Lainey Morse’s office has no desk. Her colleagues stand on hooves. They have coarse fur. And they love to eat — everything from shirtsleeves to maple leaves.
Morse started Original Goat Yoga more than three years ago. The animals nuzzle participants and occasionally cuddle with them as they stretch.
In the last two years, Morse’s creation has gone from one location in Benton County to 12 across the country. Corporate brands such as Nike and Google have even hired Morse for private events, and some of the locations make as much as $140,000 a year in sales, she said.
But Oregon zoning laws prevent Morse from expanding the business in her home state.
The idea for the business started on Facebook, where Morse first posted about goat yoga on a page she came up with: Your Daily Goat. A photo featuring a baby goat perched atop a woman stretching went viral.
“If it wasn’t for social media, we would not be here,” Morse said.
Morse hosted the first goat yoga classes on her farm outside Monroe, where she lives with her trip of 12. She thinks people embraced the idea of goat yoga to get away from outside pressures.
“Everyone is stressed out,” she said. “The news is painful to look at. And goat yoga was a happy distraction.”
Morse considers the goats part of her family and doesn’t believe in selling them or breeding them for slaughter. Her refusal to use them as livestock is why she can’t run her goat yoga business on her farm anymore.
State zoning laws for farmland dictate that Morse has to earn a majority of the income on her property from traditional agricultural activities.
Morse’s business partner, Sean Scorvo, told The Pride that goat yoga on the farm could easily pull in $50,000 a year. And if it did, he would need to earn more than that by farming on the land or using the goats as livestock.
“The irony is, if we slaughtered our goats, we could do goat yoga,” Scorvo said.
To get around the zoning issues, Morse used to transport her goats to different sites. But because the animals were considered property under her homeowner’s insurance, the company threatened to pull her policy after learning they were transported to other locations.
What Morse needs, she said, is an exemption from state law that would allow her to make goat yoga her property’s primary moneymaker. There’s precedent for that.
In 2018, Oregon Sen. Tim Knopp, R-Bend, co-sponsored a law that exempts equine therapy from state agricultural zoning statutes. The law, known as Exclusive Farm Use, limits how agricultural land can be used.
“What happened when Oregon zoned all of its property is that too much land was put under EFU,” Knopp said.
The Bend lawmaker said goat yoga may have a shot at earning a similar exemption in the future. For now, Morse works within the restrictions placed on her by state law. She established satellite locations. Morse makes a living by managing the social media feeds and websites for satellite locations.
Melanie Hiestand runs the goat yoga outpost in Oregon City. She works out of a horse boarding stable with a friend. Because the stable derives its primary source of income from boarding, goat yoga is allowed.
“It’s just been one of those things that people really benefited from,” said Hiestand, who also handles customer service for Original Goat Yoga.
Christa Soderstrom tried goat yoga in Galena, Illinois, and said she found out about the unique exercise through either a news article or Facebook post.
“It was fun,” Soderstrom said. “The goats don’t usually climb all over you, like you see in the pictures.”
Although the national outposts have brought in some money — enough to pay the bills, Scorvo said — Morse still wants to do goat yoga in Oregon, on her farm and her terms. And even though several similar operations have popped up that she doesn’t profit from, Morse is just happy goat yoga has taken off.
“To this day, I’m pinching myself,” she said. “I can’t believe it happened.”
— Leo Fontneau and Karla Terrones-Ochoa
This story was produced by student reporters as part of the High School Journalism Institute, an annual collaboration among The Oregonian/OregonLive, Oregon State University and other Oregon media organizations. Donations in support of the High School Journalism Institute can be made to the OSU Foundation, 850 S.W. 35th St., Corvallis, OR 97333; 541-737-4218; or online at osufoundation.org. For more information, go to OregonLive.com/teens.