding to see people’s experiences during class.

“I’d say not a lot of people really get to experience farm life and livestock,” Heartman said. “So it’s kind of cool to get to see them experience it.”

Baker also hired licensed yoga teachers like Sarah Judd to instruct the classes. Judd said teaching the classes is different from typical yoga.

“For my other classes it’s usually pretty predictable, you know, about how it’s going to happen,” Judd said. “But the goats, they add … the element of surprise. They’re always doing something, and trying to eat my yoga mat.”

During the class, Baker walked around while a yoga teacher instructed. She poured some food to attract the goats, and sometimes convinced them to climb onto someone’s back. At the end of the class, all the participants gathered closely in a circle, and Baker sprinkled food and goats hopped across their backs.

Baker said she has seen all sorts of people come to the classes, from experienced yogis to beginners. People like first-time goat yoga participant Emily Hunter of Columbia said she heard about the trend through positive reviews from Game of Thrones actress Sophie Turner, but also wanted to be more connected with animals and nature.

Although goat yoga might be a trend right now, Baker said she believes that the business will be sustainable in the long run because employers will always be looking to provide wellness opportunities to their employees. Baker said there are also opportunities to travel with the goats for events in the future.

“We’ve been having a lot of interest,” Baker said. “It’s really exciting.”

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