Can goats save the world?
Admittedly, this seems like a stretch, quite literally in the context of Hello Critter Goat Yoga, founded by yogi and goat-advocate Michelle Tritten in 2016. Her Glendale-based company was the first to bring the “goat yoga” experience to Los Angeles, beginning on Earth Day, April 22, 2017.
One recent Sunday afternoon, Michelle brought her caprine crew — Pixie, Emo, Leapy Lou, Hansel and Gretel — to the dewy emerald lawn of Pasadena’s Gamble House. The hour-long session was conducted by Tina Lenert, certified yoga instructor and docent for the Gamble House. Lenert also is responsible for bringing Hello Critter Goat Yoga to the Castle Green where her classes help raise funds for the maintenance of this treasured Pasadena landmark.
Leapy Lou, Pixie and Emo are mini-La Mancha goats, a small dairy goat breed known for their adorably short ears. Hansel and Gretel are 6-month-old Nigerian Dwarves, another small breed of dairy goat. Tritten explains that all of her goats are rescues, because she believes “…there’s a better destiny for a goat than ending up in a burrito.”
At last count, she has successfully re-homed 15 rescued goats as part of her mission. As she addresses the group sprawled on yoga mats and beach towels, the goats press hopefully against her legs, nudging for a snack (sunflower seeds, hay pellets) from the rattling treat-jar that she totes in a low-slung leather holster.
“There’s a better destiny for a goat than ending up in a burrito.”Michelle Tritten
It does appear that goats as a species are having a moment.
While Maui burns, goats are doing their part to help reduce the risk of wildfire in Glendale and many other Southern California communities. Fire Grazers, Inc. is a family business run by Michael Choi employing goats that munch their way through our region’s crispity-crunchity, tinderbox-dry brush just waiting for an errant spark. Choi’s 900 or so easy-ambling, sure-footed goats remove acres of poison oak, invasive star thistle and loathed black mustard more efficiently than their counterpart human brush crews using chippers and other power tools.
Let’s also give social media memes their due. Until recently, calling someone an old goat was hardly flattering, but now it’s a coveted acronym: “Greatest Of All Time (G.O.A.T.).”
In 2011, celebrated cellist and cultural ambassador Yo-Yo Ma organized the first of The Goat Rodeo Sessions, collaborating with musicians Stuart Duncan, Edgar Meyer and Chris Thile, featuring ethereal vocalist Aoife Donovan. Until then, the term “goat rodeo” was a term of disparagement, along the lines of “an unholy dog’s breakfast.” Yet the resulting album won two Grammys for its irreverent, effervescent blend of classical, bluegrass and other folk genres.
And then there’s Argan oil. This oil is extracted from the kernels of Morocco’s Argania spinosa tree, and has been enjoyed across North Africa for centuries as a luxuriously rich base for dips and dressings. Quite recently, the high concentration of oleic, linoleic, palmitic, stearic, and linolenic triglycerides in Argan oil captured the attention of toiletries manufacturers, and now it’s the hero ingredient of high-priced cosmetics and shampoos.
The marketing content for these products explains that the Argan kernels are hand-processed by Berber women belonging to work collectives in Morocco. True, but what’s left unsaid is that the women themselves aren’t climbing the devilishly thorny trees to collect the fruit: this is the duty of their goats, which climb and eat their fill. Then Nature takes its course, and human hands pick through the resulting droppings to retrieve the precious kernels for processing.
In her friendly bleat-and-greet introduction, Lenert advises that goats eliminate freely, referencing the output as “blessings and holy water.” Tritten adds, “They may not be potty-trained but since they are vegan, their dry, virtually scent-free droppings are harmless.”
She’s right. The droppings are small, firm, uniform pellets, much like a rabbit’s. Tritten has also offered bunny yoga, but is phasing it out because she says the rabbits don’t enjoy it.
Tritten has also offered bunny yoga, but is phasing it out because she says the rabbits don’t enjoy it.
Although the goats are not diapered, they are outfitted with padded booties that protect humans from the hard edges of their hooves. Tritten calls her goats “…empathetic, curious, extremely intelligent, playful and rambunctious,” adding that although “they have no boundaries,” the fact that goats lack top front teeth makes them safe playmates for humans, as long as goat-to-human head-butting is avoided. She says that the goats learn from each other in terms of how to interact in class.
Goats are natural climbers, and the expanse of human backs flattened in Downward Dog and Child poses proves irresistible to them. They leap atop class participants as easily as a cat leaping onto a kitchen counter, guided through the constellation of yoga mats by treat-bearing helpers goat-dad David Foster, and “the Goat Grammaah.” Although Tritten’s petite goats weigh only about 25 pounds each, their solid, four-on-the-floor landing does feel like a bit more. She likens the experience to a back massage, or a stretch-deepening adjustment given to a student by a yoga teacher. The goats also love to pass through tunnels, gliding under bellies of participants in the Cat and Cow Pose.
The rectangular slit-pupil of the goat’s eye which weirdly resembles the eye of an octopus tells us a lot about their love of jumping to higher ground. Goats are prey animals which evolved in harsh, arid landscapes; scientists speculate that goats were domesticated about 10,000 years ago, before dogs and horses, in what is now modern-day Iran.
Their horizontally elongated pupils allow for a sharply focused view of wide, panoramic vistas, with only minimal blind spots even in bright sunlight, helpful in fleeing predators. The superb dynamic range of goat’s pupils also allows them to see well in dim light and even in darkness. And taking an elevated position, whether on a rocky hillside outcropping or between human shoulder blades, further enhances their sweeping perspective.
Class participants are required to sign a carefully worded safety waiver which warns of risks like scraped skin and head-butts and stipulates a minimum student weight of 75 pounds. The prospect of inevitable blessings and splashes of holy water notwithstanding, unlike a conventional yoga class, this one is punctuated by whoops of surprise and peals of laughter.
The youngest and lightest student in the last Gamble House class of 2023 was fledgling songwriter Emma Terzyan, age 12, a 7th grader at Sierra Madre Middle School, who recently snagged first-place honors for her rendition of Alexina Louie’s moody “Moonlight Toccata” in the piano competition hosted by the Pasadena Conservatory of Music. Terzyan says she likes yoga practice “…because it gives me balance, and a boost to my creativity.” Of her first Goat Yoga session, she “…really liked how friendly the goats are. They really relaxed me.”
Hello Critter offers Goat Yoga and goat-assisted hikes, art-making workshops and other activities as corporate team-building exercises. In addition to a future Pasadena Library event and a planned appearance at the Castle Green in the fall, the Los Angeles Arboretum in Arcadia also hosts Hello Critter Goat Yoga sessions once a month.
Accessing our inner “kid” may seem elusive in these troubled times, but Tritten’s critters remind us that joy is always accessible, available and free.