The 2022 Royal Agricultural Winter Fair was a (barn) family affair for Holly Jacks and her crew of approximately 60 friends, clients, and supporters who came together to cheer on her efforts competing in the indoor eventing in honour of Zara Buren, a student of Holly’s who died in a tragic accident in 2020.

The Horseware Arena Eventing Challenge, which featured two evenings of classes Nov. 4-5, was comprised of 16 cross-country fences and three traditional show jumps incorporated into a challenging course designed by Captain Mark Phillips. The questions came up quickly as Holly and Josephine masterfully navigated each obstacle on Friday night with the fastest time and one rail. On Saturday they edged out the previous winner, Waylon Roberts, and guest competitor Michael Jung when they laid down the only clean round of the evening to win the title.

Josephine, a 2013 TB/Appaloosa/Swedish Warmblood owned by her breeder, Donna Van Beek, was backed as a three-year-old by Holly. As she progressed in her training, it was evident that she was a bit more challenging than a typical amateur’s horse. She went into full-time training with Holly as a seven-year-old, traveling to Ocala to compete during the winter and early spring seasons.

Having owned both Josephine’s dam and grand-dam, it was not surprising to Donna that the mare could be a bit tricky. “I rode all three generations of the mares who were bossy, opinionated mares.” She said, “In fact, that aspect of their character is apparent in Josephine – as they too could be tough at home, but would step off the trailer at a show as to say, ‘Look at me!’”

According to Holly, that is exactly how Josephine entered the electric arena atmosphere at The Royal. “She’s not always an easy mare to ride,” said Holly, “But we got to The Royal and she wouldn’t put a bare foot wrong. That was the classiest she’s ever been, and it appears she’s ready to step up.”

“I’d just like to see her be the best she can be,” stated Donna. “It’s a bit of a surprise how quickly she’s ready for the next level and stepped up. The bond and trust between the two of them is amazing. Holly takes every opportunity to prepare her for what’s to come.”

Honouring the Life of Zara Buren

The first weekend at The Royal was also the first time since Covid, and losing Zara, that the Fair has been held. Although reflective and bittersweet, it was a coming together in remembrance of Zara Buren, an incredible young student of Holly’s who was lost in a heartbreaking accident while out hacking out with her mother. Among those in attendance from the barn included her mother Sabrina Haque, who continues to ride Zara’s horse, Monkey.

Zara Buren and Monkey. (Zara Buren Memorial Foundation photo)

Holly continues to be inspired by Zara’s family, who has faced the loss of their daughter with such grace. “Zara’s family is amazing. Her dad became a paraplegic from a mountain biking accident and has raced in iron man competitions. He was the first Canadian to finish the Kona Ironman® World Championship in Hawaii and was second overall in the wheelchair division. Zara’s older sister is also a very talented ballet dancer, currently studying in Amsterdam.”

Shortly after Zara’s accident, the family established the Zara Buren Memorial Fund, and an annual award given to a young applicant who best exemplifies the same qualities as Zara.

“Zara’s award is based on horsemanship and the love she had for the sport and her barn mates. I was lucky to have had Zara in my barn; she was a role model to all, even at 14. It has brought our barn really close together, as we talk about her often and really try to help support each other,” Holly reflected.

The award is made available annually to an Ontario rider, 18 years old or younger (with a preference to 14 and under), who has competed in eventing at the preliminary level or below and who exhibits a passion for the sport as well as horsemanship and sportsmanship and a desire to train in the Young Rider/U25 development program. The recipient receives $6,000 to support training, rider development, and competition participation.

Olivia Macleod was selected as the recipient of the 2022 Zara Buren Memorial Award out of an applicant pool of 17 young riders. In addition, the following outstanding applicants will receive Grants of Distinction: Georgia Leah Bunting. Addison Howarth, Alexa Maclaren and Trinity Sachau-Sherman.

“Olivia, who won this year, is actually one of my students. In addition, the foundation made a one-time donation of $1,000 to support Cassandre Leblanc’s trip to Tryon to be part of Team Canada’s Young Rider team.” Through the help of Zara’s Memorial Fund and additional donations she was able to make the trip – and her efforts paid off. Not only did Cassandre win individual bronze, but her incredible determination also helped Team Canada win the silver medal.

Please consider making a donation to the Zara Buren Memorial Fund HERE.

~ with files from Lisa Thomas and Holly Jacks Eventing