It all began with a pony ride.

Debra Jo (Debi) Fitzgerald, artist, was a horse lover before she was an artist. At age 4, the West Virginia native went with her father to the state fair, where she had her first pony ride. “It was probably the biggest mistake of his life,” Fitzgerald said. “I can still remember the feel of that pony, the thick bushy mane, how you couldn’t see his eyes, how fuzzy he was; the closeness to him. I was obsessed after that.” From that time on, no matter the path, horses were there to lead the way.

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It is that feeling Fitzgerald captures brilliantly in her works; the horses so soft and detailed they look as if they could leap off the canvas. Dogs are equally life-like and detailed, and people are prominently featured in many of her works; the expressions and details so sharp it is like looking at a photograph. Whether the subject is four-legged or two, there is no denying Fitzgerald has a sharp eye for detail and an amazing talent. It is that talent that has provided a range of works from young girls starting out in the jumping world to racing superstars, such as multiple Grade 1 winner Royal Delta and her trainer Bill Mott.

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Fitzgerald’s love of horses and art merged together as a girl, since she fell in love with horses she has been drawing them. Her talent was obvious early as she won a coloring contest in elementary school and was the president of her high school art club. Encouraging art teachers and her supportive parents allowed the young artist to flourish.

In college, Fitzgerald faced a series of questions about her future. Because of her love of animals, she first thought about becoming a veterinarian; then a forest ranger. Deciding against those options, she chose to study art. She originally decided on art history, but not wanting to spend her career with her “nose in a book,” she said, she decided to try sculpture. “I loved getting dirty and building things,” she said. “Art in college is about trying new things; undergraduate is about exploring and creating, which I really enjoyed.”

Debi Fitzgerald The Carolinas Equestrian 03After graduating with a BFA in sculpture at Florida State University, Fitzgerald got the opportunity to apprentice with a prominent sculptor in Toronto. But horses, which had been put to the side during college, were about to step back into her life in a major way. Working at a horse sale, she met the manager of Marablue horse farm. After speaking with him, Fitzgerald took a leap of faith and jumped into the horse business in Ocala, Florida, at a racing farm, mucking out stalls and grooming horses. “It was hard work,” she said. “I’d come home every day and collapse, but what a great way to learn everything.”

Fitzgerald spent eight months working at a training barn, two years at a breeding farm, and then managed a small breeding farm for a year. After that, she spent two years as the Art Director for The Florida Horse Magazine. During her tenure, she bought her first horse, a move that would cement her future as a professional artist. Having been told the magazine should come before all else, Fitzgerald chose horses and art over the office, and never looked back.

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Fitzgerald began her art career with photography, first by taking confirmation pictures and action shots on the racetrack; then expanding to other sporting horses, as well as people, dogs and some cats. Between her experience in showing, which she did for 10 years, and photography, Fitzgerald honed her skills for canvas and paper. Fitzgerald mainly works on commission with pastels, finding it best softens the horses. She also works with oils, and in gouache. Gouache is a method of painting using opaque pigments very similar to watercolor.

Fitzgerald has clients around the country, and throughout the Carolinas. She visits the area yearly; doing photoshoots and well as gathering inspiration. She found considerable success here, including working with Mainline Art gallery in Bluffton, S.C. Her process begins with a photograph as inspiration. Fitzgerald then creates in a space made for beauty - a glassed-in porch in central Florida that overlooks nine acres with horses, chickens, koi, dogs, cats and other animals. Her parrots spend the day watching her work in the peaceful environment.

Fitzgerald’s work ranges in size from 11x14 to 24x36 for pastels and gouache, and 12x18 to 36x48 for oil paintings. Prices are based on subjects and elaborate backgrounds, and a 50% deposit is required for all works. Fitzgerald will work with clients if they want a special size.

Life has come full circle for Fitzgerald; horses and art being a central figure. They, the horses in particular, will be a part of her world forever. “I can see myself, old, with a bunch of minis,” she said. “I worked too hard to get them into my life, and I will always have them; I have to have them.” For more information on Fitzgerald and her work, visit; her Facebook page, or call at 351.591.2366.