Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Lots of Questions, Lots of Thoughts

Before I get going here I want to clarify my position one more time. I do not think I know the answers to every horse training problem which comes down the pike. I only know what I learned through my experience as a trainer and competitor in western events.
I made the majority of my money as a trainer by starting colts and riding problem horses. I also had a good sized clientele of people who took lessons on their own horses and back when I first started, kids on school horses.

I was at best, a mid-level cowhorse trainer. I never got the top bred horses to ride, I got the hand-me-downs from better trainers. I say they were better because they were. Some of the people I rode with were absolutely brilliant. Some were vicious and cruel. Many of them were both. All were trapped in their career by the expectations of the people they rode for.
I quit because I was 50, broke and becoming crippled up. I saw two close friends get busted up, one almost died, both spent their kids college funds on the ICU. I was sick of what was done to horses in order to make it to the big time. I had enough.

I always mull over your questions carefully before I answer. I will be devastated if somebody gets hurt trying advice from me. I won't answer in depth training questions if I think somebody might get hurt.

I am only capable of telling you what I would do in your situation. I like hearing what others would do in the same situation. I know I get pissy sometimes. Sometimes I just get tired. Tired of trying to formulate safe, reasonable answers and then see them become skewed or deliberately misunderstood. I try to let you guys know when I'm feeling that way. It doesn't mean I want to stop the exchange of ideas.

Horse of Course wanted to understand why I use my legs the way I do. So here we go. My horses are taught to step away from the pressure of my outside leg and into the “open door” of my inside leg. I ask for the outside hind foot to move toward the inside front by putting my weight into the outside corner of my saddle (about five pounds) , my outside calf encourages my horse to step haunches first, away from my weight and towards my relaxed, (or completely off) inside leg.
When I ask for a lope depart I push with my outside leg, toward the inside front. The horse steps with his outside hind leg and lopes off.

Redsmom asked about ways to practice patterns.
I will practice pieces. I’ll lope my circles and set up for a run down off of them, then go back to my circles. I’ll make squares, rectangles and octagons, with my horse collected up and driven forward, then go into pattern parts in a relaxed easy manner.
I’ll lope a circle, stop at random, spin once, twice, three times, whatever to the inside of my circle and then lope off again, trying to stay on the same path. Things like that.

When it comes to running reining patterns I have learned the easiest way to remember what I’m doing is to break it down into parts.

All patterns ask for two sets of circles. One set to the left, one to the right. (I’m talking AQHA, NRCHA, NRHA) I’ll have to change leads once each way. (There’s one crazy one where you ride one circle left, stop, spin, then go the other way, stop spin, then do your changes, but it’s only one)
There are at least two stops, sometimes three, sometimes four.
You will spin left and right.
You will do roll backs in reining classes, but not always in cowhorse classes.
You will back your horse once.

Knowing these things, I will check (usually as I ride in the arena, but that’s a BAD HABIT) my pattern at the show.
If it’s a run in with spins or roll backs at the end I figure out if I roll back or spin TO the judge or AWAY from the judge.
I practice spinning one over the required amount at home. I make sure I can count my spins. (Kind of, I can’t tell you how often I zero because I can’t count)
My circles are just that, not figure eights. I have one set to the right, and one set to the left, or vice versa. The change comes in simply when I start my next set of circles.
So I think, Right circles first, big, small, big, change, left circles, big, small, big, change….
So here’s a sample.

I have a run-in pattern. I know I roll-back away from the judge (R). So I lope straight down the arena on my left lead and stop.
We roll-back right and my horse comes out on her right lead, we continue straight to the other end and stop.
We roll-back away from the judge (L), come out on our left lead and lope straight past the middle of the arena and stop. Hesitate
We’ll spin 4 times away from the judge (R)Hesitate
We’ll spin 4 ¼ times towards the judge (L)Hesitate
We’ll walk two or three steps forward, set up our depart and lope off to the right.
3 circles to the right, large, small, large, change, 3 circles to the left, large, small, large change, continue around the end of the arena, set up for a final rundown, stop past the middle cone. Hesitate
Back TA-DA!

So what I needed to remember was, Run in, roll-back away from the judge. Right roll-back, right lead depart, 3 circles, right spin, back at the end.
See where the flow comes in? They make sense if you think about it.

