Name: Nikole Schram
Hometown: Mason, Michigan
Occupation: Dental hygienist
Picking out a foal is a gamble, especially if you have big riding goals, but when Nikole Schram saw Grandina YR as a 5-month-old at the Novi Equestrian Expo in Novi, Michigan, she fell in love and took a chance.
Schram had never brought a horse up through the levels, but she wanted to get to Grand Prix some day. This year, after 15 years of owning the Andalusian-Thoroughbred mare, they finally cantered down centerline at the level.
The pair made their Grand Prix debut this season and topped a division of Grand Prix with a 61.52 percent at Dressage At Waterloo June I, held June 18-19 in Grass Lake, Michigan.
Eating Some Humble Pie
Bred by Gabriele Baker, “Reina,” which means “queen” in Spanish, has proven to be a good match for Schram, who grew up in Michigan and started riding at age 15.
After a bad fall jumping, she switched to dressage at 18 and trained an older Appendix Quarter Horse to second level, mostly on her own.
She found Reina in her early 20s and met her current trainer, Penny Underwood, a few years later.
“When I bought her, [Grand Prix] was the ultimate goal, but of course you never know when you’re buying a baby,” Schram said. “Here I am, this naïve little kid buying my first baby horse. I’ve done all the training on her. No one else has ever sat on her. I bumped along, got to third level, was having some issues; met [my trainer] Penny [Underwood]. She fed me some humble pie, and we kind of had to start over because our basic training had some holes in it. After we got those holes fixed, we started progressing through the levels pretty quickly, going up a level a year.”
Reina (Romerito II—Zirconia, Al Sabin) is a bit of a boss mare but has a great work ethic, Schram said.
“Her name is Reina for a reason,” she said. “She treats me like a servant a little bit! She’s your typical moody mare, but the fun thing about her is that I’ve built that trust with her. I am her human, and she shows me little snippets of that love here and there, and I cherish those moments. She’s definitely the type of horse that you ask permission before you do anything.
“Her work ethic is second to none,” she added. “She will try her heart out with everything. Sometimes she goes a little overboard. She’s an overachiever. Her work ethic and personality is the reason we’ve gotten as far as we have. Anything that I ask her, she’s like, ‘Sure mom, let’s go,’ and then she gets it. She loves her job.”
The pair spent 2019 working on the Grand Prix instead of showing. Then the pandemic happened, so they had another year to practice at home before debuting this year.
Schram keeps Reina at home with a few other horses at her small boarding facility. Her husband, Jon Schram, used to do barrel racing, but now he’s content to watch from the ground.
Nikole works as a dental hygienist at a total healthcare practice that focuses on everything from the health of teeth to healthy nutrition programs and mental health for patients, which she says is very rewarding work.
In her previous job at a non-profit clinic, she worked with uninsured and underinsured patients to provide dental care.
“I had a really great connection with my patients and the help I could provide them,” she said.
She’s been able to flex her work schedule so she works 40 hours a week in four days, giving her Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays off. She takes off at 2:30 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays, to get five days of riding in each week.
“My job’s not super mentally stressful; it’s physically stressful because I’m sitting in a lot of static positions all day long,” she said. “The horseback riding keeps me moving and keeps me almost able to go back in to work the next day—kind of like a little therapy for me.”
As an amateur rider with one horse, Nikole admits she gets show nerves, but she has found ways to work through them in recent years.
“Controlling my show nerves has been a journey,” she said. “I used to get really bad show nerves. I would forget my tests, even with a reader. I wouldn’t be able to tell Penny what we were doing inside the ring. When I got to FEI levels and had to start memorizing my tests, I started doing meditative breathing and really getting my brain mentally prepared by visualizing my tests. Now I get show nerves, but I have such clear focus when I’m riding my tests because my mind is right there in the zone. It’s a really cool feeling.”
The move up to Grand Prix has been a challenge, but one both she and Reina are relishing.
“[In the piaffe] she likes to take over, and we bounce around a lot more. It’s a hard movement,” she said. “It’s been hard getting and keeping the rhythm, and that comes with time and strength. The flying changes are her strength. Those come naturally to her.
“I have zero expectations,” she continued. “It was my second show at Grand Prix, and we came out, and we had actually recently changed our bits around. I worked with a bit specialist down in Florida because she wasn’t super happy in the bits she was in before. We increased our score 4 percent from the weekend before and ended up getting the high score championship for the entire weekend. I was blown away. I just try to do better than I did the last time.”
Nikole is looking forward to putting together a Grand Prix freestyle later this year. She’s also on the hunt for a foal to raise as her next partner as Reina heads towards the end of her career in a few years.
Do you know an amateur with a cool story? Email Lindsay at firstname.lastname@example.org for a chance to be featured.