Wagon Wheel Therapy Opens in Kettle Falls


From the U.S. Army, to Ohio State University, to eventually eastern Washington, Tammy Elaine Lewis’ career in physical therapy has taken her to places across the country and, as a result, expanded her view on what proper patient care should entail. While teaching full time at Eastern Washington University (EWU) and raising five children, Elaine began taking evening classes to earn her Master’s degree in Adult Education. Here she dove deep into all the components of one’s everyday struggles and, without her even realizing it, Wagon Wheel Therapy began to take shape. 

Elaine discovered she wanted to be part of a more holistic approach to wellness. She said, “It became clear that there is so much more to success than academic prowess, financial freedom, supportive families, etc. The path people take to move forward in life is very complex and influenced by so many variables that it is often possible for a person with high potential to ‘get stuck’ on their journey. And when they do it is often very difficult for them to even recognize the barriers much less know how to overcome them. So, at that point in my life, I started to really see and treat people differently. I am a physical therapist by trade, but people often need a physical, mental, emotional and/or spiritual ‘therapist’ too. My motto in life and business is, ‘Move to Wellness’.”

Elaine was also greatly inspired by people she met along her path. While at Providence, she met a woman named Rose who was in need of physical therapy, but Elaine saw that Rose needed more than that. She needed a friend. Elaine recalled, “I helped guide her to services, moved her to many different homes, became her friend, let her live with my family for a short time, and even gave her my dog to become her service dog. Things really began to improve for her and, while her life was still very difficult, she eventually found a forever safe home, reconciled with the people and family who had hurt her in the past, and enjoyed life.”

She also met Mrs. Abrahamson from Inchelium, a wise elder of The Colville Confederated Tribes, who expressed hope that someday more services like physical therapy would come to the reservation. After teaching at EWU for four years, Elaine decided to do something more impactful and helpful. She shared: “In 2008 I decided to cross the river (not the Jordan, but the Columbia River) to open a private practice on the Colville Confederated Tribes Reservation. Nearly 10 years later, with clinics located in both Inchelium and Kellar, I transferred ownership of my practice to the Tribe. I worked for them for another three years.”

During her time on the reservation, she met many others like Rose. She said, “So many beautiful people who had lives full of pain and difficulty were “stuck” on life’s journey. With the previous experience I had with Rose in mind, I wanted to offer more holistic guidance, friendship, opportunity, and support so more lives could move toward wellness.”

Elaine continued, “I listened to the people while I provided physical therapy and learned their greatest needs. With the help of Phoebe Hawks and Sonja Warren, two local Native American women, we founded The Rose Garden, ‘a place of hope, where health, healing and happiness meet’. We desired to build a facility where multi-generational people could meet to assist one another in their own journeys.”

They had a lot of local support for their vision, and now hold yearly horse events for families and the youth. Elaine said, “We raise money yearly and award a senior scholarship to encourage college attendance. One young woman is currently finishing her PTA degree at Spokane Community College and many others have followed suit.”

During Covid, a friend and neighbor, Gary, had reached a point on his life’s journey where it was time to move out of his home. The residual effects of a stroke made it impossible for him to remain on his ranch or to continue as a wagon wheel maker. He needed to sell his belongings, horses and his lifetime collection of tools and equipment. 

Elaine told me, “I decided to [help] him do the physically impossible. He needed people to help him make sales, clean his home and move his 85 years’ worth of belongings. Since he also scheduled major surgery to repair years of neck degeneration, he needed a part time caregiver.  So, once again, I invited a friend to move in with my family and share my home. But Gary was not done with his journey yet. One road was closed to him so he found another venture to pursue.”

She continued: “When Gary’s stroke happened, he had much time to read and watch videos from the library. One video was of a small farm in Montana that provided equine (horse) assisted services to young people with a variety of disabilities. Gary immediately wanted to move there and support their program. Unfortunately, the man in the video had already passed away a few years earlier. However, unbeknownst to Gary, I had also been studying hippotherapy [which is] the use of equine movement to help people requiring physical therapy.”

