Alan Woodbury won’t play the name-dropping game of high-profile people. But he will talk high-profile horses.
And rightfully so, with what he refers to as his small role in “the total summation of a broad program that makes champions,” through Woody’s Performance Horse Feeds.
“Probably the first big horse that we were feeding was Unbridled, who won the Kentucky Derby,” said Woodbury, seated in the office on his ranch in Dickinson, North Dakota. “But with that being said, we had a lot of big horses.”
The list of those big horses Woody’s has fueled is not breed specific. Woodbury himself is on his fourth generation of Quarter Horses he breeds for the racetrack, barrel racing or whatever discipline their conformation and personality lend them a penchant for. However, the number of successful Thoroughbreds alone who have had their feed tubs filled with Woody’s grain is indicative of the hard work, history and development that went into building the company.
Unbridled’s Song, Uncle Mo, Curlin, Rags to Riches, Super Saver, I’ll Have Another, Nyquist, Charismatic, Banshee Breeze, and Rachel Alexandra – among many others.
“To say that your feed made a winner, maybe it was a tiny part of the program, but it’s the program and attention that these guys pay,” Woodbury said, emphasizing the seven-day a week job that trainers dedicate to their trade. “If the feed was only the only thing, like some people say, it would be quite simple, but that’s not the case. There are so many great trainers out there, and a lot of good people. A lot of hard working people.”
“My resume’s really short,” Woodbury said, laughing. “In just about 50 years I’ve only worked at one spot.”
Growing up in the agricultural industry, Woodbury attended North Dakota State University, where he received a degree in animal science and agricultural economics. From there he began working on that 50-year-long resume, moving to Dickinson after accepting a position at a mill as a local feed salesman. After three years he became manager, a role he held for another 10 before purchasing the mill – now Woody’s Feed and Grain – in the early 1980s.
The operation started with beef cow feed, but became intertwined with the horse industry after a request from his brother, who was training horses on the West Coast.
“He said ‘hey, bag a load of oats and ship it out here, we need oats,’ and I didn’t have any equipment to process oats,” Woodbury said. “And he says ‘if you stick your arm in the bag and there’s no dust sticking to the hair on your arm, it’s good enough.’ We didn’t have any cleaners, but we had labor. So we put oats on a truck with a hoist, and take gunny sacks and go out in back of the mill, let the wind blow the dust down as the oats flowed in, and we’d sew it up.”
Not a start Woodbury calls “accurate,” but one that initiated a multi-million-dollar investment in the company, which allowed them to create a more orthodox method for processing a quality horse feed now used across the U.S.
“There’s lot of steps to cleaning, and milling and sweet feed production, quality control and [making] labor efficient,” Woodbury said. “We’ve got robots that stack the feed. We’ve got bag-top control bagging, we’ve got a couple of mixers that manufacture the sweet feed, and we do pelletized supplements and diets that go into the sweet feeds.”
Discussing the Thoroughbred population of his clientele, Woodbury praised the horsemanship and close attention to detail by trainers while developing their horses, not allowing himself to take credit for the Kentucky Derbys, Dubai World Cups and other graded stakes victories their horses have had on the racetrack.
“I named off some good horses that ate our feed, but we also fed a lot of them that ran last,” Woodbury said. “So it’s a privilege to manufacture feed and sell it to these Grade 1 trainers. And everybody likes to hang their hat on a winner, but that’s somewhat of a fallacy because it’s the program of the trainer. The meticulous detail that he makes to all the small things. And when you create a champion it takes a lot of people and a lot of attention to all the little things.”
Although he sold the feed mill two years ago, 73-year-old Woodbury still plays an active role as a company consultant, his cell phone chiming repeatedly with feed order text messages from Woody’s representatives. While he admits working has been a central component of his life, he also takes pride in his own horses he has developed, pointing to pictures in his office of young Quarter Horses he bred who will soon begin training at Ruidoso Downs in New Mexico, and the mare he bred who his granddaughter – one of 12 grandchildren – barrel races on.
And then there is Woodbury’s truest love of all, his wife Connie, who passed away March 10, after more than 51 years of marriage. Woodbury reflected on the validity of words spoken to him after her funeral by a western North Dakota ranch woman:
“Woody, I’ll tell you one thing: she was the wind behind your sails.”