Lafe Nelson, D.C., Almont, ND, has been self-employed his entire life, beginning when he broke his first colt at the age of 12.
“I’ve never had a boss other than Dad. He said if I wanted to make money I’d have to ride colts. So that is what I did every summer,” said Nelson. “I broke over 20 colts the summer of 2006, the last year I did it. Since then I haven’t had the time to do it right, and I’m the kind of person who likes to do things right.”
Nelson, who now serves city and country folk in and around Bismarck, ND, as a chiropractor remains independent and creative in his means of making a living. He not only adjusts humans but is taking on more and more equine patients as well.
“Horse chiropractic was a natural fit,” says Nelson. “I’ve ridden horses all of my life, breaking colts, bulldogging, and roping. After I graduated from chiropractic school, I got to thinking about some of the issues my horses had dealt with and I felt like an idiot. It hit me that some of their problems had stemmed from the spine being out of place. I wish I’d had this knowledge earlier but now it’s been really neat to utilize it.”
Nelson’s first equine patient was his own childhood horse, Biscuit. “I’d learned to rope and ride on him as a kid and then passed him on to some neighbors for their kids to ride when he was 30 years old. Their horses got to running him and he got hurt. My neighbor called me, and asked me to come take a look. Biscuit was stepping really high with a hind leg and you could hear a pop every time he’d try to step down. He was in an immense amount of pain. I know that my neighbor was wondering ‘should we put him down?’”
“I had just finished with the horse chiropractic clinic and decided to try adjusting him. After I was done, he picked up his leg to take a step and it didn’t pop, and he set it down. You could just see the surprise and relief, as if he was saying ‘wow, that didn’t hurt,’ and the next step was even better. He was eighty percent better that day and I adjusted him for several days after that, and he was a different horse. He lived for another year.”
Nelson said he mostly adjusts performance horses. “People competing in rodeos want to go fast, stop fast, those horses have to do a lot on their own. Most people don’t bring them in because they think ‘my horse is hurting,’ it’s because they aren’t working the rope or aren’t scoring, things like that. People don’t realize it but often the horse (or human) has pressure on their nerves, which affects things we would never expect.” According to Nelson, everything in the body happens because of the connection between the brain, spinal cord, and the nerves leading to the muscles and organs.
“Chiropractic isn’t about cracking bones and lining things up perfectly. If there’s pressure on those nerves, it’s going to affect the entity they travel to. So when something goes out of place in your spine it can affect the muscle or organ at the end of the nerve - it won’t function as well. By adjusting the spine and eliminating those misalignments, you’re getting the nervous system to work as close to one hundred percent as you can.
“It’s amazing how a horse will work when his nervous system is functioning at optimum levels,” he said.
“I’m not trying to be a vet by any means,” said Nelson. “I do work with a couple vets around here. If someone brings in a horse with something I don’t understand, I send them to a vet. I don’t want to work with weird horse problems, that’s not my expertise, but a lot of times just getting adjusted will make a huge difference. Chiropractic doesn’t fix every problem, but there are a lot of issues it can solve, that you wouldn’t expect. Everyone knows their horse and what they normally act like. If he’s just not himself, lethargic, throwing his head, pulling back, it could be anything. It could be a medical thing that I can’t help with, it could be the type of saddle you ride, but with both humans and horses, I always recommend trying the least invasive and least expensive option first, which can often be chiropractic.
“The majority of horses get better after being adjusted, with a few you don’t notice much difference. Horses and little kids are great patients because they don’t think about whether or not they are supposed to be getting better or if this guy really knows what he’s doing, they live in the present and if they are feeling better they just move on with life.”
Nelson recalls a young human patient he treated. “This little two-year-old boy came in who had dealt with ear infections his whole life. When he came to see me, there was blood and pus coming out of his ears. He was crying and screaming like crazy, I’m sure he was sick of seeing doctors. After I adjusted him, he calmed down immediately. His mom told me that he had a checkup with his pediatrician a few days later and his ears were clear for the first time in months. He’s been back a couple times since but hasn’t had to come back much.”
Nelson said that is one funny thing about his profession. “With chiropractic the goal is to make them better. When your goal is to get rid of your customer you constantly need new people coming in,” he laughs. “If you run an ice cream shop and you get them hooked on ice cream you don’t need new ones all the time.” The goal is overall wellness, and getting adjusted regularly keeps a lot of people out of trouble. “I try to tailor my treatment to each patient and I’ve got a lot of people that live a long ways away – farmer and ranchers – so I try to get them doing stretches and exercises that they can do at home.”
He had hopes of ranching as a kid but his dad wanted him to be a dentist. “He always told me you have to have a good job so you can afford to ranch,” laughs Nelson. “Dad has a small place and he also brand inspects, rides colts, works as a cowboy poet and does a lot more.” Nelson, a graduate of Dickinson State University got his degree in biology and decided to become a chiropractor after he lifted a generator out of a pickup and put his back out. “I couldn’t walk, couldn’t lay down, I had excruciating pain. It took me twenty minutes to get from the car to the office door but after I got adjusted I felt ninety percent better. It was amazing. I decided that if I could help people for a fraction of the cost of medical ... I wanted to do it.
“Right away, I didn’t have a clue what I was getting into. I’d only been adjusted a few times, and I didn’t really understand proactive health. I thought you were supposed to put up with pain until you can’t stand it anymore,’ but I have learned a lot about helping people and keeping them healthy. I’m really not much of a self promoter, I don’t talk about myself, but word of mouth has been a great tool in gaining new patients.”
Nelson and his wife Sara (Ellis), a kindergarten teacher and their three-month-old son Haakon live just a few miles south of the place where he grew up. “I love being a chiropractor, I’m so glad I got into it. I still get to live in the country, be my own boss and work with horses. I still go to rodeos on the weekends – I’ve got a balanced thing going on.”
Nelson shares a clinic space with another chiropractor and they adjust one another regularly as a proactive measure.
To reach Nelson, call 701-751-1286 for the clinic or 701-333-9398 for horse questions or appointments.