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A FINE HAND: “Horses are so incredibly majestic exactly as they are,” Sue Ziegler says. “I just strive to capture that.”

Story by Katie Navarra

​​Sue Ziegler’s childhood was filled with horses. She participated in 4-H and was surrounded by Thoroughbreds in her hometown near Saratoga.

Her great-uncle was a part owner of a few horses and her dad, continuing the family tradition, took her to the track and passed on his love of racing. Like many an equine-loving kid, Ziegler was grown up before she realized her dream of owning a horse – a Tennessee Walker named Mister that she could ride without a saddle or bridle – who would lead her to her life’s calling as an artist.

At first, though, all she knew was they shared the strong bond every rider 

​hopes for: “We were so connected it was like he could tell what I was thinking.”

He was a character, she remembers, always curious and always into something.

“One of my favorite photos of him shows him feeding a tumbleweed to the neighbor’s goat through the fence,” she said. 

Watching Mister grazing, and the other horses that eventually joined him, simply wasn’t enough. Ziegler wanted to fill the walls of her home with images of her horses. She began taking photos and then saw an artist who was creating custom drawings in an impressionistic style. 

“I wasn’t able to afford her work, but was inspired

to attempt drawing,” she said. In two short years

– 100 percent inspired by horses – she went from

simple sketches that looked as if they were torn

from a grade schooler’s notebook to world-class,

award-winning pieces in pencil and pastel.

“I couldn’t even draw stick figures until I was in

my 50s,” she said.

Ziegler began taking classes and downloading

how-to-draw books on her Kindle. To her

surprise, she discovered that the impressionistic

artwork she enjoyed viewing was far different

from the realistic or even hyper-realistic style

she prefers to create. 

No element is too small. “It’s important to me that

I capture each freckle and hair whorl, and the texture of every vein and muscle,” she said. 

Because of her interest in fine detail, graphite was the best fit for her artwork. She added colored pencils and practiced non-stop. Within a year, Ziegler had created more than 100 drawings. Then, the amount of pressure required to create with pencil caused an old hand injury to flare up. She was forced to stop drawing for a few months and, during this break, she discovered pastels, which require less hand pressure but were also good for fine detail. 

She was hooked.

“Horses are so incredibly majestic exactly as they are,” she said. “I just strive to capture that, drawing a person’s attention to their power and expressive beauty.”

Her Upstate roots – Ziegler now calls California home – and the love for the track her father shared, shows up in the many Thoroughbred-themed pieces she has produced, some of which are on display at the Spa Fine Art Gallery in Saratoga Springs. There is Songbird, who in one of Ziegler’s works, looks back over her shoulder at the iconic spires of the Saratoga track. And American Pharoah, who is breezing a morning run in one piece and giving challengers his top-dog alpha stallion stare in another.    

And there is Nyquist, a portrait of the 2016 Kentucky Derby winner, which Ziegler admits is a drawing that stands out among the rest. The portrait won a Special Merit award in the Light, Space & Time competition, which drew more than 900 entries from 24 countries.

“I felt for the first time I was really

able to capture the realism I had

been hoping to achieve,” she said.

One of her early pieces, Sunlight,

featuring a pony chomping hay,

was a winner in Colored Pencil

magazine’s annual international art

competition in 2015, and the piece

went on to be featured in the

publication’s 2016 calendar.

Since then, Ziegler’s artwork has

appeared in two books and multiple

magazines. She has also received

numerous awards, including

accolades from Fine Art Connoisseur

 magazine  in an online review that

described her American Pharoah Alpha Look portrait as a highlight of the American Academy of Equine Art Fall Show.

Mister, the horse that ignited the spark that turned into a passion, is featured in countless drawings. Two, Gone Too Soon and On My Drawing Board, capture the love she had for this horse.

“We lost him to colic a few years ago, but he lives on in these pieces,” she said.

Her two German Shepherds, Hero and Una, are also featured in much of her work. “The thing I love most about drawing dogs is capturing the sense of fun, and the purity of love in their expressions,” she said.

Although horses and dogs are her favorite subjects, she’s dabbled in nature and abstract subjects, as well as working on commission – an avenue that opened through Hags with Nags, a Facebook page that she joined after buying her first horse.

 “This wonderful group of women is not just my go-to place for all of my new owner, horse-related questions but continues to be proudly supportive of my growth as an artist,” she said.

Her horses, and the unique qualities of each horse she draws, bring her so much joy, Ziegler said, and she hopes it brings joy to others as well.

“One of the best compliments I’ve received is when I had a photographer tell me that my art felt more real than her photograph. That for me is success,” she said. “My inner child is having a blast.”