"I hike my goats with people … this is my job.” Kristen Sassano Gill’s story lives up to that intriguing Facebook teaser. Along with her daughter Elena, Gill has created a thriving COVID-inspired venture that integrates their goats and adventurous guests on guided hikes. They also bring the goats as surprise or star guests for children’s birthday parties and other gatherings, and welcome visitors to their Got Your Goat farm in Washington Depot “to romp and play with our babies.” Booking central for all the caprine fun is the Got Your Goat Facebook page. (This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.)
You hike with goats; what’s that all about?
My whole thing with goats is the goats themselves are hikers. That’s what mountain goats do. When we had only three goats [now 22], we used to live in a house next to a blue trail and they would hike with me every day. It was obvious they loved hiking as much as I do.
So how did that become a business venture?
At the beginning of COVID, we had eight to 10 goats, and one of them had a complicated birth with two giant twins and a little baby. Everybody watched on livestream over Easter weekend during COVID. We raised little Thumper on a bottle, and he almost died. Around the same time, my daughter Elena turned 16 and she wanted to have a life instead of being so cooped up. I love hiking with goats and my daughter wanted to do birthday parties with goats. So we started the business, Got Your Goat, to host birthday parties with our goats here, bring our goats to parties, and take people hiking with our goats.
People like hiking with goats?
People love it. It’s usually families who can’t get their kids to hike looking for an innovative way to get them outdoors. The first person who signed up for a hike with the goats brought her 12-year-old daughter, Finley. The mom loves hiking and the daughter doesn’t. So we went for a hike in North Salem not far from where they live in Westchester. While we were hiking, I said, ‘Finley, maybe you could help me out and get the word out. This weekend we have a public hike at Steep Rock in Washington.’ She came up with the hashtag #finleygoating. I’ve probably had 100 people come through from Pelham because of this kid. I’ve seen them a bunch of times now. The business has morphed into people who haven’t experienced goats connecting for that aspect, or people who love goats connecting to experience hiking with them.
How does people hiking with goats work exactly?
Goats are extremely friendly and social. They believe people are part of their herd, so it works for them. Getting out and moving and being in the woods are some of the best things we can do for our mind, body and spirit, and it’s really healthy for the goats. The thing that’s most important about hiking with goats is to keep moving forward. Goats are browsers, so they eat a lot of different things. So if you stop, they get distracted and start eating. I’ve had to teach them how to drink from a stream because they have a fear of water, and when you’re hiking there’s no water bottle for a goat. They don’t like rain, so the only thing that stops them is rain.
What about the logistics? How do you get the goats to hikes and parties?
I can transport 12 goats in my Ford Edge. We call it the Goatmobile now. It belongs to the goats. I had to get a Honda Civic to have a ‘peoplemobile.’ So now I have a peoplemobile that doesn’t smell like goats and a goatmobile that doesn’t get great gas mileage but is sturdy and I can get 12 goats in it. I put them in the back. Originally I put them in the seats but they would crawl all over the car. When we show up at a surprise party and I open the back hatch and eight goats pile out, people go gaga about it.
Where are the goats’ favorite places to hike?
Because we’re in Washington Depot we do tend to go to Macricostas, a Steep Rock Association preserve where the pinnacle overlooks Lake Waramaug. The problem is there’s a lot of mountain laurel, which is toxic to goats. White Memorial in Litchfield is great for them, but I like to have a climb. The Housatonic Range Trail in New Milford and Gaylordsville is my go-to if I think I have decent hiking people with me, and when I have people from Westchester I go to Mountain Lakes Park in North Salem. Then there’s a little waterfall hike at the Brian Tierney Preserve in Roxbury. People really don’t know about it. I’ve been all over the state. I’ve met people at Wadsworth Falls in Middletown, and I’ve met people at Hammonasset Beach in Madison.
What comes next for you and Elena?
My goal with the business long term is to franchise it. There was a recent article about goats being the next dog, so it’s really just a natural.