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Assistant Trainer Spotlight: Samantha Aderhold & Maggie Dekraker of Chris Gray Performance Horses

Trainer Chris Gray of Spring Mills, Pennsylvania, has two first-class assistants under his tutelage; Samantha Aderhold and Maggie Dekraker.

Originally from Georgia, Samantha Aderhold says she “does it all.” She specializes in the hunt seat, pleasure, and trail and has a good hand in the pattern classes. Maggie Dekraker, who hails from Michigan, also helps wherever is needed. She specializes in hunter under saddle and showmanship. She also helps with the equitation and horsemanship classes.

Aderhold (pictured right as a young girl) shares how she got involved with horses. “When I was about six, we had a neighbor that had thoroughbreds that were off the track in her pasture. So I’d sneak over there, every day just about, to spend time with them. One day, I decided to climb on a fence and jump on. No saddle. No bridle. No anything. I’m lucky I didn’t get hurt…those horses took care of me, for sure. Horses have stuck with me since that day.”

Dekraker told us how she got started. “When I was in 8th grade, my mom told me horseback riding lessons or dance lessons. You can probably guess which one I picked and have been hooked ever since. I didn’t start showing until I was about 14 and started with open shows until I realized I wanted to go to the next level.”
GoHorseShow sat down with these two to get the scoop on their background and future goals.

GHS: What is it you like about horses and showing?
I like the bond that you can create with horses. They are smart, and they have feelings just like we do. I love when you work to spot a horse you’ve been riding, and you can ask anything of them, and they do it. Not only from what we’ve taught them, but they have that respect for us as well. I like showing myself, but I enjoy watching people and horses that I’ve helped be successful. It’s gratifying.
Dekraker:  The coolest thing for me is the bond you can create with a horse, and I feel like once that bond is formed, they will do anything you ask of them. It’s also a great feeling when you know you’ve put in some serious work on a horse, and it pays off. When you see customers have that same bond and push their horse to a specific limit is also rewarding.

GHS: What are some of your favorite accomplishments in the show arena?
Aderhold: My favorite accomplishment as a youth would be 3rd at the Congress in the 15-18 Pleasure with my horse, Beyond The Best. As an open rider, my favorite one thus far is being top ten at the NSBA World Show in the green color pleasure with SST Cotton Candy. Ultimately, the most proud moments that I will hold with me forever are the people and horses I’ve had a hand in successfully. It’s a great feeling.
Dekraker: This was before I started working for Chris, but one of my favorite accomplishments was being 5th in Amateur Equitation at the Congress. I worked my butt off for that for so long, it was the best feeling. I also enjoy seeing customers that I have helped be successful in the show pen.

GHS: What are some well-known horses you have helped train?
Aderhold: VS Code Me Lucky, Bettin The Goods, Good As Expected, Kruzin Pretty, Bi Krymsun, and SST Cotton Candy.
Dekraker: Best Too Be Cool, Won Good RV Machine, Cudda Invited Me, Invite Me Up.

GHS: Who are some of your biggest mentors?
I’d have to say my stepdad, Terry Darby has been one of my biggest mentors. He is a huge part of why I am where I am, pushed me to do better, and taught me things that I will never forget and use now. He continues to give me advice.
Dekraker: My biggest mentors in this industry would be my only trainer as a youth and amateur, Nicole Veldhoff and my now boss, Chris Gray. They have both gone above and beyond for me when they didn’t need to, taught me so much, have always been there, and for that, I am beyond thankful. Also, without my mom and family’s support, I would not be where I am today.

GHS: What advice do you have for young trainers?
Aderhold: Just because you’re having a bad day, that doesn’t mean every day from there on out will be a bad day. Muscle through mentally and physically and work hard. Try hard. Listen hard.
Dekraker (pictured right): My advice for anyone who desires to be a horse trainer and be in the industry is to go for it and always try your best. Even when you doubt yourself, others may not be, so keep that in mind.

GHS: What are some of your favorite memories from the industry?
Aderhold: My favorite memory I have is when I was about 11. I went to my first Congress to watch and to sit in the stands watching the winner be announced and seeing the excitement and happiness from everybody around me. I knew I wanted to be a part of something like that one day.
Dekraker: One of my favorite memories was honestly going to my first Quarter Horse show. As little as that may seem, it was a big thing for me and changed how I looked at horse showing and made me want to go to the next level. Later that year, going to the Congress and experiencing that and watching someone win that trophy was exciting, even just sitting in the stands.

GHS: How did you come about working for Chris? What do you like about working for him?
Aderhold (pictured left):
I was looking for a job, so I called him to get his advice, and I think I commented, “why don’t I just come work with you,” and he was basically like, let me see if I can make that work, and he made it work.  He makes you feel appreciated, and he makes it fun. He has taught me a lot about not only horse training, but even outside of that. He’s accommodating. And he works hard. And he doesn’t give up. He’s a great horse trainer and person.
Dekraker: I had been thinking about doing this professionally for a couple of months, and one day I was at the barn riding. My trainer at that time, Nicole was telling me about a phone call she had with Chris, and he asked her if she knew of anybody looking for a job. So, I took that opportunity to say, hey, wait, I think I’m ready to take the next step, so she gave me his number. He flew me out for a few days, offered me the job a couple of weeks later, and here I am. I was super nervous coming out here, especially since this is the first horse trainer I have worked for, but he made the transition super smooth and made me feel like I belonged. He is always there if we have questions or are stuck with a horse and need a little help. He also makes working fun. We are still laughing, joking, having a good time while getting work done.

GHS: What is one thing people probably don’t know about you?
I used to be a dog groomer.
Dekraker: My very first horse was a $600 mare off Craigslist named Tequila. You can probably guess how that went.

GHS: What would you like to see improved within the industry?
I would like to see more equality between people and horses. Give credit where credit is due, no matter who you are or how many trophies you’ve won. We all work hard and deserve a piece of it eventually. The same thing with horses, just because they aren’t bred a certain way or might not be as good as others, they still deserve a chance.
Dekraker: I would like to see higher-level AQHA shows work to become less intimidating and more affordable for newcomers. A lot has changed in that aspect throughout the years in a positive manner. I hope it continues that way.

GHS: What are some of your future goals?

Aderhold: Probably to have a successful business one day. Keep being a part of bringing success to people’s lives and helping them achieve their own goals.
Dekraker (pictured left): One day, I would like to have my own horse training business and have a good group of horses and customers to continue to help grow and achieve their goals.

GHS: Is there anything else you would like to add?
I would like to thank everybody that has been on this journey with me so far, and they are very much appreciated.
Dekraker: I also would like to send a huge thank you to everyone who has and continues to help and support me.