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Endurance Rider Joni Burden

by Nina Bomar

Some may wonder... how does a 26 year old endurance rider have a record of more than 10,000 AERC endurance miles, zero Limited Distance rides and 28  mile completions?? She’s a new mommy, married to a wonderful man who supports her endeavors and she’s a Registered Nurse working in the ICU, where it’s sadly overflowing with COVID patients. This gal is from Alabama and she’s smart, disciplined and mentors others to ride 100 milers!

Her name is Joni Burden and her momma is another rockstar in endurance but for now we’ll focus on her. She’s preparing to make the long journey West to the state of Wyoming to ride the Big Horn 100 miler. I think she’s superhuman and admired her for a long while. When I asked her for an interview, she happily replied... “shoot me your questions and I'll try to find pictures! Or feel free to steal from my Facebook. It'll be the only 2 grey horses”. Joni will be loaning one of those grey horses to her friend and experienced endurance rider Laura Marshall who is from CT region and together they’ll be riding the BH 100.

Joni says...”I've always lived in Alabama and have always done endurance. I couldn't imagine life without an Arabian horse to ride 50-100 miles. I guess the horses give me my strength and I just see them keep going and it gives me the power to do my best for them”.

Joni has somehow mastered the desire to ride 100 milers and while she has completed 172 fifty milers, I asked her... Why ride 100’s? She replied...”Because it's the top tier and what should be the goal for everyone IMO. You'll never get a feeling like you do after managing your horse through a super tough 100!”

Joni is a very fun gal to follow on Facebook. She and her mom and many of their friends seem to have a great time on the trails both conditioning as well as attending endurance rides. They often face extreme heat and humidity, beings their from the South and yet they’re always out there getting it done. She has her own farm that she and her husband are constantly renovating and improving. She recently bought a big LQ trailer and fixed that up too and her energy seems boundless. She did admit that... “I do feel tired sometimes. Not often, because I'm in good riding shape, but honestly the altitude hit me hard at BH last time. So wish me luck this go round”. I hadn’t even thought of the altitude changes both she and her horses will have to endure but even that ain’t stopping them!

I’m always intrigued by the bravery and boldness of such a young woman but that doesn’t mean she doesn’t carry her own concerns. She explains it like a champ... “I worry about freak accidents. Thankfully I have extra horses to substitute last minute, but that's always my biggest worry”. Another words everything is a go regardless... a true enduring gal.

Their road trip will be long and far and Joni says...”It will take us 3 driving days and about 30ish hours in total. We leave Sunday, arrive Tuesday and then we will chill out in Thermopolis for a few days. We plan to hike, soak in the hot springs, go for a few short rides and also go white water rafting in Wind River Canyon on Thursday with a group of friends”. Their vacation and adventure is well planned and while they’ll be enduring one of the toughest 100 milers in the country, they will also take the time to relax and have fun.

I asked Joni if she’s concerned about getting lost on trail. She has ridden it before with her mom but still it’s big country with even bigger mountains and dark skies. She casually responded... “Um... I don't have that much trouble following ribbons, knock on wood. I do like to count things on rides with repeat loops. I'll count bridges, road crossing, ect. I'll even count glowsticks if I'm real bored”. Is she a kick or what... just as carefree and nonchalant as anyone could hope for. I love her spirit.

Thinking about the time away from work, home and that precious baby girl of hers, I asked how she will handle it all and how much does she estimate it will cost to take on such an endeavor? She reminisced about how... “Last time my mom and I did it for $2,000 and that covered buckles for both of us, entries, gas and overnight fees”. She continued... It may be a little less this time around because I’m staying at a free place for 2 nights and I'll actually only be missing one full week of work. The perks of being a nurse and only doing 3 days ”.

The real magic of it all is that she has a man who adores her and he loves endurance too. She explained that... “Originally the plan was for us to make this a big 2 week road trip together with the baby, but COVID messed up his approved vacation time and he insisted I go on alone. He flew out to crew last time and it was his favorite ride. Going without him” she admits... “It has put a big damper on my trip”.

Joni says she will not be buying another buckle and she will be splitting fuel with her friend Laura (who of course is covering her own entry fees). She says... “$2k gets you a very comfortable trip and buckles for 2 people” and then she mentions... “A friend did WST for $2,500”. Joni has definite plans to ride the Tevis soon and says she’ll hopefully lease a horse to make it easier on herself, while noting... “I have a pretty decent job, been an ICU RN for over 4 years”, but she recognizes that it's still pricey!

While Joni’s husband doesn't ride anymore, she says he used to do roping as a teen, but at 6ft 5” tall, he's too big for her Arabs. The good news is that he loves to crew but she says... only on the 100’s!

While Joni’s away she will have all her bases covered and even though she feels nervous about leaving her baby, she says... My mom and my in-laws will share caring for the baby. Her biggest concern... “She's never been without her boob at night ”. Joni couldn’t do any of it without the help and she says... “I'm thankful for a supportive family and a freezer full of breast milk to allow me to go...” Her sense of humor undoubtedly matches her enduring spirit.

I wondered out loud when the baby would be strapped to a horse and hit the trails with her. She said... “AERC had an 8 year old rule when I was little, but it's gone now, so I'm hoping she's doing endurance sooner. She'll be a year old on August 22”.

While Joni conceded that... “I think it feels like endurance riding started with y'all out West for sure, she reminds us that... “the Old Dominion 100 is where it's at here IMO. I loved the atmosphere at Big Horn, I want to do the Tevis, Virginia City 100 and then start taking one trip each summer for a pioneer ride out west”. Joni says it’s... “Much more chill than it is here and I hate the FEI game we have at many of our rides”.

I recalled how we see very little FEI here on the West Coast and while I have only witnessed it a few times, it’s very different than an AERC ride. There were specific rules that many of us were not accustomed to and still required to follow even though we weren’t riding FEI. Joni described her thoughts and then pointed out that... “I was getting really discouraged, but the SERA 100 mile mentor program is helping us. It was amazing to see 17 first time 100 mile riders in one day! My horses carried 2 of those riders to their first 100 mile completions. And one of the mentees from my group is riding with me at BH again. I plan on taking 3 or 4 to that 100 again to help more through their first 100!”

What an inspiration you are Joni and a true asset to the sport of endurance. Best of luck to you and Laura at the Big Horn 100 and safe travels all the way!