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Horse trainer trains self for space

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. – April Dybal, now a crew commander with the 6th Space Warning Squadron at Cape Cod Air Force Station, Mass., stands next to her horse AF Starwalker after winning the Arabian Horse Association Region 12 Showmanship Junior to Handle competition in May 2004. After showing and training horses, Dybal joined the Air Force to continue a family legacy and rejoin the community she grew up with. (Courtesy photo)

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. – April Dybal, now a crew commander with the 6th Space Warning Squadron at Cape Cod Air Force Station, Mass., stands next to her horse AF Starwalker after winning the Arabian Horse Association Region 12 Showmanship Junior to Handle competition in May 2004. After showing and training horses, Dybal joined the Air Force to continue a family legacy and rejoin the community she grew up with. (Courtesy photo)

MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, Ala. – Second Lt. April Dybal, 6th Space Warning Squadron crew commander at Cape Cod Air Force Station, Mass., greets her husband, Ryan Dybal, at her Officer Training School graduation at Maxwell Air Force Base, Ala.,  in October 2016. Dybal grew up showing and training horses and commissioned in the Air Force for a career in the growing space realm. (Courtesy photo)

MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, Ala. – Second Lt. April Dybal, 6th Space Warning Squadron crew commander at Cape Cod Air Force Station, Mass., greets her husband, Ryan Dybal, at her Officer Training School graduation at Maxwell Air Force Base, Ala., in October 2016. Dybal grew up showing and training horses and commissioned in the Air Force for a career in the growing space realm. (Courtesy photo)

CAPE COD AIR FORCE STATION, Mass. -- Many young girls enjoy playing with dolls, dressing up in their mom’s clothes and having sleepovers; that wasn’t the case with a crew commander at Cape Cod Air Force Station, Massachusetts. Then 9-year-old April only had eyes for horses.

Now a crew commander with the 6th Space Warning Squadron at Cape Cod AFS, 2nd Lt. April Dybal said the skills she learned growing up with horses and being a horse trainer for many years helped her learn to balance responsibilities key to being a successful leader in the Air Force.

As far back as she can remember, Dybal always wanted to ride horses. Neither one of her parents knew anything about them or had any experience, however Dybal said something about horses was intriguing. Their busy family life allowed each child to participate in only one sport and one extracurricular activity.

“In third grade, I was playing soccer and participating in Brownies. I convinced my mother if I gave up Brownies, I could start taking horseback riding lessons,” she said. “I love the relationship you can build with the horse and the ability to push each other past your normal limits.”

Dybal didn’t waste any time and immediately began taking lessons and participated in a few shows just for fun. Serious competitions began when she started leasing a horse in sixth grade. At age 12, Dybal focused on riding English style and participated mostly in hunters/jumpers and dressage competitions.

The United States Equestrian Federation explains hunter/jumpers as a division judged on the ability and style of the rider, and can be judged both over fences or on the flat.

Dressage comes from a French word meaning “training.” The United States Dressage Federation states the purpose of dressage is to “develop the horse’s natural athletic ability and willingness to work making him calm, supple and attentive to his rider.” Riders train their horses and put on choreographed routines, depending on the category.

Dybal participated most often in those categories and traveled the southeast U.S. to different shows with her parents She competed in 13 shows over the course of 12 months during her senior year of high school alone and qualified for the Arabian Horse Youth National Show in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

“I love to show,” she said. “It teaches you a great amount of dedication and attention to detail. Plus, I viewed shows as an evaluation. It gave me a chance to see how I was doing with my training and what me weaknesses were, giving me direction on how to improve.”

After high school, Dybal worked as an apprentice at a horse farm in Tucson, Arizona, where she began working with the breeding program. When she learned the essentials of that program, she switched to the training program. She said they were responsible for 35-50 horses and took care of their daily needs and training regiments. The farm brought in two-year-old horses; Dybal and her counterparts were responsible for breaking the horses to ride, training them, showing them and eventually selling them.

“The last year I was at the program, I was head apprentice,” she said. “I was in charge of the other students working in the program and all of their respective horses. We worked 12-16 hour days, six days a week, spending half our time on the road at shows. It was a demanding job, but we all loved our work.”

The hard work and dedication Dybal put into her position didn’t go unnoticed. When she finished her apprenticeship in Tucson, she was offered a job in Australia. At the age of 20, she picked up and moved to a new country for a position as a horse trainer in charge of about 30 horses.

“I was responsible for starting young horses and continuing the training on the current show horses,” she said.

The love Dybal had for training horses was strong and she continued for several years, but she wanted more for herself. She went back to college and, after showing and training horses her whole life up to that point, knew she couldn’t settle for a 9-5 job.

Her father is a retired Air Force officer and she knew the ways of the lifestyle. That’s what she wanted back in her life.

“What I loved about growing up in the Air Force was the sense of community,” she said. “I enjoy a job that pushed individuals to better themselves daily. I like that the Air Force wants each person to improve what they are working on and possibly invent better ways to do our jobs.”

Dybal graduated college in 2014 and commissioned as a second lieutenant in 2016. The space career field intrigued her and she said she liked the idea of joining a growing career field.

Even though she is new to the Air Force and her position, Dybal said she believes her previous job experiences will help her.

“Being a horse trainer requires you to be so much more than a trainer,” she said. “You have to be a vet, a coach, a business manager, a cheerleader, and sometimes a disciplinarian. I think being able to balance all these responsibilities is also key to being a successful leader in the Air Force.”

Dybal no longer owns a horse, but goes riding as often as possible. She said her goal is to purchase and train a new horse in the next couple years as she familiarizes herself with her new career.

The learning will continue for her on both the horse side of the barn and in the space realm.

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