Redsmom-To encourage your horse to keep improving his stops…every time he gets his haunches under him when you say whoa, SIT! Loosen your reins, relax, let your horse catch some air. Sit still as long as it takes to smoke a cigarette, or pick your nose.
If he really slides, get down, loosen his cinch and be done for the day. He’ll be parking it in no time.

Autumnblaze has a horse pulling on the bit-I have a boundary. When I give my horse a loose rein I’ll give quite a bit. If he wants more, too bad. If my horse keeps bumping on the bit I’ll kick him forward into the bit and collect him up with lots of forward, then try again. If my response to his demand for more rein is more work he’ll knock it off.

Bedazzled is having trouble with rate in the hunt field. I can imagine. Your horse is running with the herd. WAAAAY more fun than listening to you….In cowhorse we have a similar situation. Our horses are running after a cow mind you, but we still get them being strong in the bridle.
First off, this has nothing to do with your bit. Don’t change! You have to work on this away from the hunt. It’s important to instill your rate cues away from the “scene of the crime”. The cues aren’t punishment, just cues.

I would start off with an energetic trot in an area I could count on him to be strong with me. The second I felt my horse get strong, I’d say “Eeeeasssy”, take hold of him and pull him down to a walk, then stop, then back a step or two. Rest a second and go again.

My cue would be to say “Eeeeeasssy”, sit heavy and quiet in my seat, with my hands strong but not yanking, and just melt …down…into….a….walk….then…stop…and…back. I wouldn’t give any release until we had backed our step. Then I would rest a second and start again.

I would do this over and over until he would begin to slow down as soon as I said Eeeeeeassssy”.
Then, when he slows one step below the speed I need him at I would relax, drive him forward to the speed I wanted and then relax again.

Then get it at the lope.

Once I had this cue down I would practice with friends. Let them go ahead, wait for the pull, and bring him all the way down to the stop, back.

Any time I don’t get a rate with my verbal cue, then I’m going to pull him down. Every time.
When it’s time for the hunt I would be willing to throw the day a time or two. He has to know you’ll pull him down, re-gather and start again as often as it takes. Even on hunt day.
That’s what I’d do.

Fyyahchild-back to spooking. Once I know I can ride a spook, I decide what is legit and what is bad behavior. I’ll get after them for being stupid. Sometimes I’ll get them to work (cut) plastic bags, goats, llamas, donkeys, whatever is freaking them. Usually I focus on staying on task. If I am circling, that’s what we’re doing. I’ll punish going off the circle, not the spook.

Justaplainsam on loping-Think slide, slide, slide at the lope. The harder you grip with your knees and calves the worse it will be. Try to stand in your stirrups and hold your horn for awhile. Then sit, stand, sit, stand. Hand on the horn, then off, on, off. Slide, slide, slide. I had this disgusting old man tell a bunch of us once, “Jest make looooove to that saddle honey.” He was a pig. He also had a point.

Redsmom-The horses ridden with two hands are 6 years old and younger. They are ridden in a snaffle bit (no shanks) or a hackamore (bosel).
Horses (western) 6 and over need to be shown in a shanked bit and ridden one-handed.
I always school and train my horses with two hands, no matter how old they are. Then I work them one handed. I go back and forth.


foxtrotter said...

I love your posts. They have made me realize that I have a lot of bad habits that are showing up in my horse, that are not all his fault.

Redsmom said...

Thank you, Janet, Thank you for your well-thought out advice and for your encouragement. All of this is so much more fun with someone like you to share the accomplishments with!!!

Since I have studied the patterns and watched a few videos, your diredtions and ways to remember made a lot of sense to me! The away from the judge - toward the judge will be a great way to remember once I get in there so I don't get confused!!

Poor Matty thought he was going to get a morning ride again this a.m. He tried to be invisible at feeding time (while still eating of course). LOL. I'll fool him and change up riding time. He and I are both getting back in shape, so we do a lot of warming up and cooling down and about 15 minutes actual work in the middle. LOL.

Faedyn said...

I just started reading your blog and I love it. Where were you when I had a green-broke pony that was essentially ruined by a "trainer" that didn't know how to ride a spook. You know that situation you speak of, where the horse learns how to dump you to get out of things? Bingo. Bolt. And I mean a dead gallop. And the first time he did it with me, instead of said trainer, I was riding - but my brain went blank. And instead of my coach at the time talking me through it, all I got was "Sit back, you're going to fall". And so I did.

