Zara Mathilde Buren was born on January 10, 2006, in Oakville, Canada. From the moment of her birth she was feisty, strong, stubborn, smart and curious. Her curly hair, bright eyes, squeaky voice and cherub cheeks were perfect in every way. Big sister, Chloe Aziza, was thrilled to have a playmate, and their joy in having each other was matched only by the joy of her parents in watching these two discover sisterhood and the world around them, together.
When she was little, Zara enjoyed lots of camping and swimming lessons, but nothing was as fun as hanging out at the barn with her mom and all the horses. Her giggle was infectious and brought a smile to anyone who heard it. When Zara was not yet three, she took on the role of her daddy’s biggest helper after he sustained a spinal cord injury. Rather than going for rides on his shoulders, she was happy to hitch a ride on his lap as he pushed his wheelchair, and was quick to help him with anything. She started Kindergarten at Palermo Public School wise beyond her years, always the one her teachers could count on, and took this focus to ballet classes, singing, and riding lessons as she got older.
When Zara was nine years old, she was tested for intellectual giftedness. You can imagine how that went. During the assessment at the kitchen table, Zara’s mom and dad were upstairs listening. An oral reading section Zara was completing caused the instructor to laugh out loud – she nailed the delivery of the humour in the text. She chose to leave French Immersion for the Gifted program in Grade 4 at Pilgrim Wood Public School, hoping to connect with kids who loved learning as much as she did. Meanwhile, her dear big sister Chloe was accepted into Canada’s National Ballet School and left to attend boarding school there, coming home on weekends and holidays. A big change for their relationship.
Zara’s commitment to whatever she was learning cannot be overstated. She wanted to learn how to bake French Macarons, so she did (and perfected them). During Grades 4 – 7, Zara took charge of caring for her dogs and cats, and enjoyed a broad mix of activities and sports like rock climbing and volleyball, but there was no question that her love of horses and riding took centre stage.
As her sister Chloe says, “in finding her love for horses, Zara really found herself.”
Her serious horse riding began when she started part-boarding a pony named Harmony at age 11, and then Maverick the next year. This is when she met her dear friend, Jenna, a fellow rider who became like a second sister to her. The ponies taught Zara resilience and patience and a love for the sports of Dressage and Eventing, while she honed her horsemanship. As Zara’s riding skills and dedication continued to build, Mom and Dad bought a horse trailer, giving Zara and Mom the freedom to travel for training and competitions. They became a team on the road as they were at the barn. Then in 2019, at age 13 she had the opportunity to lease Pollyanna, a wonderful horse with whom she grew into an elegant rider and had much success. In January of 2020 they all headed down to Florida where, with the help of her coach, Holly Jacks-Smither, they trained and competed into the Spring. It was in March that Zara, her parents and coach found Zara her very own horse, affectionately named Monkey, whom she brought home to Canada. She had big plans to represent her country in a few years’ time.
In the 6 months that she and Monkey had together, Zara’s commitment to her horse was absolute. The privilege and responsibility of ownership of such a magnificent and loving being was never taken for granted, and she showed her gratitude to her parents and horse daily. Her love of doing things just so, of taking no shortcuts in training or care, was noticed amongst her fellow barn mates, remarked on often by her coaches, and was an immense source of pride for her parents. Sister Chloe was recently a student of Zara’s, having a ride on Pollyanna with Zara as coach and appreciating the horsewoman her little sister had become.
On September 21, 2020, Zara lost her life trying to ensure the safety of her beloved horse. Her animals always came first, that was Zara. This unimaginable end to a beautiful life has left us empty and forever changed. Though she was only 14, her legacy of kindness, hard work, empathy and excellence will live on forever. Zara’s last day was spent sending a “good morning” SnapChat to her sister, enjoying Grade 9, playing ball with her dogs , kissing her dad goodbye, and riding with her mom. She will be remembered for her goodness, her bravery, her kindness to everyone she interacted with, and her high expectations of herself and all those around her. A celebration of her life will take place on Friday, October 2, 2020 beginning at 3:00 pm and will be livestreamed. The Zara Buren Memorial Fund has been set up to honour Zara’s exemplary life and a Foundation will be created by her parents to assist other incredible youth in pursuing their dreams.
“To Live in Hearts we Leave Behind is Not to Die” - Thomas Campbell