Jim Naron and his goat Brutus were hiking on Mount Falcon in Colorado one day when Naron spotted a trail runner and her unleashed pitbull coming toward them. Knowing that Brutus tended to be skittish around dogs, Naron guided him up onto some rocks above the trail, trying to get out of sight.
The trail runner passed them, but her dog caught their scent and stayed behind. Naron, who experiences post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of childhood experiences, began to panic. While he doesn’t have anything against pit bulls, he says he was nervous about what might happen if it tried to come after Brutus. He called out once to the trail runner, then again, more insistently
Reflecting on the encounter later in the day, Naron realized that he had learned something from Brutus’ response to the situation. While Naron had reacted in fear, Brutus had stayed still and quiet until the woman leashed her dog and resumed her run.
“It taught me that I need to be more mindful in my responses and to be more kind to dog owners,” Naron says. “That requires putting my fear to the side, and that takes work.”
Naron takes goats hiking regularly as part of a program called Goat Walkabouts, which he created as part of his goat yoga business, Rocky Mountain Goat Yoga. Naron and his son, Jimmy, founded RMGY in 2017. Naron was interested in working with goats because they were among the first domesticated animals, and he admires the way they not only connect with their herd and natural environment but also with humans.
“They’ve been our friends and companions for a long time,” Naron says. After RMGY took off, he created new programming, focusing on animal assisted therapy (AAT), working with a farmer to raise a herd of therapy goats from birth.
Once he trained the goats to walk on leashes, Naron launched Baby Goat Grams, a service where he brings goats to a recipient to play or walk around the neighborhood.
Goat Walkabouts offers both public and private hikes in Jeffco Open Space in Jefferson County, Colorado, and Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs. Each “easy to moderate” hike can accommodate up to eight hikers; hikers can join a public hike for $35 on Eventbrite or book a private hike at $50 per hiker on the organization’s website. Naron also offers Free PTSD Hikes for members of recognized PTSD organizations and therapy groups.
Naron says hiking with a goat is a grounding experience that can help with symptoms of PTSD.
As prey animals, goats can become skittish on the trail. Walking with these goats allows participants to recognize that fear and assume the role of a protector, which boosts participant confidence.
Next, Naron hopes to make Goat Walkabouts a nonprofit organization, separate from RMGY. Often, Naron says, people view something like goat yoga as a silly passing fad. He wants to establish Goat Walkabouts as a more serious form of therapy that’s here to stay.
“We want to show people this is more than novelty, it’s an effective therapy” Naron says.
For Naron, it’s gratifying to see the participants reconnect with nature and themselves through walking with the goats. So many people, he says, look out at nature and see it as something separate from themselves. But walking with goats helps him see that he’s connected to the rest of the natural world.
“I’m really able to get back into nature, not see it as a fake or anxiety-inducing experience,” Naron says. “I’m out there in the Colorado Rockies. With a goat! It’s incredible.”