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Goat yoga? Animals join humans in class at Groveport farm

By MARGARET QUAMME The Columbus Dispatch

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Three rows of yoga mats line much of the green lawn between a farmhouse and barn on a back-road property in Groveport.

Strategically positioned between the mats are bowls of goat food.

While 28 students spend an hour moving through downward dog and cat/cow, a revolving cast of goats -- cheerfully ignoring the odd human activity -- circulate among the food dishes and seize the opportunity to indulge in some tree bark and wildflowers along the fence on the edge of the yard.

Goat wrangler Marissa Mulligan, an animal-science major at Ohio State University just finishing an assistantship before heading home to Philadelphia for the summer, keeps the goats in line, warding off any potential head-butting incidents.

Chickens, as serenely indifferent to the goats as the goats are to the humans, also stroll through the yard, pausing occasionally to take thorough dust baths while roosters perch on the fence and enthusiastically announce their presence.

Yoga, at one point esoteric and then mainstream, has lately moved into wild territory.

Dana Bernstein, who teaches the goat yoga classes held twice a month at Harrison Farm from May through September, specializes in "experiential yoga," including classes that combine yoga with wine and chocolate.

(In Columbus, you can also enjoy yoga with cats -- "yogatos" -- at the Eat, Purr, Love Cat Cafe, or take aerial yoga at Yoga on High.)

Goats make for a far less solemn hour of yoga than some offerings, even if the class moves through a typical vinyasa sequence.

The experience offers its own special set of hazards, as well as welcome distractions.

"Got a little overactive bladder over here," Bernstein warns. "I don't know what I'm stepping in."

Then she suggests: "Shower before, shower after."

At the seasons' first session on May 7 -- a breezy, bright-blue morning with an enough of a chill in the air that some participants start out in hats and sweatshirts -- some of the goats show more interest in humans than others.

Matriarchal Garden Goat -- recently turned unicorn by an injury that destroyed one of her horns -- surveys the situation impassively.

Two much younger goats show more curiosity. Five-day-old twin kids, followed by protective mother Corn Nugget, take a serious interest in participant Jen Johnson, nibbling her pants, licking her water bottle, and finally settling down for a nap on her yoga mat.

When Johnson extends her leg in a pose, Corn Nugget seizes the opportunity to taste her toes.

Johnson arrived at the class solo, but some other yogis came in a herd.

Kay Kasberg of Pickerington, at the suggestion of her granddaughter, chose the class as a way of celebrating her 60th birthday, bringing six family members with her.

"Goat yoga -- it's pure Ohio, isn't it?" Kasberg said.

Farm owner Katherine Harrison, who doubles as an event planner, began offering goat yoga on the farm on a small scale last year, after she met Bernstein while planning her wedding.

The fifth-generation farmer grew up on the 76 acres with her grandparents. She now has about 70 goats, 30 sheep and 100 chickens.

"All of the animals on the farm contribute in some way," she said.

The goats who entertain guests during yoga are used to being around humans. Many were bottle-fed for one reason or another, and so they associate people with food and snuggles.

As for what Harrison calls the "general population" of goats, some of them serve by birthing future goats and others are destined for the dinner table.

The chickens do their duty by laying eggs, a good number of which found their way into the egg and cheese burritos served after yoga while participants took goat selfies.

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