Monday, Feb. 26, 2024

The Cone Sisters Draw Their Own Lines


“She knew the feeling of being closer to the earth, closer to the sky, the sun—closer than she’d ever been in her life as she galloped across a golden  field; the wind freeing her hair from the conformity of life, rebelling and changing into the free, expressive style that it wants to be,” wrote Arden Cone in a poetic prose entitled Of A Horse.
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“She knew the feeling of being closer to the earth, closer to the sky, the sun—closer than she’d ever been in her life as she galloped across a golden  field; the wind freeing her hair from the conformity of life, rebelling and changing into the free, expressive style that it wants to be,” wrote Arden Cone in a poetic prose entitled Of A Horse.

These words echo the unwavering passion Arden and her family carry through their life among horses
and art.

The Cone name has been featured on multiple Chronicle covers as 16-year-old Arden, her sister Bailey, 18, and mother Amanda’s art have all been selected to grace the cover at one time or another. Arden and Bailey’s artwork has also had a place in many annual junior art galleries, beginning in 1996.

Arden’s emotive watercolor paintings colorfully embody the equine-human bond, and she often paints from photographs she snaps herself.

“I love how with a single photograph you can capture so much emotion that even a video can’t capture,” she explained. “There’s such an emotional bond between horses and people. I’ve lived on a farm my whole life, and it’s really cool to be able to see and experience that bond. So I’ve been focusing on trying to capture that emotion when I paint.”

Arden wrote Of A Horse to complement one painting in particular. “It kind of reflects my experiences living on a farm my whole life,” she said.

The art of Norman Rockwell also influences her creativity. “One of the things I love most about his paintings are the faces of the people and the emotion in the paintings,” she said. “So I try to capture that in my own.”

The Cone sisters’ father, Lee Cone, trains horses with wife Amanda at their Windbrook Farm in Landrum, S.C. His grandfather was president of the Rhode Island School of Design, while Arden and Bailey’s uncle is Davis Cone, a prominent photo-realist painter. “So I guess I’ve got it in my genes,” Arden mused.

Amanda has crafted bronze sculptures for years and collects books by the American equine illustration artist, Paul Brown (1893-1958). She said the girls often like to accompany her to galleries and equine art exhibitions as well. “They’ve always been exposed to art on top of it being a real interest for them,” she said.

“I realized Arden [was artistic] when she was 3 and started drawing pictures,” she added. “It was really fascinating because most kids at that age kind of scribble, but she was already making drawings. But being an artist myself, I always pushed plain paper. I never really gave them coloring books.”

Capturing Closeness

From Day 1, both Arden and Bailey learned to draw their own lines. “If we wanted to color something in particular, we had to draw it ourselves,” Bailey said.

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She now composes pieces using pencil and acrylic paints and sculpts as well. But regardless of which medium either Bailey or Arden dabble in, one unquestionable passion inspires the Cone sisters and their family—the horse.

Bailey’s stylistic and cleverly surreal pencil illustrations also hint of Brown’s influence. One piece in particular, Brotherly Love, portrays two horses in a dreamlike setting sharing back scratches.

“Every time I watch them scratch each other’s shoulders like that it makes me want to capture that closeness,” Bailey explained. She drew Brotherly Love from a photograph originally captured by Arden.

She added, “I do draw for fun, but I also try to capture and convey that emotion horses evoke. Sometimes we take it for granted how beautiful they are. But it’s when I draw them and study them I find a whole new appreciation for them.”

Bailey currently studies business at Virginia Intermont College where she’s an honors student and rides on the equestrian team. But she’s also considering a major in equine science and still has yet to decide between the two. Regardless, “I can’t imagine my life without horses,” she said.

Arden attends Oak Brook Preparatory School in Spartanburg, S.C., and is a member of the National Honor Society. She’s not sure of her career path, but she’s certain that horses and art will always enrich her life. With her junior year in high school fresh behind her and college looming, Arden’s top picks are Savannah College of Art and Design (Ga.) or following her sister’s footsteps to Virginia Intermont College.

“They’re great kids; I don’t know how I got so lucky. A lot of it is just that they work their tails off and don’t have time for trouble,” Amanda said laughing. “And they adore each other and get along so well. The first year they competed against each other was a little challenging, but halfway through they worked it out. They never fight, and they support each other. It does good for my heart.”

Better Than The Brightest Ribbons

The championship ribbons Arden and Bailey collected over the years on their ponies and horses only hint at their accomplishments.

“Unlike a lot of kids, they started out with inexperienced and unmade ponies,” Amanda said. “As a matter of fact, they’ve broken and trained most of their ponies themselves. Two of the ponies we bought had never been touched by humans at age 3.”

A pony named Free Ride cost the Cones $500. She was practically wild upon setting foot at Windbrook Farm. But Arden’s time and patience with her formed a bond like those she and Bailey paint and write about.

She qualified the mare for the USEF Pony Finals multiple times and rode her in the USEF Pony Finals and pony hunter divisions. “It’s really cool to get to know each pony and build that bond with them as you create them. It’s so rewarding because it’s all your own work, and you get to see how far they’ve come,” she said. “It’s hard work, but it’s a lot of fun.”

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When she aged out of the medium pony hunter division, Arden began jumping ponies higher and faster in the jumper classes. She rode a dapple-gray Welsh-Arabian mare named Double Double This This last year who could “jump to the moon,” she said.

She started out as a hunter prospect that Bailey trained but eventually found her niche in the other ring. “We tried her in the jumpers, and that definitely fit her personality much better,” Arden said.

Though the pony stood 12.1 hands and was 14 years old, “she thought she was a 17-hand 3-year-old,” Arden said with a laugh. They flew over 3’6″ fences and earned top ribbons that year and won her local circuit’s 2006 year-end championship.

When Arden outgrew Double Double This This, the pony was leased out. Arden is retraining and showing two other pony jumpers this year—Singletree Quill and Silverstone, both of whom she hopes to take to Pony Finals this summer.

Last year she qualified three ponies for the Pony Finals in Lexington, Ky., but fate had other plans. She outgrew Silver Mist, and the large pony Show Boat went back to her owner. Arden had qualified for the Pony Medal Finals but had nothing to ride. Amanda called trainer Robbie Hunt who offered Ever After’s reins (owned by Alise Oken), which Arden gladly accepted.

“I was very grateful to have something to ride, though it wasn’t my greatest,” Arden admitted. “But it was a good experience.”

Her Pony Finals experience was an especially memorable one, however, as she earned an Emerson Burr Horsemanship Award for her stellar horsemanship.

“It felt really good because we do our own horses,” said Arden. “It’s just a nice payoff for doing something I love. It makes it all worth so much more.”

Bailey has earned her fair share of honors on numerous ponies as well. But Mr. Mischief, a fiery little gray Welsh, is one she remembers vividly. “He was the first pony I ever broke. I started him when I was 7,” Bailey remembered. “He just had a real in-your-face personality, but I loved that pony.”

With help from her parents, she broke and trained the pony to carry her around the hunter ring without a fuss and even earned top results. “He taught me a lot. And I fell off him a lot too!  He definitely taught me to be patient,” she said.

Bailey now leases an 11-year-old Dutch Warmblood-Thoroughbred named Follow Me, and they show in the adult amateur hunter division.

Joshua A. Walker

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