Full Article by Heather Thomas
Sep 1, 2023
Salmon, Idaho 83467
By Heather Smith Thomas
Leslie Hellman has a wonderful ability to heal painful bodies. Most riders have pain issues due to previous injuries, and many are now grateful for Hellman’s work. In 2002 he was working with a chiropractor in Pittsburg, but had no formal training. “He said I had a pair of hands that would do amazingly well for massage therapy and physical therapy.
In 2006, I moved to Arizona, started working on my own, and needed a license. I went back to school and began working with different massage techniques. I took more than 3000 certifications in PT and athletic trainers,” says Hellman. “A lot of this was with Myofascial Release, which is release of the fascia, and cupping, which is another technique, and Graston—which is a scraping technique. I took many continuing education courses over the years,” he says.
“A dear friend of mine, Jenny Lynch, told me I should get my certification, and it took me two more years to get it. I helped her tremendously with Myofascial Release and that’s how I really got into that, using John Barnes’ technique. I was also able to help another dear friend, Leslie Kilgore, as well as her son who has CP, and her daughter.
From there, I moved into message structural work and neuromuscular work, which entails short movements of the body to open up tissue in the fascia more effectively,” he says. For three years, he worked with major league baseball players in spring training. “I worked with the Cubs, a little bit with the Padres, and with many Texas Rangers pitchers offsite. This was very exciting for me.”
He learned what is called VOILA Structural Balancing Method that originated with Joe Crandall. “A lot of this is structural movement and a lot of energy work, to figure out how people are balanced and how they move at different gaits, with different shoulder and body movements and how it is all connected. With that, I was able to put together what I now call Structural Neuromuscular Therapy, and I also do massage. I was working with many athletes and some corporate people in the Scottsdale-Phoenix area,” says Hellman. This is where he connected with horse show riders.
Doug Hall runs the Sun Circuit and Pinnacle Circuit, and through him Hellman met Jill Newcomb and Murray Griggs, of Jill and Murray Showhorses, and worked on them. After several months of helping them, Jill asked him to go to various shows to help other riders. This was the beginning of his venture into the horse industry, first as part of the horse show staff with the Arizona Paint Horse Club and the Arizona Quarter Horse Association. He began to offer his services to riders, after learning that many of them struggle with injuries and don’t take time to take care of themselves.
He started at Sun and Surf and his appointment schedule quickly filled, then he went on to the EMO Celebration and NSBA World with a packed schedule. No one else was working with riders and trainers, and the therapists they were seeing didn’t have an understanding of the kinesiology of a rider.
Hellman is an athlete himself, having competed in Ironman Triathlons, hockey, baseball, La Crosse, and soccer. His knowledge of sports and athletic movement was helpful, and he dedicated himself to learning about range of motion and movements of equestrians. Their injuries and needs were different than what he’d seen with baseball players. He figured out how to do the corrections and releases to aid them. If the hip or pelvis is off, they can’t get their body squared to ride efficiently and effectively.
“I realized that riders were athletes, but their bodies are different. Over the seven years I’ve been doing this, helping riders, I’ve toned down some of my techniques but at times I also have to turn it up, to get the desired effect. I also do some kinesiology work with rider movements, or movements in how they walk, how to get them adjusted into their boots, adjusted into the saddle so the pelvis sits perfectly flat, and shoulders back—instead of the right arm being back all the time.” Balance is crucial, for harmony between horse and rider.
“The horse is very aware of all this. After you get on, if you close your eyes and are properly balanced, if you stop the horse after 8 strides, the horse will be perfectly straight,” he explains. The horse can only move balanced if the rider is balanced; the horse always compensates for the rider’s imbalance. Lack of alignment is both structural and muscular. He gets the structure back into alignment and then works on the muscles.
He also spends a lot of time on hip and knee injuries. “Some riders and many trainers have steel and titanium in their bodies (from old injury repairs) and I figured out how to maneuver around that, to bring them relief from pain and enable them to ride a horse effectively. Many send me their MRIs which I read and discuss with them.