I wish there were more of you in the every time a horse gets quick I get tense. Comes from being badly trampled twice by said pony...

crochetyolelady said...

your post today brought up another question for me..hehe. I have taken my mare to a couple of sortings and am going again this weekend. She gets SUPER HOT when working the cows. It is an extremly small arena, and I thought it would be great practice for her to just slowly walk in, cut out a cow, slowly put it in the other pen - NOT.
She gets fired up, which in turn, makes me tighten up and feel like I am totally on her face the whole time. Any suggestions? Its at a friends place, so very informal. If I need to pull her away from the cow and do some schooling its okay. thanks!

HorseOfCourse said...

Thank you :-D
One day, when you're out of other topics, I would love to discuss this further...

mugwump said...

blues-keep your reins loose as you approach the cow. As soon as your mare tenses, pulls, whatever, pick up one rein, turn her around once, (spin her) then go back to your cow on a loose rein.Over and over. She should tip-toe to the cow. Keep her back far enough that she just gets it moving.
When she does one thing right, just stand and let her watch. She should get to rest every time she's in there. Don't move artound a bunch. Keep your hands soft and quiet.
A good exercise with a single cow is to walk your horse toward it. When itr moves, stop your horse, back a step and rest. Then move the cow, stop, back rest.
Let your horse learn to move it without thimnking it needs to do anything else.

crochetyolelady said...

thanks.. will do! I also have to reprimand her as she is starting to want to bite them now - and thats a big NONO

Unknown said...

Great points. I like how you suggest handling the rating issue; I will have to try that approach with one of mine (since what we are doing isn't working).

I have a question about me I think. I have been working with my boy, Lucky, bareback on the exercises you suggested to Ezra a while back. I did this for me and my feel more than for him. (I can finally identify the three points of my seat)

He responds great to weight shifts and leg cues, although my "post" is off his body. To really feel my butt and focus, I will drop the reins and sometimes even close my eyes. Here's the question when I ask him to stop while holding the reins he refuses to stop with exhale, sit deep and whoa. It takes mouth pressure (I've done firm and sharp to attempt to make the whoa instant, no real luck). However when I drop the reins he whoas with the exhale, sit deep and whoa. So I thought it must have to do with my body position/posture. I held my hands out pretending to hold the reins and the whoa was still immediate.

Any thoughts on what I could be doing different?

I've been posting anon - I have the 7 year AQHA mare I have just started, she's doing great, but I won't have time work her again until April!

Anonymous said...

On the spooking thing, I said on the last post that I didn't punish a horse for spooking and someone else (I'm sorry, I don't remember who) made the good point that if, say, they wanted to cross a bridge and the horse was acting spooked of it, they made sure the horse was more spooked about what-I believe the word was "alpha bitch"-on its back was gonna do to it than it was of the bridge. Good point. It really does depend on the horse and the situation. Sometimes getting pissed at them works real good.

If a horse is balking, refusing to go somewhere I wanted him to go, acting a little spooky, but mostly balky, yeah, sure, I'd beat his butt. It takes a lot of years with horses to know the difference between scared and balky. Janet and I had an email correspondence about this not too long ago when my trail horse saw something that alarmed him. Sunny and I were in a position on the trail where a spook could have been dangerous (a narrow trail, big drop off on the side he would have spooked to) and I was able to get him through it by reading him well enough to know when he was genuinely alarmed and when he had more or less comprehended the "scary thing" and realized it wasn't too bad and could be firmly told to go on. My point in the email was that I can't explain to anyone else how I knew when to let him look and when to make him go. It comes naturally after a lot of years. The ability to read his body language and respond with body language of my own that was effective is a skill that took me many years to learn, and unlike Janet, I have never been a good teacher, or particularly good at communicating what I know (isn't that a terrible thing for a writer to admit--but hey, I write fiction, not books on horse training). So, I guess I shouldn't generalize about spooking. Every horse and every situation is different. How's your problem horse doing, Fyahchild?

Anonymous said...

Hey Janet, I do have a reining spin question. My horsey girl has always done spins in both directions using her right hind leg. Excellent quality spins--just never switching off on the leg.

