Korinne Johnson’s husband was planning on buying her diamonds for Valentine’s Day, yet she had her heart set on something much larger — a baby Pygmy goat.
Eight years later, what began as a heartfelt gift has flourished into the healing-based organization Downward Goat, which provides goat and animal assisted yoga sessions throughout Florida while also working to support veterans, law enforcement, caregivers and first responders.
The Johnson family’s farm in Gainesville, located at 14823 SW 79th Place, has become home to donkeys, horses, cows and more than 40 goats of all sizes and ages.
Korinne Johnson’s inspiration for the goat-oriented yoga organization began soon after watching a Facebook video of an orphaned baby Pygmy goat named Benjamin.
After watching the video, Korinne pleaded with her husband, Doug, to buy her a baby goat. The couple researched the animals, and they finally purchased two Pygmy goats for Valentine’s Day in 2015.
“I didn't plan to have a business or be doing this,” Korinne said. “I just wanted these little things because they were cute, and I needed to have them in my life.”
The couple slowly began to add more goats to their Loxahatchee farm, and after about two years, Korinne stumbled upon a Facebook video of Lainey Morse, the original creator of goat yoga.
Korinne was interested in the concept, so she reached out to a yoga instructor to help her and her friends host a goat yoga session on the farm.
“I invited some friends over to do yoga with the goats, and we had a great time, and they wanted to do it again,” she said. “So we did it again, and here we are. Eight years later, and we're still doing it.”
Since hosting their first session, the couple has moved from Loxahatchee to Gainesville, partnered with farms throughout Florida and hosted hundreds of goat yoga sessions on their Palm Beach, Broward and Gainesville farms.
The yoga sessions stand out from the typical yoga class, not only because of the furry creatures sleeping on one’s mat but because of its philosophy.
Each yoga class, which lasts about an hour and is located on a grassy fenced-in area on the farm, welcomes about 30 people and creates a calming and judgment-free environment, Korinne said.
“It's just a magical connection,” she said. “You can feel the earth beneath you and you can look at these trees that are hundreds of years old. You just have something to hold on to when you leave and not have the judgments that we deal with so much in life.”
Although a yoga instructor is present to provide instructions and guide participants through poses, all members are free to do as they please during the sessions.
Meg Dennis, a yoga instructor at the farm and throughout Gainesville, said the sessions focus less on the yoga skill-set and more on the goats.
“It's really 90% goats and 10% yoga,” she said.
Participants can place their full attention on the yoga sessions, yet they can also simply sit on their mats, take photos, lay down or play with the goats.
By creating a relaxed environment, participants are able to connect with the goats and nature surrounding them without the pressure of following each pose, Korinne said.
“I always say that yoga for me is about the breath and being still and connecting with something real, which is why my farm resonates so much with me and my practice,” she said. “If you are unable to do a particular pose, it makes no difference. If you have a goat that has fallen asleep on your mat and you want to sit and love on that goat for the hour, then that is perfectly fine.”
The organization also works to remove the anxiety or embarrassment that may come with visiting a yoga studio, especially for the first time, Korinne said.
“The people around you may be very accomplished, so then you sit there and you just feel like a failure,” she said. “Then you walk out and are like, ‘Well, is this really what I want to do? Is this really what's right for me?’ I want to make sure that we always include those people.”
The sessions provide chairs for those who are not physically able to do yoga or simply want to sit and relax. People of all ages, abilities and experience levels are welcomed, and the sessions opt for more general language rather than technical names for poses.
The organization also aims to provide resources for mental health struggles, such as conditions suffered by veterans and law enforcement.
Inspired by the extensive history of law enforcement workers and veterans in the couple’s family, the organization offers free goat yoga sessions to all law enforcement, veterans and first responders.
“A lot of times the animals are what gets these guys out here,” Korinne said. “Even if it’s just breathing exercises, it can significantly lower their fight or flight response. It can really help with just managing stress every day, both on the job and after.”
The animal assisted yoga events also work to support Gainesville residents who are looking to relax or connect with their surroundings.
The farm creates a safe-space for people to disconnect from a society that is full of social media, judgment and stress, Korinne said.
“The animals don't care, they only care that you're kind,” she said. “All the animals are offering is a look, a touch and a feel of something that is real and genuine … It doesn't matter what color you are, what sex you are and how big, small, short, tall, thin or fat you are, or who you love, who you voted for or what you're studying. All of that is left outside the gate.”
Grace Loeffler, a 24-year-old UF occupational therapy graduate student, visited the farm for the first time with her friends on Saturday. Loeffeler said the yoga session helped her calm down and take her mind off of school.
“It was nice to be off campus and in a country area,” she said. “I like being disconnected from school and hanging out with the goats and the other animals.”
The Gainesville location encourages people interested in goat yoga to RSVP for its sessions, which are held several times a month and announced on the organization’s website.
The next goat yoga event is Nov. 25 from 9:30 to 10:30 a.m. at the Gainesville farm.
When visiting the farm, one may want to keep an eye out for Tippy, a fan-favorite goat who often walks crooked when she tries to run or gets excited.
Contact Alexandra Burns at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @alexaburnsuf.