A lot of them still call me today for advice,” Hellman says. He also addresses hydration issues because most people don’t drink enough water. He obtained the licenses he needed for each show he worked, which now total nine state licenses, for 12 different shows. “I see 100 to 140 people at each show, and at the Congress I generally see about 250 and at the World show about 250. I work from 6 a.m. until 10 p.m. at night, or later,” he says.
Hellman continues to do a lot of studying, in his quest to learn new modalities for helping people. “When I learn a new modality, I practice it and perfect it so when I got to the horse shows, I have a new modality to offer,” he explains.
“Currently I am studying active release techniques (ART) for the upper body, to bring more freedom to my clients and enable me to free their shoulders, neck, chest and back more efficiently, allowing them better range of motion,” he says. He understands how the muscles work and often starts a session with structural work, followed by neuromuscular work. The goal is to get the muscles to release, and he applies modalities like Myofascial Release, which allows the fascia to release, using a short stroke technique to those who suffer from chronic pain.
“I do a lot of cranial ?? work. Many of my clients who have cranial problems need to be worked on 2 or 3 times to get them straightened out, when other practitioners have not been able to. It’s not that I’m a one-stop shop. There are times I refer them to someone else or tell them they need to see their doctor, or I try to find someone who can do things for them,” says Hellman.
“I often move a lot of structural body parts around, pelvis and tailbones. I put feet back in place to where they are actually ‘walking on air’ with the feet perfectly flat. The clients feel for the first time that they are not leaning or pitching one way or the other. I look at their boots and discover they’ve been walking on their heels or off to one side.”
It’s like looking at a horse’s shoe or foot and seeing the wear points. It’s very important to have boots of proper size, to be able to do better job of riding and place higher in competitions because their feet are comfortable. “I am able to move that boot and foot left and right, up and down, in a way the horse doesn’t feel it because we’re not moving the abductors. When a rider is weak on one side, I can strengthen that side. We get both sides the same,” he says.
Over the past 20 years he’s seen many injuries, broken ribs and broken shoulders. “There is not much I can do with those, but I can help them after they heal.” His list of services includes Deep Tissue Massage, Neuromuscular Release Therapy, VOILA Structural Balancing Method, Myofascial Release, Cupping Therapy, Graston Technique, and Kinesio Taping.
“I have a new skin machine called the Neubie, by Neufit that provides direct stimulation and is one of the most powerful direct current machines available at this time. I can find out where entrapments are in the shoulders or lower back, and can open up that muscle area, with pads or a glove. With the glove I can wet it for massage and do neuromuscular work and open up the nerve and muscle entrapments to where the person has better range of motion. We’re opening up the nervous system to connect. If someone has RA (rheumatoid arthritis), for example, I can have their hands moving like a young person again.”
Tim ?? came to Hellman about 6 years ago, with gout. “He found out that I could help him. Also Brad Jewett?? Of Jewett Performance Horses. I helped them both, and now they see me religiously for their shoulders, hands, feet, knees. We also review proper techniques for getting on and off a horse, and for Tim, finding the balance points, and the places where he feels he is not centered. We do the corrections, so he can work
Jill and Murray helped him get to horse shows for seven years. “They hauled most of my stuff for me and helped me set up. I now have a 4-by-8-by-4-foot trailer that I take to different shows. It takes about four hours to set up, and breakdown afterward takes about 1.5 hours. The hardest part when I go from show to show is to have two sets of everything so that when I put the walls back up, we have clean walls; there’s not time to wash them. I carry extra things to make sure my work area is as clean and sterile as possible. I use a fully enclosed stall where I work on people at shows. It can be heated, air conditioned, or the treatment table heated. When you come into it, you’d never know you are in a horse stall. It’s very private, there’s music and a TV; if there is a horse show going on you can be live streaming it if you wish,” he explains.