So. Recently, she was diagnosed with arthritis in the hocks. No X-Rays--yet--I was starting to feel pretty poor about the time the vet muttered about front end lameness as well as the hind end lameness she saw as the greater problem (result of flexions and blocking the left hind). The problematic hock was--of course--that left hock that she never wants to spin on.

Even though she's going sound now (after hock injections), I'm noticing that she's favoring that left hock when it comes to on-the-ground haunches turns (such as turning her around to close a gate, etc). It's very subtle, and not something I would pay attention to before now.

We're reconditioning but I'm wondering if you've ever encountered this yourself and what you'd fiddle with. She's not competing in reining--I think that diagnosis pretty much put paid to that notion--but we may do trail and some pattern classes that are less demanding than reining--possibly even low-level dressage. Whaddya think? My trainer's more familiar with front end lamenesses than rear end lamenesses.

Stelladoro said...

I'm still trying to get a nice lope off out of my mare, we have a very nice trot/canter transition, meaning that as soon as I put my outside leg on at the trot, she picks up her canter (although if she's on a straightaway it's still a fifty-fifty chance on whether or not we get the correct lead). I want to start working on her walk to canter transition, because we'll need it for the shows this summer, but it seems like everything I try just works her up, and then she gets rushed, her head comes up, back hollows out and suddenly we have no give to the bit and we have to go back, settle, and try, try again.

Any suggestions? If it helps at all she's in a sweet iron 0 ring snaffle, which works well for everything but getting this silly little depart apparently!

Thanks in advance, you know I appreciate it!

B said...

I'm realizing more and more that there are many holes in my mare's training.

Her lateral work sucks. When we leg yield, she leads with her shoulder in both directions. I can be kicking with all my might and I still cannot get her to push her big yellow butt over. I've made sure that I'm leaving the other "door" open, but still, bulgy shoulder. Even when we're facing the rail dead on, I can't get her to move with her hind end first. Any pointers?

Also, still having issues at the canter. Yesterday when I rode we had a beautiful right-lead canter transition, both from the trot and the walk. Our left lead canter was horrible in and of itself, but the transitions were just grinding. She tried to pick up the wrong lead a lot. And when we finally accomplished a left lead, she bucked. That time she was off-balance, so she gave me a little buck. I collected her down at the trot pretty hard and made her do some lateral work. When I asked again, she gave me the lead, it was just so sloppy, and she broke back down to the trot. At that point, I just wanted a few left-lead canter strides and for me to let her know it was time to quit. I asked for the canter one more time and she went all rodeo bronc on me. I collected her back up and worked her again at the trot. I finally got a few strides of left-lead canter, then brought her back down myself, then called it quits.

I don't know what's wrong. I switched to a western saddle, and it fits well, so I don't know what else to do. She's randomly unbalanced. Sometimes it's her left lead, other times it's her right. Has anyone else ever encountered anything at all like this before?

Joy said...

I love to read your training posts. I think you do a very good job of being clear and concise. I have never seen any bad advice on your blog. Now I will go and think about this blog and all of the comments, questions & answers for a few days.

I love it when i'm riding and somthing comes up and I remember a blog or a comment that you wrote that addresses the situation. It is so cool to actually put into action the things you explain here and see them work.

Deered said...

Here are 2c from a person who has entirely ridden english - joycemocha, If your horses hocks are sore and requiring injections, doing dressage where he has to bring his hocks under him to collect is not going to be comfortable. At a working trot (no even classed as collected) the horses hind hoofprint should be overlapping the front one, this requires flexion from the hocks and could be unpleasant.

Fyyahchild said...

Laura - Thanks for asking. I haven't ridden her again yet. I work full time so weekends are my riding days right now. I've been taking advantage of the lovely full moon though and working her in the round pen at night. I lunge her long enough to let off some steam from being in her stall and then we've been doing ground work. She really has lovely manners at home when I'm not trying to ride her. I've left her tied in the barn while I'm doing my chores and she just stands there patiently. She lunges like a dream. Now...if I can just stay on...

I'm hoping to get a chance to ride her this weekend if my leg holds up. I slipped and lost my balance walking out to the parking lot at work today and really wrenched my bad knee. I'm starting to wonder if I tore something in there. I have a big swollen, numb spot right where I landed on it. I can, however, bend it and put weight on my leg as long as nothing actually touches the swollen spot. Then if I bump it we go from weird novacain numb to on fire painful. Guess it may be time for a doctor, but I'm praying it will heal on its own.

