Dec 16, 2023

Now On Course: Cayla Stone is All In on Mustangs

By Lindsay Berreth - USEA Staff
Cayla Stone and Atalanta. Photos courtesy of Cayla Stone

Cayla Stone always had a talent for young horses and is a big advocate for the “underdog,” so over the years her eventing barn has been filled with rescue horses and off-the-track Thoroughbreds.

In 2012, she acquired a mustang on a whim and competed him in the Mustang Heritage Foundation’s Extreme Mustang Makeover competition, where participants are given 100 days to prepare a wild mustang that they randomly draw for classes that will showcase the horse’s new skills. At the end of the competition, the mustangs are available for adoption or purchase.

From then on, Stone was hooked on mustangs. She competed in the Makeover again in 2015 and made the top-10 final. Then in 2016, she was matched with Atalanta, a bay mare with a tough streak, for the Makeover.

“She was a very difficult horse,” she recalled. “We had 100 days for that competition, and it took me four weeks to be able to touch her, another couple of weeks to be able to touch her on the right side, I wasn’t riding until probably two months in, I came off and had a nasty concussion, I had another fall from her, a rotator cuff injury, just a lot of issues in the beginning with her trusting people and feeling comfortable. I had multiple people say she wouldn’t make it to the competition and that she wasn’t worth continuing with.”

With barely 30 rides under their belts, Stone and Atalanta finished fifth at the Makeover. Stone bought her back and decided to try her in eventing.

Stone had worked with a lot of tough mustangs before Atalanta, but admitted the mare was her toughest one yet. During the Makeover though, something clicked, and they began forging a strong partnership.

“Up until that point she could hardly be caught by anyone other than me and hadn’t really had anyone else handle her that much,” she said. “We got to the competition, and there were people everywhere, and she kind of just had to deal. She showed us she had a great mind, she’d just been blocked by so much human distrust, and suddenly it came out, and she realized it was OK, and ever since then, she’s the easiest horse to work with, and her personality is amazing.”

The pair began competing at Beginner Novice and Novice in 2017 and made it to Training by 2019. They finished 10th at the 2018 USEA American Eventing Championships (Lexington, Kentucky) in the Novice Rider division, and earned the top adult rider on a pony award.

“She’s been in the ribbons in every event and very rarely has a cross-country penalty,” said Stone. “At Training level we qualified for the Rebecca Farms [Kalispell, Montana] three-day, but unfortunately she had an injury so we couldn’t go. Ever since then she’s taught lessons—my 9-year-old rides her—I’ve taught clinics and done demos with her. She’s registered with the American Warmblood and Sport Horse Society based on her performance record. She’s a really cool girl. I bred her to a Holsteiner and a Trakehner, and she’s being inspected for Westphalian. She’s kind of an unusual mustang mare and a pretty special one.”

Stone admits she’s never been one to advocate for breeding mustangs but felt that Atalanta was too talented not to try. She discussed possible crosses with her friend and fellow mustang advocate and five-star eventer Elisa Wallace.

“I always wanted a warmblood that had the street smarts of a mustang, and that’s what we’ve made,” she said. “She’s careful; [her offspring] know how to take care of themselves, they’re not silly—she’s passed that on.”

Cayla Stone worked to gain Atalanta's trust.

Based in Wellington, Colorado, Stone’s kept busy with other mustangs while Atalanta has been having foals. Several of her students ride mustangs, and she’s also bringing along another off-the-track Thoroughbred for the Retired Racehorse Project’s Thoroughbred Makeover. She runs her Wild Rose Mustang Advocacy Group, a non-profit whose goal is to provide professional training in English disciplines in an effort to increase adoptions.

Stone also teaches at Colorado State University where she runs the Right Horse Program. Horses are brought in from local rescues, and students work with them during the semester before they put on an adoption event at the end of the season.

Her daughter, Elsa Feucht, has been bringing along her own mustang, and Stone and her husband Joe welcome daughter Lily in February.

When asked why she’s so passionate about mustangs, Stone said it’s their “street smarts. Their self-preservation is so much higher. We call them intelligent, but it’s that they’ve learned to take care of themselves. For an event horse or a riding horse to be that is pretty awesome. They’re careful out on cross-country, they’re very safe. When given the right start, these guys are incredibly predictable and easy-going. I’ve seen a lot of students over the years be out-horsed with horses who are too much for them and end up quitting or losing confidence. I have probably 10 students or more right now who are competing and riding their mustangs safely. I can put a kid on these guys even if they haven’t been ridden in a couple of weeks, and they’re the same horse. They’re careful and they’re hearty. Their feet are great, many don’t need shoes.”

Do you know a horse with a cool story? Email Lindsay at [email protected] for a chance to be featured.

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