Sugar Sweet Farm
Where yoga and goats meet and mingle
You’ve all heard of Yogi Bear, but have you heard of Yogi Goat? Neither had I, until I went to a goat yoga class at Sugar Sweet Farm in Encinitas. Hosted by owner Elizabeth Sugarman, her daughter, Sissy, and about 20 of Sissy’s 4-H Oberhasli dairy goats, the workouts, led by Beth Kupanoff, are made up of a series of gentle stretches that even the goats could probably manage if they weren’t so busy frolicking, which is what they seem to do best here.
Most of the 25 attendees this evening discovered the classes through social media. A couple visiting from Colorado, tell me that “it was the one thing we wanted to do while we were in San Diego.” I hear another goat enthusiast say, “I’m so nervous-excited! I just can’t wait!” Another person admits, “I don’t enjoy yoga but I love goats.”
The class is held on the backyard tennis court, which is just beyond an organic orchard that includes orange and lemon trees, a children’s playground, and animal enclosures that house two llamas, Shetland ponies, a handful of lambs, a few chickens and roosters, and a pond where two lazy geese loll in the water.
Bales and buckets of hay surround the tennis court. Most people come prepared with water and their own mats but I don’t have a mat so Sissy lends me one. “Goat yoga is the newest, hottest fitness trend,” she tells me, “and my mom and I are the first people to do goat yoga in Encinitas—a big yoga mecca in the States. I have been raising and breeding goats since I was 10 and I’m always looking for new ways to expand my dairy goat project and make it profitable.” I don’t dare ask how old Sissy is now, but I would guess 16, maybe 18, tops.
Our first lesson involves the correct way to hold a goat: Give them a big hug, keep them close to your body and keep your arms firm. This way they will feel comfy and relaxed. Don’t clap because that will scare them. Don’t make little clicking noises like you do to get a cat to come to you. They’re not cats and they won’t understand. Be still and they will be curious. And, oh yeah, they will pee and poop. Just embrace the earthiness.
The class starts with inhaling and exhaling, while goats thread their way through the students. I’ve never heard so much giggling during back-bending exercises. There’s also a lot of oohing and aahing going on. The goats, with their little tails wagging, are definitely cute and Turtle and Cowboy, the two babies in the group, are absolutely darling.
Goat cuddling and bottle feeding (and selfie photos) take place during mountain, tree bridge and warrior-stretch poses and throughout the class. Everyone gets a chance to snuggle with a goat. Goats casually traipse on people’s backs while they are in push-up positions like the plank and downward dog.
My favorite goat was an exuberant little guy with long floppy ears who just couldn’t stay still. He jumped over legs when people were sitting, skidaddled under legs when people were standing, and delightfully skipped sideways through the other goats. I was thoroughly enjoying this jaunty kid in the bunch, but Sissy decided his monkey-business had gone on long enough and put him in a time out where we could hear him bleating in protest.
Sissy, who is heavily involved in community service, would like to start up free goat yoga days for children. “At 8-years old, children can identify 25-percent more Pokémon characters than wildlife species,” she says, obviously having done her homework on the subject. “Most children are disconnected from nature and agriculture, so providing goat yoga classes for children seems like the perfect anecdote.”
Her mom is on board. “I practiced law and never once did I have a smile on my face for an hour at the law firm. Now, I sweep up goat poop, fetch fresh mats, fill water buckets and help clients bottle-feed and my cheeks ache from smiling so much. I pinch myself and think, ‘This is my dream job.’ I already knew I loved animals and farming. I didn’t know how much I would love making people happy—that’s the best work of all.”