Mugs - I understand your fear of someone getting hurt following your advice. Not everyone may see it like I do, but I figure I'm going to get back on the silly horse no matter what you say so if I get hurt that's my own problem. However, you may just say something that will keep me from getting hurt. I think it was good for me to remember that it's supposed to be fun. If I can't relax and have fun then I think I will know when it's time to give up and either call in the big guns (real trainer) or find her a home that can handle her.

Oh, and you guys can call me Anna if you want too.

HorsesAndTurbos said...

Blair...I am working on this with my mare. I have a dressage whip (shorter than a lunge, longer than a crop) and when she doesn't give with her hips, I "push" with the whip...I don't have to tap unless she is not paying attention. You can switch hands with it for each hip (takes a little getting used to). That way I can just relax and not worry about pushing hard enough with my leg and concentrate on the lateral movement. I don't know how your horse is with whips, but the first times I rode with the whip I got a lot of nice haunches-out because she turned her head to watch the whip while going forward - she was sure I was going to *hurt* her with it (previous training!)


Char said...

Laura Crum,
I was one of those who takes serious offence to being spooked with. But, good point on knowing when to push and when to let them look.

Like I said, I will not reprimand him for spooking.....I will only reprimand him for placing his feet anywhere but our current path. ie: right, left, back, forward. He's allowed to sprawl, and that's about it, scary or not.

It's whether he's genuinely scared or just being a butt-head as to how long I let him look. I have no idea if that made any sense. :)

Justaplainsam said...

Thank you!

The 'boss' let me ride a more sensitive mare that reacted better. If I was wrong we went faster, If I was right everthing went really good! The mare I rode before that just pinned her ears, she was dummy broke, she'd go her speed no matter what I was doing.

Ive also heard the 'make love to the saddle' comment, cude but it gets the point across!!

HorseOfCourse said...

Actually I believe that your experiences with problem horses are more valuable to us reading your blog than your experiences at the top would have been.
And as there probably wouldn't have been a blog at all if you had been one of the big guys, well at least I'm happy that you are here with us instead.
I honour your decision to prioritise the horses’ well being instead of better results, if that is the way to get them.
When I read your stories about what kind of methods that are used to get results it makes me sad. Especially as a contrast to all those wonderful Horsaii stories, and how much the horses mean to us all.
But I wonder - where are the authorities? I mean sports organisations, judges, etc. You mentioned in an earlier post that in one competition several of the horses leaving the arena were lame. Why were the riders not disqualified?
When money is involved, some people will always be tempted to take shortcuts.
I also understand that it is not easy to stand up for your principles as a single person when the result is that you won’t have money to pay your hay, or bread.
But should not the organisations and the judges take the responsibility to defend the horse’s interest and make sure that measures were taken to keep abuse out of the sport?
I would think that you have given this quite a lot of thoughts, Janet. How come it is like this? What can be done? What is done?

autumnblaze said...

Thanks mugs. He only yanks when we're taking a little rest, I toss the reins out to the buckle and there isn't more rein for him to take. I'll try your advice on my next rides. Your advice will probably work quickly - despite having a mad spook, he can be quite lazy at times.

Also, your advice for justplainsam and HorseofCourse is also going to in effect this weekend as well. Occasionally we have trouble at the canter going to the left. Sometimes my entire execution is a just a mess and if I don't set him up properly, he won't canter and if he does can get heavy on his fore very easily if I don't sit deep and slide with him. Both of those posts are very helpful to me!

I have a great trainer who is also very descriptive. However, your descriptions of how things should feel/look helps me immensely - sometimes something said just slightly different just clicks, you know? It's obvious that you put a lot of thought into your responses. It is much appreciated!

SouperScar said...

So helpful Mugwump! I have an OTTB that is really strong on the trails especially with other horses. I'm definitely going to work on the suggestion you had for Bedazzled. I was trying something like that but without the consistency and the voice command. I know what I'm doing this afternoon!

mugwump said...

