By Ben Massam
Camilla Whishaw, a 2014 graduate of the Godolphin Flying Start program, always knew she wanted to pursue a career in the field of equine naturopathy, but she didn't necessarily expect that career to achieve such a global reach. Whishaw, who recently wrapped up a week-long Stateside visit in Lexington, is the owner of the Australia-based Optim Equine, which treats, resolves and manages a wide range of horse health and injury woes using a holistic, natural approach. Primarily making use of Western herbal medicine, nutrition and nutraceuticals, Whishaw brings a fresh perspective on how natural treatments can work hand-in-hand with more conventional medicinal approaches.
Growing up on her family's Armidale Stud in Tasmania, the native Aussie worked and rode horses from a young age and quickly became intrigued with the field of naturopathy, which is rooted in the idea that individuals can inherently heal themselves if given appropriate and focused natural supplements. After successfully gaining admittance into Flying Start in 2012, Whishaw said the program was instrumental in guiding her path toward the foundation of Optim Equine.
“I knew there was a place in the market, and I felt a strong need to provide natural health solutions to issues, injuries and illnesses in horses,” Whishaw said. “That set me on my career path. I went to Flying Start with that being my main goal.”
Whishaw readily acknowledged that she is not trained as a veterinarian, and said she has found that working alongside vets allows her to identify areas in which naturopathic solutions may be more effective in treating a condition or enhancing an already existent treatment. Not surprisingly, given her background growing up on a stud farm, Whishaw said that stallion fertility issues are perhaps the area in which natural medicine is the most effective.
“It's a very important side of our industry, and when it comes to stallion infertility or subfertility, there is very little we can do effectively using conventional medicine,” Whishaw said. “It was certainly one area during my studies that I realized that appropriate use of suitable herbs and nutrients could have a huge impact. That was an area of particular interest.”
Equipped with confidence that her practices could be successfully applied to the treatment of stallions, Whishaw graduated from Flying Start in 2014 and decided to gain more hands-on experience with stallions as a groom at Vinery Stud in Australia. Soon after that, she assumed a role as an equine naturopath at Darley Australia, while also operating an on-site rehabilitation facility. She stepped out on her own soon after, and while stallion fertility treatment remains a large component of her new role with Optim Equine, she said she addresses a wide range of health issues from a diverse pool of clients.
“I do see a lot of stallion fertility cases, but honestly, I see everything and anything,” Whishaw continued. “I see a lot of horses with joint problems, horses with gastric issues, such as colic and ulcers. We see suspensory injuries, which we help to heal quicker and better. We get a lot of cases with immune system problems, metabolic problems and, while we can't really give it a term, but often people will get me in as a last resort for horses they have tried everything on.”
The “last resort” situations, according to Whishaw, are some of the most satisfying cases to solve–partially because they essentially provide her with the opportunity to demonstrate proof of concept to individuals who may have initially been opposed to naturopathic solutions. Along those lines, Whishaw stressed that any herbal or nutritional remedies she prescribes must be backed by proven research and must fulfill specific therapeutic aims–there is no use of supplements “just because.”
And how has Whishaw found her experience in America?
“Vets over here are far more progressive than those at home,” she asserted. “They're open to trying new things with new treatment options and more progressive in adopting alternative medicine and alternative techniques. I find the industry [in America] more forward-thinking.”
As far as the actual conditions Whishaw has been treating in the States, she said the primary difference is that she sees more cases related to equine management. Horses in America tend to reside more continuously in stables than in other countries such as Australia, which can lead to more gastric problems and issues with temperament and behavior.
With a unique career path that has placed her on a global course, Whishaw said she is thankful to be doing what she loves.
“I think I saw myself staying in one location, but it's evolved to take me around the world, effectively,” Whishaw said. “It's certainly along the lines of doing exactly what I wanted to do. And that's pretty fortunate, because that doesn't always happen.”