By Mariah Miller – Blooming Prairie FFA
“You can only become truly accomplished at something you love.”
If Maya Angelou’s words of wisdom are correct, then Jonni Biren, a senior
at Russell-Tyler-Ruthton High School, will surely succeed. Jonni’s family’s
passion is to show and drive Belgian draft horses. That passion is evident with
Jonni as she loves the horses, and the work involved with caring for the
The Belgian horse driving team is named Dakota Thunder Shires. Jonni has many tasks which are slightly different from at home to work. At home, her main jobs are to muck out stalls, mix grain rations, feed hay for up to 10 head of horses, grooming and working horses. The purpose of working horses is to drive and prepare them for competitions. At shows, there are several different classes including cart class (single horse), team (2 horses), unicorn (3 horses), 4-horse hitch, 6-horse hitch, and the 8-horse hitch. There are also halter classes and youth classes which include cart, team, showmanship and decorators.
Generally, the shows last 3-4 days. When traveling to a show, they take a semi (which hauls the horses, harnesses and wagon). They also take a horse trailer which has the rest of the supplies such as the rest of the tack, grain, hay and usually the cart.
At shows, her jobs include setting up the stalls (where tack should go and putting up decorations), morning and night chores (includes exercising horses) and show preparation which includes washing the horses, braiding the manes, tails, foretops, brushing, harnessing and then hitching the horses.
Over the years, Jonni has gained more responsibilities working for Dakota Thunder. She can now drive teams of horses by herself. Eventually, Jonni purchased three Belgian horses of her own, one of them a mare so she can raise colts.
Jonni’s favorite part of the job is being able to drive the horses.
“Whether it is at home or in a show ring, I can’t explain how much I enjoy being able to drive them. Having that much horsepower in my hands is an incredible feeling,” said Joni. “I love being able to work with each horse because each horse is different, and I get to learn what works best with each one. Being able to work with horses like I do does not even seem like a job to me because I enjoy it so much.”
I asked Jonni if she had any memorable experiences by helping others through her work with horses. She replied that last year at a show, she gave a young man, who had a disability, a ride on the six-horse hitch because it was his dream. Doing this, along with answering people’s questions in the barn and letting them get to know the horses is the main way of outreach. Working with these horses, she has been able to work on her communication skills. Being involved with Dakota Thunder has enabled Jonni to network with other equine owners.
Jonni will be attending South Dakota State University in Brookings to study animal science and pre-veterinary medicine. Her career goals are to become a large animal veterinarian. Jonni’s dream is to own a Belgian draft horse hitch with her cousin (Kennedy) along with other family members. She also hopes to continue breeding Belgian mares. With certain hope, Jonni will succeed because she is pursuing a career that she loves.