Elaine said she grew up on a horse and still owned horses. When Gary and Elaine learned of each other’s passions for equine therapy, they decided to combine their efforts.

Gary needed both a place to live and a place to build an indoor heated arena so the hippotherapy practice could function through all types of weather. Luckily, he found the perfect location that could accommodate their business  and also included a beautiful studio apartment well suited for him in Kettle Falls. Elaine considers Gary to be a business partner and they are working together to create a better future for people in need of help.

Elaine explained that hippotherapy uses the movement of a horse as a tool like a treadmill, elliptical, or free-weights. There are unique movements of the pelvis of the horse that are beneficial to the function of our own. Something as minimal as 20 minutes of nonstop correct movement provides incredible training for balance and gait, and facilitates proper restoration of movement for the individual.

The emotional touch of the horse is also an important part of hippotherapy. Horses can sense the patient’s heartbeat, pick up on emotions and help to calm them. This is especially evident with children and those with anxiety. Feeling in control of the horse empowers the patient to feel in control of their therapy.

“Horses, children, and therapy all at once! I’m in heaven!” Elaine enthused.  

Elaine shared that patients and providers need to focus on what is right and begin the healing journey from there. There is a time for physical pain to be addressed, but the deeper, long-term problems are actually more important. First, focus on the good. She believes that people are able to heal if they have the right direction, and aims to provide one place to help find that direction. Elaine doesn’t believe money should stand in the way of someone suffering from getting the help they need. Wagon Wheel Therapy accepts insurance and will consider any reasonable barter or trade.

Elaine believes in giving quality time to each patient and addressing not just the physical body, but the spiritual, emotional, and mental too. All of these parts, together, are important and deserve attention because we ARE how we FEEL. Like the wheels of a wagon; when parts break, they affect the other parts of the wagon.

When asked what advice she would give to new physical therapists starting out on their healing journeys, Elaine offered, “Ask ‘why?’ three times about everything in life. Dig for the real source of the issue at hand. Never stop asking why.” This was a theme repeated throughout the interview; just keep asking questions, and keep moving forward. Move toward wellness.

When asked to share advice she would give to other women who want to start a new business, Elaine said, “Just do it. Start somewhere and just go. You can’t alter your path unless you begin to move. Pick a goal and start moving, even if it doesn’t make sense to you at the time. You’ll find the path as you go. Take one action toward the goal, one step at a time. Action plans result in change. Be deliberate with what you do. Don’t do anything by accident. Be honest. Be love.”

Elaine’s focus at Wagon Wheel Therapy is on Functional Movement Assessment to help determine which physical issues are present in the body and how to improve the patient’s movement and overall wellbeing. In addition, Elaine provides what she calls “non-standard assessment” and recommendations to help address the bigger picture of what her clients need in order to move toward wellness. These include mineral taste testing and treatment, body composition analysis, and more. She also offers the use of an assessment tool that she developed, called ROSE: Responsible Ownership Self-Evaluation. ROSE helps to identify areas of strength and weakness in a person’s entire state of well-being. 

Elaine’s intention is to help people “move to wellness” on their own, and she believes that life is a journey full of individual needs and choices. “Wagon wheels help carry loads but do not work if broken. I would like to help you repair your own Wagon Wheel of Wellness and help you successfully reach your destination wherever that takes you.” 

Wagon Wheel Therapy is located at 440 S. Meyers St., Kettle Falls, WA and is open 8 a.m.-4 p.m. T-Th 8-10 M & F by appointment. 

You can reach Elaine at 509-738-1555 or by email: telainelewis@wagonwheeltherapy.org.

Robin Milligan is an artist and entrepreneur living in Spokane, WA. She curates art shows, runs an IT company, and teaches ceramics and painting from her home studio. When not working, Robin spends her time with her 3 children exploring nature, rockhounding, creating art, and swimming.

By Robin Milligan