Christmas Day 1998 was the best day of Lara Wityak's life. For the previous two years, the 12-year-old rode an Arabian mare named Sonja. The mare belonged to Kim Phelan, a friend of the family, residing at their small Connecticut barn.
On Christmas morning, Kim's 11-year-old daughter, Mel, telephoned with an excuse to get Lara to the barn. When Lara arrived with her mother Tammy and her father Tom, there stood Sonja in her stall with a giant red bow attached to her halter. A note read: "Merry Christmas to my new owner!"
"I couldn't believe it. I thought I was dreaming," says Lara, adding that she had bonded with the little mare the first time they met.
A Dream Comes to an End
A scant two months later, Lara's dream came to an end. Sonja got colic and died, all in the space of an afternoon. Lara was devastated. She told her mother that she did not want another horse unless it was Sonja's foal.
Tammy didn't hold out much hope for that possibility, but Kim suggested checking through the Arabian Horse Registry just in case. They discovered a previous owner of Sonja, who directed them to the mare's original owner – a woman in Tolland, Conn. She had several Arabians, and one of them was Sonja's 10-year-old daughter, Kharlha – a slightly smaller carbon copy of Sonja, beautifully conformed, with similar markings.
The family began the first of several trips to Tolland – first, to see the horse, then to get acquainted and, finally, to convince her owner to sell the mare. Kharlha's owner was reluctant at first, until she saw Lara's determination to own a foal of her beloved Sonja. Eventually agreeing that the pair was meant to be, she acquiesced.
Kharlha hadn't been ridden in two years, but Tammy bought the horse untried.
On April 25, 1999, Kharlha came home to Kim's barn after overcoming some trepidation about climbing into a horse trailer, which she had never done before. Then the adjustment period began. "I spent many sleepless nights wondering what we had gotten ourselves into," recalls Tammy. "She was beautiful, and just what we wanted, but she was a handful."
Tammy knew that it wouldn't be wise for Lara to climb on the back of a feisty young mare that hadn't been ridden in several years. She began the search for someone to tackle the job. After three weeks, she found a suitable trainer, and work began. Much to everyone's delight, Kharlha turned out to be well behaved, with lovely movements and great promise as a partner for Lara.
On May 25, exactly one month after the Wityaks brought Kharlha home, Lara mounted the mare for the first time. "It was the best feeling in the world," enthuses Lara. She has now conquered the walk, trot and canter. Soon, Kharlha will begin schooling to jump and, eventually, Lara will be able to show her.
Lara says the lesson she learned from this experience is "not to ever give up your dreams, because they really do come true. They did twice for me!"