Lara-I'm guessing it's a clarification of cues. He's used to you using the reins to stop him, so that's what he waits for, especially if your bumping sharp and insistant.
Hold your reins, exhale, take your legs off, say Whoa, then pull.
Over and over. And over.
Don't give him a sharp pull.
I like people to always pretend their hands are moving through water.
Slowly bring your hands up, find contact and increase your pull until he stops and backs a step.
Then release, let him stand there a bit and try again.
If he fights the bit you can alternate rein pressure from rein to rein, but still increase the pressure until he stops and backs.
He will learn to read the rising hands as a pre-cue.
Everything needs to be in slow motion, but with enough torque to get him to stop and back a step.

joycemocha-If she's favoring the hock still she's not going sound. Injections are only a temporary fix. I'm thinking bone spurs.I would want X-rays and a consultation with your vet over what your horse can do, NOT a trainer. We are a greedy, selfish bunch and can't be trusted with your horse's best interest.

Jasmine said...

Blair--Sounds to me like your horse hurts. Could be she's just clumsy too though. Check to see if she's in pain at all and make super sure you warm up her back thoroughly. Even try doubling the saddle pads? A good exercise for back strengthening is to run a hoof pick gently down right next to the spine from withers to dock and they will arch up their back.

mugwump said...

Stella and Blair- This is the third time I've tried to write this...dang blogger
When I lope my horses I make sure they are completely comfortable on their lead before I try to transition or depart. I mean they can circle, do triangles, squares,and take the lead I want in a straight line.
I let them find the lead from the trot, off a very loose rein. I tip their nose the direction I want with one rein and send them forward until they find it.
My horses often don't learn to depart until the week before their first show.
Blair- I would concentrate on turns on the forhand for awhile. Get them at a stand still, then walk, stop, turn on the forehand, walk, turn and so on.
I would take horseandturbos advice and use a crop as an aid. The leg pressure you would like her to respond to, pause, a firmer cue, pause, then get your crop and make it happen.
Char-Once again, you're talking a decision to be made only when you know you can ride through the reaction you get after you prove you're the alpha mare.
If I make my cowhorses think I'll reprimand them every time they react beyond a spraddle legged jump I'll have a hard time getting them on a cow.
If I need them to go somewhere, they do. Once again, it's gaining the experience to know what will work and training the horse for your needs.

Anonymous said...

Janet, thanks for your helpful advice.

I already use "Eassssy" with a half-halt for a "listen, I'm talking to you" cue. I use "Shhhh" for whoa to cut down on confusion in a large group. He usually slams to a stop on the "shhhh" cue. He flexes and gives at the drop of a hat, sometimes just because he wants to. He's the bendiest horse I've ever ridden.

However, "Easy" isn't working in the hunt field. The whoa still works great, nothing like slamming to a stop from a fast canter. You're right, it's way more fun to go faster than slow down and listen to me. I can almost hear him saying "Whoo-hoo, are you sure you want to slow down, are you REALLY sure, I can go faster?" What you suggested is what I did to get him to rate on trail rides, but it's not tranferring to the hunt field. I have a big hole in my training.

He hates to expend energy, so getting strong isn't a problem except in the hunt field. However, I'll do as you suggest and set up some situations to make that happen.

Leaving the hunt field is not a problem, we've done that before. I'm lucky that I ride with a great group of people, but it's dificult to school when you need to keep up with the field to avoid causing problems for hounds and other riders.

Since hunt season is almost over, I think I'll muddle along until the end of the season. Then I'll implement my new training program: don't pull on me. I also think I'll switch to a western saddle for added security since he's so blasted quick. When I circle to slow down, he'll sometimes do a roll-back before the circle's over.

Thanks again for your help. I'll work on this and let you know how it goes.

Char said...

Mugwump Said:
"Char-Once again, you're talking a decision to be made only when you know you can ride through the reaction you get after you prove you're the alpha mare.
If I make my cowhorses think I'll reprimand them every time they react beyond a spraddle legged jump I'll have a hard time getting them on a cow.
If I need them to go somewhere, they do. Once again, it's gaining the experience to know what will work and training the horse for your needs."

True that. I've never worked cattle before, but I can understand the problems that would create for your horses.

joycemocha said...

And then again, tonight, the horse is NOT babying that leg. Makes me wonder. She's going sound, it's just very subtle stuff that makes me wonder if it had gone on long enough to affect muscle development. I have just ramped up the length of the trot period...

Bone spur isn't something that occurred to me but it makes sense.

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