At “Mother Ranch” Goat Yoga Is Just One Way To Heal

By Karen Antonacci Daily Times-Call, Longmont, Colo.

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) "Goat yoga" is just one of the services that Julia MacMonagle offers on her ranch where she boards retired horses. On top that, she is an artist and photographer and a certified Equine Gestalt coach.

Daily Times-Call, Longmont, Colo.

Julia MacMonagle dreamed of having a farm since she was 5 years old.

Now, her dream is a reality and she runs the 15-acre Mother Ranch north of Longmont complete with horses, sheep, donkeys, dogs, chickens and goats.

The goats are especially important because she uses them to offer goat yoga, a trendy form of yoga that is exactly what it sounds like.

"It's a big gigglefest," MacMonagle said, showing off the fenced-in, shaded area where a yoga teacher offers classes. Instead of rubber mats, the ground is covered in soft stall shavings and the walls are decorated with chalkboard paint and party lights.

People take a yoga class while the baby goats climb on them, nibble their hair, try to escape the enclosure or just be all-around cute.

MacMonagle said that the goats are part of what she wants to offer, but the land is really the crux of what she wants people to take away from the classes.

"It's healing to be with the goats but also just to be on the land. Most of us live in the 'burbs or in a city and not too many people live out here in the rural part any more," MacMonagle said. "We're just looking to give people some space so they can breathe the air and be on the land. That's very important to me."

MacMonagle was living with her husband and son in the Fox Meadows neighborhood in Longmont before they bought the ranch about a year ago.

Goat yoga is just one of the services that MacMonagle is offering from the ranch. She is raising sheep and lambs for meat as well as a small herd of dairy goats. Additionally, MacMonagle boards retired horses.

Besides an artist and photographer, she is also a certified Equine Gestalt coach.

The Gestalt method is a psychotherapeutic approach that combines an emphasis on the client-counselor relationship, being in the present and personal responsibility, according to the Gestalt Institute of the Rockies.

Equine Gestalt coaches use horses and the Gestalt method to work through emotional burdens because horses are inherently self-aware, emotional and authentic, according to a post on PsychCentral.com.

MacMonagle said it's hard to put an Equine Gestalt session into words.

"The short version that I tell people is that I partner with horses to help people heal their emotional wounds," MacMonagle said. "Horses are authentic animals, they don't hide who they are. People -- not as much. The horses prefer to work with people who aren't hiding the truth from themselves. It's my job to assist people in finding their own authenticity in that moment and then the horse, client, and I work together to help the client uncover the answer that is hidden within."

She used those ideas to develop her Shine! Program to empower teens, tweens and mothers.

'An important piece' MacMonagle runs a Girls Empowerment program under Shine! that caters to girls aged 12 and 13 years old. The program includes six three-hour group gatherings and working with the horses and doing art.

For boys, MacMonagle offers a Boys Empowerment program for 11 and 12-year-old boys. The boys group is more focused outside with the animals because they tend to have more energy to burn.

The programs for teens and preteens help them find their voice and authenticity, MacMonagle said.

"It's that idea of 'It takes a village to raise a child.' So many times they just need another adult to count on that's not their mom or dad. It's so important and all kids need more adults who can say 'I've got your back.' It's my job to help them become more aware of who they are and more accepting of who they are," MacMonagle said.

One of the services that MacMonagle is most excited about is the seven-week Shine! Mother and Daughter Connection program. The program is meant to strengthen the connection between mothers and daughters aged 12 and 13 years old by working with the mothers and daughters separately and then bringing them together for a day retreat.

"Moms are used to seeing their daughters as little girls and the daughters are the process of breaking out of that cocoon for the first time and they're starting to push back," MacMonagle said. "It's hard for the moms to see their daughters as young women and it's hard for daughters to see their moms as a person. ... That's an important piece to seeing each other for who they really are."

MacMonagle said that she feels age 12 and 13 is the perfect time to strengthen a friendship between mothers and daughters.

"If you wait until they're 16, you miss that window and you don't get it again until they're like 20 or 21," she said. "But if we catch it early enough, we can give moms and daughters these tools at a relatively young age."

'Trauma mamas' MacMonagle eventually wants to offer corresponding courses for fathers and daughters, fathers and sons and mothers and sons, but building up the relationship between mothers and daughters is especially impactful for her because of her own experience with her daughter.

MacMonagle and her husband adopted their daughter from Ethiopia when she was 4 and saw her start exhibiting signs of Reactive Attachment Disorder.

RAD is a rare condition in which a child experiences trauma at a very young age and it prohibits them from forming healthy attachments with parents or caregivers, according to the Mayo Clinic.

RAD children who experience trauma and then are adopted may lash out at their adopted families, especially mothers, MacMonagle said.

The Institute for Attachment and Child Development describes RAD children as stuck in a the developmental phase of a toddler, where they steal, argue, blame others and have trouble regulating emotions.

MacMonagle said she and her other adopted son experienced abuse at the hands of her daughter. RAD children are often good at manipulating others and hiding the abuse from those outside the immediate family, MacMonagle said.

She calls people like herself trauma mamas.

"Trauma mamas are people who raise a child from trauma and they have a special set of needs because when you're out and about with the child, everything looks normal from the outside but they abuse the mom and the younger children and they're great triangulators," MacMonagle said. "Moms of children with RAD really start to doubt themselves. So many are not informed of trauma and that type of manipulation. The end result is isolation and depression." MacMonagle's daughter is currently in a therapeutic treatment home.

MacMonagle's RAD experience led her to Equine Gestalt coaching and creating The Mother Ranch as a place for people to heal and for moms to connect.

"Society says women are catty and backstabby and all 'Mean Girls' but the women I coach end up best friends," MacMonagle said. "Moms are so supportive of each other and it's not that backstabby 'Mean Girls' crap at all. That's not my experience and it is possible for moms to support each other."

MacMonagle has big plans for The Mother Ranch.

"The farm feels to me like an entity. Isn't that weird?" MacMonagle said. "It does and it feels female and like we are birthing this thing together."

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