THONOTOSASSA — Twenty-five yoga enthusiasts spread their mats and prepared for a Saturday morning class under oak trees.
Then 14 goats joined them for Goat Yoga, where the instructor's directions were sometimes drowned out by "baas" from the animals and laughter from attendees getting nuzzled by goats.
Goat Yoga is a trend started in central Oregon, combining a one-hour yoga session with the animal therapy of Nigerian dwarf goats that wander around and interact with the class. In the last eight months, stories have appeared in hundreds of media outlets around the world.
Goat Yoga has taken hold in Thonotosassa during the past few weeks through a new foundation raising funds for charity.
"It's the hot thing," said Debbie Canton, 53, who started Grady Goat Foundation in March and started hosting the classes at Hat Trick Ranch, which she owns with Rob Canton, 52, her husband of 21 years.
Rob Canton is the founder of Athletes+Causes, a nonprofit that supports the philanthropic causes of athletes, artists and entertainers. Grady Goat Foundation is a donor-advised fund under the fiscal sponsorship of Athletes+Causes.
Debbie Canton sold a hair salon business in downtown Tampa to devote her time to the ranch, which they started three years ago.
"I get up and milk the goats every morning," said Debbie Canton, who has 40 goats, sells goat milk and goat cheese, and plans to offer goats milk soap soon.
The yoga classes are conducted on a hay-covered, shaded fenced area at the ranch, which also has cattle and a barn where classes will be held if it gets too hot or rains.
The inspiration for the foundation is Grady, a goat born March 14 with what Debbie Canton described as "goat polio." He couldn't walk or nurse, was almost blind and deaf. She nursed him with a bottle, gave him massages and saw tremendous improvement to the point he is part of the class now too.
"He is the happiest little guy we've got," she said.
On a recent Saturday, the class included 22 women and three men, mainly younger than 40. Most of the dwarf goats were a year old and younger.
"I loved it — and the property," said participant Diana Lawhorn of Seminole Heights. "I was watching a bald eagle, hawks and sand hill cranes the whole time, too."
Class instructor Chanel Lobdell, who teaches community yoga classes, connected with Canton through a mutual friend.
"People were a little hesitant at first," Lobdell said, but she tells them they can just ignore her, take pictures of the goats, snuggle with them or do whatever they want.
The instructor had done yoga with her dog before but Goat Yoga was a first for her, too.
Some participants spent as much time taking selfies and loving the goats as they did following the instructor. Among them was Kaitlin Eldridge, 27, of Zephyrhills, who had two goats sleeping on her yoga mat.
"I couldn't focus on the yoga; I just wanted to snuggle with the goats," Eldridge said.
Funds raised from the $20-per-person fee will help at-risk children or those with special needs. They also may help start a home for other special-needs goats.
Throughout the class, Debbie Canton stood ready with all-natural cleaner sprays, towels and disposable wipes — in case a goat has an accident.
Emily Crandall, 21, a University of Tampa student, made use of the supplies.
"Oh I don't mind. I've been pooped on by monkeys, turkeys," said Crandall, who came to the class because she wanted to relax with final exams upon her.
The Saturday morning outing was a date for Seminole Heights residents Max McAllister and his fiancée Jill Lenzo.
"This was my first time at yoga and I loved it," McAllister said. "We came because she is a sucker for anything with goats."
Those who attended April 29 were treated to a surprise when Debbie Canton bought out a goat born that morning before class.
Canton limits classes to 25 participants. She rotates the goats.
"The younger ones really like attention. They are like my children; and nobody has more friendly goats than we do."
Contact Lenora Lake at [email protected]