The Equine Chronicle
by Heather Smith Thomas
Jul 1, 2023
Equine Chronicle July-August 2023
Leslie Hellman of Hellman Therapeutics: Powered by Hands
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, Hellman was working with a chiropractor in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, but had no formal training. “The chiropractor said I had hands that would do amazingly well for message 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 message techniques. I took more than 3,000 hours of certifications in physical therapy and athletic training,” says Hellman.
This included Myofascial Release (using John Barnes’ technique), cupping, and Graston— a scraping technique. He took many continuing education courses over the years. “From there, I moved into message structural work and neuromuscular work, which entails short movements to the body to open tissue in the fascia more effectively.”
For three years, he worked with major league baseball players in spring training. “I worked with the White Sox, the Padres, and many Texas Rangers pitchers,” he says. He learned what is called VOILA Structural Balancing Method–that originated with Joe Crandall–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 call Structural Neuromuscular Therapy. I also do deep tissue massage. I was working with athletes
and corporate people in the Scottsdale-Phoenix area,” says Hellman.
Entering the Horse Show World
At the time, Hellman was also dabbling in the horse show world, first as part of show staff with the Arizona Paint Horse Club and the Arizona Quarter Horse Association. Through AzQHA’s CEO Doug Huls, Hellman met Jill Newcomb and Murray Griggs and worked on them, and Jill asked him to go to shows to help other riders. 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 the Sun and Surf circuit and his appointment schedule quickly filled, then went on to the EMO Celebration and NSBA World with another packed schedule. No one else was working with riders and trainers; the therapists they were seeing didn’t understand the kinesiology of a rider. Hellman is an athlete himself, having competed in Ironman Triathlons, hockey, baseball, lacrosse, golf, 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 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 also do kinesiology work with rider movements, or movements in how they walk, how to get them adjusted into their boots, and 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 eight 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 MRI readings which I read and discuss with them,” Hellman says.
He obtained the licenses needed for each show. He now has nine state licenses for 12 different
shows. He sees 100 to 140 people at each show, and at the Congress and World Show about 250 each. He works from 6 AM until 10 PM at night or later, if needed.
Education and Skills to Benefit the Rider
Hellman continues to do a lot of studying in his quest to help people. “When I learn a new
modality, I practice and perfect it so when I go to 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 to get the muscles to release. He uses a short stroke technique on those who suffer from chronic pain.
“I often move a lot of 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 a better job of riding. “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 including broken ribs and broken shoulders. “There is not much I can do with those, but I can help after they heal. I have a new Direct Current 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 nerve and muscle entrapments are in the shoulders or lower back and can open that muscle area with pads or a glove—where the person has better range of motion. We’re opening the nervous system to connect. If someone has RA (rheumatoid arthritis), for example, I can have their hands moving like a young person again.”
What to Expect at Hellman Therapeutics
Jill and Murray helped him get to horse shows for seven years. “They hauled most of my stuff for me. I now have a 4x8x4-foot trailer that I take to shows. It takes about four hours to
set up and about 1.5 hours to break down afterward. 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.”
He works in a fully enclosed stall that can be heated, air-conditioned, or the treatment table can be 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 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 into my 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. “It’s all about the patient.”
The Valued Connections
Many people have helped Hellman in his career. “Dr. Mike Jarembeck–a chiropractor of Active
Care Wellness–is a 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. This means a lot. It isn’t often that you get to touch someone’s life and hopefully make a life-changing effect, so they can enjoy some things again,” Hellman says.
“Elizabeth Beauchamp 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 to aid people.” The satisfaction of watching people
feel different on their horse and have the horse and rider be able to work together better is the
greatest reward for Hellman. His clients are living proof of his ability.
Elizabeth Beauchamp (Indiana) says that when she met Leslie she’d been through a lot of testing and was in physical therapy. “I’d been under doctors’ care for over 9 months and none of them could figure it out. They took x-rays and just said I had arthritis,” she says. “I’m 40 years old and had always been active–playing basketball daily until I was 35. When this happened, it was life-changing and none of the doctors could figure it out. I didn’t have an accident. It was not like I’d fallen from a horse or was in a car wreck.”
“I couldn’t do normal daily chores. I couldn’t move a bucket of water, ride a bicycle, and even had trouble getting on and off the toilet. I bumped into Leslie at the NSBA World Show. By the way I was moving, he could tell that I was in a lot of pain. He asked me about it, so I met with him to see if he could help. He is truly a lifesaver. I now believe in him so deeply that a few years ago I flew him to Indiana to work on my dad. Now he visits Indiana every couple of months,” Elizabeth says. “He’s gotten me back on a horse. Before he started working on me, I wasn’t able to sit on a bicycle, let alone a horse! I’d been an equestrian my whole life, so it was a devastating change for me. Leslie is a good, kind person who saved my life and is now a dear friend.”
Cami Claypool is another client (Ohio) who is very grateful. She and her husband at Claypool Ranch train horses for customers; she specializes in performance horses–both English and Western. “We show, but our main business is focused on our clients. We have all benefited from Leslie’s help,” she says. Cami met Leslie 5 years ago when he first came to the Madness. “My husband was chatting with him and said that when he gets off his horses, he has shooting
pain up through his leg, hip and back. Within minutes, Leslie diagnosed the problem and had him in the next day to work on the problem, and had him fixed. He cares about his clients and follows up with text messages to see how you are doing,” Cami says.
“As trainers, we have long runs of horse shows with multiple classes and multiple horses every day. My clients, when Leslie works with them, all ride better. They sit straighter and are more functional and efficient in the saddle, and their horses respond better. I call him a body mechanic; I can’t describe what he does.”
Jennie Lynch (Florida) says that when Leslie started massage school, she was the guinea pig before he started working on clients. “As each of his certifications grew, he would practice on me. In 2014, I had an injury in an airport in Atlanta when I fell on an escalator which cut my leg and broke my wrist. I couldn’t write–couldn’t move it. He had just gotten his certification in myofascial release, and he is the reason I can write again. I was going to sessions in hand therapy, but it wasn’t helping; it felt worse afterward. I was also going to therapy for my leg. I was hospitalized after the accident and the injury became infected,” she says.
“If it wasn’t for Leslie, I would not have been able to go back to nursing. I’ve seen him work on other clients and they are amazed by the mobility and flexibility they regain. Sometimes pain is in another part of the body, but when he works on the actual problem area, it alleviates the other pain,” she says. “Your right shoulder might hurt, but it might be because your big toe is out of
place on the other side (referred pain). I am a nurse, and I also did psych work for 9 years, so I understand these things. I carry a lot of stress in my neck, so the massage is wonderful. His Neufit Nuebie is like an alien miracle machine! It has helped me with different areas of my body, especially when I’m on my feet a lot. A 12-hour shift–often lifting heavy patients–may turn into 14 hours, and after work I can’t stand up anymore. He’d use that on my neck and whatever parts needed help,” she says.
“He has a special gift with an unusual talent. He’s been able to help people who have not been able to walk for a long time, and some can use their hand again after just one visit.”