Oakville teen girl killed in horseback riding accident 'was made of sunshine'

Sabrina Haque, the mother of 14-year-old Zara Buren, who died after a horseback riding accident in Flamborough on Sept. 21, says her daughter was 'exceptional.'  

Members of the equestrian community say Zara Buren always had everyone’s best intentions at heart

Zara Buren, 14, of Oakville, died after a horseback riding accident in Flamborough on Sept. 21. (Submitted by Sabrina Haque)

The sadness in Sabrina Haque's voice was unmistakable.

But in spite of the tears, there were also brief moments of laughter as she fondly remembered the "goodness" of her daughter Zara Buren. 

The 14-year-old from Oakville, died after a horseback riding accident in Flamborough on Sept. 21. 

"I really do feel like she just came out perfect, she was just made of goodness, that's how I would describe Zara," Haque told CBC News.

"There was goodness, and then there was perfectionism; and hard work was not optional. She expected everyone to do their best."

Friends and family say 'Zara was made of sunshine, she was purely good.' (Submitted by Sabrina Haque)

Haque recalled the many hours Zara would spend at the barn taking care of her horse. 

Sometimes she would take much longer to finish riding because she was so meticulous in everything she did that related to good care, and Haque said people noticed. 

"Her horse is always impeccably turned out. There was no detail left to chance," Haque said. 

"She was such a critical thinker and so analytical. She took that to her sport, not only in school, she applied it to her sport. 

"She approached every ride with a plan on how she could be better so that her horse would go better. It would never be the horses' fault," Haque added.

'She was just exceptional in every way,' mom says

Haque said Zara didn't realize that she had so many friends. 

She explained that Zara followed many other equestrian athletes on Instagram, and even though she did not actually know them in person, she would take the time to send them a message.

For example, she would say, '"That last show you did, you looked so amazing, good job.'" 

"And those people remembered her, even though, again, they may not have actually met in person, they may only have had this relationship online. 

"They started following me because they felt this connection to this girl who was cheering for everybody. She was just exceptional in every way," Haque added.

An overwhelming sense of loss

Zara and her mom — both experienced riders — were riding their horses on a property along Millgrove Side Road near Highway 5 when the accident occurred. 

They were riding on a path unfamiliar to them, police say, when Zara's horse became trapped in a marshy bog.

Zara was able to dismount the horse and while waiting for help, police say she became submerged. A short time later, she was pulled from the marsh without vital signs. 

Left to right, Sabrina Haque, Jill Stedman and Zara Buren. (Submitted by Jill Stedman)

"It has been an overwhelming sense of loss," Haque told CBC News.

She said her family has received "incredible community support" since the accident.

"Neighbours — old neighbours who had moved away 10 years ago — found out and have come back to our home with food and flowers and memories of Zara when she was little. 

"It's unbelievable really, and it gives us so much comfort to know that she was remembered so fondly even though her life was so short. So it helps a little bit."

She was so exceptional

Equestrian friends and fellow horse owners gathered at the family's barn Wednesday night and held a vigil for Zara.

There were pictures, candles and a beautifully engraved plaque was placed on the gate of her horse's paddock.

"Some of the words said were, "Zara was made of sunshine, she was purely good and she always had everyone's best intentions at heart," Haque said.

"She wanted the best for everyone. It's a rare trait in, not only a young person but as a human, any human. She was so exceptional … that was just a part of how she was made."

Zara was my student and my friend, coach said

Jill Stedman, Zara's dressage coach, said she was a determined and driven girl who strove to excel at everything she did.

"Zara was my student and my friend," Stedman told CBC News.

"She was a terrific student as she always did her homework and either came back with the problem solved or questions to work out how to fix it."

Stedman said Zara was a source of inspiration and it caused those around her to always try to do better. 

"She inspired everyone around her to be even more particular with the care and training of their horses, not by her words but by her actions," Stedman said. 

"She was always positive towards and interested in others. She gave everything she had to be the best rider and horse owner she could be. It made people around her want to be more like her. I don't think she even realized how her behaviour moved others. 

"I am devastated by the loss to the horse community. I will miss her contagious smile," Stedman added. 

Meanwhile, Haque said the family is launching a GoFundMe campaign to raise money for talented young athletes in Zara's name.