For Leslie Ann Guilbault, it was never in the plans to bring a pony into her string of dressage horses.

After receiving a call from her neighbor, Leslie Ann walked into the woods to catch a mystery pony on her property. Following a bucket of grain and lots of coaxing, Leslie Ann was successful in leading the pony back to her stable at Linden Wood Farm. The hard part? Finding the owner.

Through a mutual friend, Leslie Ann connected with the pony’s owner only to find that the pony was bought at auction two weeks before. Already having issues with the pony, the owner gave Leslie Ann an offer she couldn’t refuse—a free pony. Not knowing where he came from or where he’s been, Leslie Ann trusted her instinct in taking in the pony and appropriately named him, Woody.

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Woody, the day Leslie found him.

Not to be dissuaded by the skittish strawberry-roan, the FEI-level dressage rider and owner of Double A Equestrian took her time to build a bond based on trust and respect.

“I went through the process like I would with a baby to back him. Then rode him a little bit on and off through the winter,” explains Leslie Ann. “I figured I would use him for lessons because I didn’t have the time myself to ride him. Every time I rode him, I always thought that he moved pretty fancy for a little pony that I found in the woods, not knowing what he is or what he’s done.”

With his fluid gait and steep learning curve, Leslie Ann began to teach Woody the basic elements of dressage, only to find out that he was a natural.

But the real secret to their success? Time.

“I spent a lot of time with him. I did a lot of groundwork and worked with a few natural horsemanship cowboys to try and desensitize him,” explains Leslie Ann who focused Woody’s basic training in a round pen. “Woody isn’t afraid of anything, he loves to work and tries super hard. This past year, the amount of time that he’s had and the consistency with me every day knowing that he could depend on me to brush him and say hi to him made a big difference.”

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Now training with Olympian, Jan Ebeling, the pair have plans to compete in the Third Level at the Global Dressage Festival in Wellington at the end of the month. What’s next? The sky is the limit for Leslie Ann and her super pony, Woody.

“I’d like to take him as far as I can. I think he can go all the way up to Grand Prix level. He can do some half-steps and is really compact—he’s awesome to compete with,” says Leslie Ann. “He’s not going to be a top dressage horse, but I think it would be a great experience to put him in a Grand Prix.”

From wandering in the woods, to dressage extraordinaire, Woody the pony is one you can’t miss.

Ph. Izzie Tagavi and William McGowan, courtesy of Leslie Ann Guilbault.