He has worked with people all over the U.S. “With some, it takes me two or three times to figure out what’s wrong, and when I figure it out, I show them how to do the corrections, so that if I’m not there, they can do it. Or, people fly me somewhere to treat a group. Recently I drove to Culver, Indiana; a client invited me to her town to work on 40 people there, and from there to Wooster, Ohio to work on more clients, and then to
Level One and the Madness—a total of 35 days. My longest stretch so far has been 58 days and that’s too long!” One of the hardest things for him is to stay fit and healthy on this hectic kind of schedule.
“I do smoothies in the morning and add a lot of vitamins, to help my lungs and body. Recently I started bringing weights with me, so I can work out with weights for 20 minutes in the morning and 20 minutes at night. Each night I review the day, and go intomy library that I bring with me, to see what I could have done better. If someone is coming back to see me again, and what we’ve been doing didn’t work, I find something else to try that will work,” he says.
A medical doctor may simply give a patient a pill, but if that doesn’t work Hellman is possibly the last hope. “It’s all about the patient. They may tell me their shoulder hurts but I realize the shoulder is not the primary problem; it might be the foot. An example is a patient from Michigan who was very upset with me because I wasn’t
working on her shoulder. I finally got her left ankle fully released; after working on it for 35 minutes, it finally popped. Her right shoulder went down and she started weeping. I asked if she wanted to tell me about that ankle, and she said she got dragged. That’s why her shoulder hurt. I showed her how the fascial planes work, then we did 15 minutes on the shoulders and the pain was gone. Every year at the Congress I see her and she thanks me. I am humbled and happy.”
Leslie Kilgore in Phoenix has helped him with clients, including people with Parkinson’s disease, people with cerebral palsy and MS. “It is because of her that I learned more about many different ailments and how people can progress. We can work on different areas of the body that affect their gait and demeanor,” he says.
Many of his early clients repeatedly recommend him to others. He is appreciated as a healer, partly because he has compassion for his clients. “When they get a release from what we do, many of them start crying and I tell them to go ahead and let it go. This had to come out today, and that’s why they came.”
Many people have helped Hellman in his career. “Dr. Mike Jarenbeck—a chiropractor of Active Care Wellness—is a dear friend who kept me going for 10 full Ironman and 25 halves. He has been truly amazing; I owe him a debt of gratitude, along with all the people who have come to see me and I’ve touched their lives in some way.
This means a lot. It isn’t often that you get to touch someone’s life and hopefully have make a life-changing effect, so they can be able to enjoy some things again,” he says. “Elizabeth Beauchant (in Indiana) wrote a testimony on Facebook that brought tears to my eyes. We met by chance in Tulsa, Oklahoma and within the first sessions she told me she’d been to 30 or 40 doctors and none of them could do this. She asked how I can do it, and I said I don’t know. It’s a gift, along with applying all the things my teachers and mentors have told me. If a person keeps learning and applying it, they get better. I spend $8,000 to $10,000 each year on continuing education. That seems like a lot, but it allows me to have the newest concepts about how to help people,” he says.
“When you come to see me, this isn’t a doctor’s office and you are not a number. You are a person, and you come because you were meant to see me; we were meant to meet. You can check out my site, at www.hellmantherapeutics.com The way people get in touch with me is by text cell at 623-910-7185. About a week or so before a show, I send an email, and four days before the show I send text messages. I also drop fliers at every stall. People already know who I am, but it doesn’t matter. I believe that you need
to keep a presence in front of people in order to do your business properly,” he says.
His appointment schedule fills quickly. “I try to keep an hour open every morning so that if someone calls, I can work them in. I also keep cancellation lists. If someone cancels I can call another person. I keep a card that shows my openings during the next five days, and as a person texts me I put their name in my system. try my best to give everyone the same care and compassion, whether they are the first person or the last one of the day.”
He recently moved to Dothan, Alabama, due to his acute asthma. This central location also enabled him to add four more shows to his schedule. I get satisfaction of watching people feel different on their horses and have the horse and rider be able successful together.