Therapy and exercise classes involving livestock could be permitted in Oregon’s exclusive farm use zones under a bill that’s drawn skepticism from agriculture and farmland protection groups.
Proponents of “goat yoga” are urging lawmakers to pass Senate Bill 559, which would include livestock in a land use provision under which counties can already allow horse-related “exercise, therapeutic and counseling activities” in EFU zones.
“This is a business and a cultural activity that is about as Oregon as things get,” said Sen. Sara Gelser, D-Corvallis, the bill’s chief sponsor.
Livestock already inhabit EFU zones, so they wouldn’t create conflicts in agricultural areas, and the number of visitors involved in such activities is naturally self-limiting, Gelser said. Large crowds of people wouldn’t be attending goat yoga classes at all hours of the day and night, for example.
A “glitch” in existing land use law has caused county governments to object to goat yoga in EFU zones because it’s not considered “equine therapy,” which was permitted in such areas under a bill passed in 2018, she said.
Expanding this provision to include livestock would boost goat yoga, “a great vision that brought people together, helped people engage with livestock and connect with each other,” Gelser said.
Lainey Dyer, who began holding goat yoga sessions in 2016, said the idea quickly went “viral” with more than 2,000 people signing up for a waiting list to attend the classes.
However, Dyer said she hasn’t been able to host goat yoga at her own farm, first in Linn County and then in Benton County, because the animals aren’t used for producing wool, milk or meat so the sessions aren’t considered “raising livestock.”
Dyer said she initially began bringing goats to other properties where such events could be held, which proved too expensive, forcing her to change her business model to “logistical and marketing support” for goat yoga classes.
The restriction has reduced revenues, tourism and employment in Oregon farms and decreased opportunities for people suffering from mental health problems or undergoing chemotherapy treatments, said Sean Scorvo, a supporter of SB 559.
County governments have been leery of adopting a broader interpretation of the “equine therapy” provision, fearing people will use it to subvert EFU protections, he said.
“The primary concern is this is a slippery slope,” Scorvo said. “It’s a little scary for them to open Pandora’s box.”
The Oregon Farm Bureau and the farmland preservation group 1,000 Friends of Oregon draw a distinction between the existing equine therapy provision and the change proposed in SB 559.
Horseback riding is already allowed in EFU zones, so the provision approved in 2018 simply allowed counseling to occur on-site in a way that’s “incidental and subordinate” to the agricultural use, according to submitted testimony from the organizations.
“Here, in contrast, the underlying business is yoga,” the letter said.
The groups have urged lawmakers against approving the bill because the presence of livestock doesn’t render non-farm uses “compatible with neighboring agricultural practices” or the statewide goal of preserving farmland.
“Were this bill to pass, it is hard to imagine where the line could be drawn between actual farm use of farmland and simply adding animals to any use,” according to their testimony.
The Oregon Horse Council is a 501(c)(6) nonprofit that works to strengthen, connect, and represent Oregon’s equine industry.