Kingdom of Heaven

Burnout is an ugly, hateful, soul-draining thing.

If I could choose between anxiety and burnout, I’d choose anxiety. Every time.

But sometimes this life takes everything I’ve got and requires me to spend myself well beyond my limits.

I do what I can to prevent it, but sometimes I can’t. And it’s worth it.

Some days I stand in front of the whiteboard and I don’t know how I’ll give my kids what they deserve: the very best, and nothing less.

But then the first child arrives and I take a big breath and start to teach. And no matter how exhausted I am, no matter how weary my soul, five minutes in, the miracle starts to happen.

I step into another place where the tiredness can’t keep up. My aching legs suddenly find their strength. My heart just lifts at the first child’s smile. It all falls away, the world condensing until all that matters is this child, this pony, this moment and my God.

I ask for strength so I can teach. But I think I teach so I can be strong. The Kingdom of Heaven comes to me every afternoon with sticky fingers and tousled hair and wide eyes, and after hours of work, I can feel my body aching, but I can also feel my spirit floating.

These kids thank me after every lesson, sometimes with heart-lifting smiles, sometimes with little arms around my legs, sometimes with a temper tantrum because they don’t want to get off. And every time they do, I feel vaguely guilty.

Because I have been receiving in far greater measure than I have given. I give everything I have, but somehow every time more just comes right back at me.

Burnout is ugly. That’s why I’m being more diligent about taking down time than before and why I don’t find myself here as often anymore.

But the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand, and God is amazing, and that’s why when I do slip up, or when circumstances do require more from me than I have to give, it’s the very work itself that drags my soul back out of it.

Sometimes I yell at them. Sometimes I misunderstand them. But there’s never been a moment when I haven’t cared. I’ve so often spoken about my love and appreciation for horses, and so seldom written about how I feel about my kids.

I think that may be because it’s much too big to put into words.

Sometimes running the yard still feels a little impossible. But God is good at impossible.

And every day I know I can contribute to something more precious, more valuable, more important, more world-changing than anything else on Earth. Something with eternal relevance. Something pressing, urgent, vital. Something beautiful.

The life of a child.

Glory to the King.

Equivest Show Goals

With less than a month left before CHG championships, we had to find something local and small and nice to attend to keep Thunny’s hand in (so to speak). Enter Equivest, a stunning venue I’ve heard about but never been to, despite being only 40 minutes’ drive from our house.

working on the hands, working on the neck

The tests for champs are Prelim 3 and 4. I’ve ridden both a million times, and Thunder has won Prelim 3 twice, so I’m happy with that. Prelim 4 is a test he really likes and goes well in, as long as I keep it together (and actually remember the test). So I entered him in Novice 1 and 2 instead. Both have lengthenings, Novice 1 has a serpentine (like Prelim 4) and Novice 2 has a canter-trot transition on the long diagonal (also like Prelim 4).

CHG Champs will also likely be our last show at Prelim, as I’d like to move him to Novice next year. This show is supposed to be a little trial run.

getting somewhere

Arwen is also attending. She’s been schooling quite nicely but still really unfit, so she’s only riding one test. Just getting back into the swing of things so that we don’t start next year on a completely feral dragon (semi-feral will do).
Thunder’s goals

Dependent on his brain staying in his head (which it generally does):

Overall 60% or more for both tests.

6.5 or more for the trot lengthening.

yes?

6.5 or more for the serpentine. 
More than 5 for everything else, except the stretchy trot circle. He does it so nicely at home but he is still a little too tense at shows to actually, well, stretch.

Don’t fluff the canter transitions at M.

Arwen’s goals

These are simple. I wanted to get points for EM – not that we’ll actually go EM right now – this year, and we need one more. Just one. So without further ado:

55% or more overall.

More than 4.5 for everything.

More than 6 for the halt and rein back.

Survive the simple changes.

also avoid hate from judges for using the double

Excited for a day out with my dance partners. ❤ Glory to the King.

Busier

The first of November brought with it a much more satisfying schedule around here, with a few new lesson bookings and some new horsies in training.

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This includes Emmy, who is showing one of the quickest and most miraculous changes I have ever seen in my life. She was a skinny, dull, flat little thing when she arrived in the beginning of September, scoring a 2/10 – all ribs and hip bones. To her owner’s great delight (and mine), two months later she is a shiny, happy 5/10. I’ve never seen my feeding programme work quite so fast in my life. Her owner can take much of the credit, because she saw the wisdom in not trying to be penny-wise pound-foolish and had all the expensive things done promptly.

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We also have a new arrival, this lovely old broodmare, Jewel. She is a Nooitie from the oldest stud in the country – beating Arop by a full decade – and stunning to look at and handle. As you’d expect for a fine specimen of this breed.

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Faithy giving me side eye as I attack her amazing hair with new detangler I found. It is magical.

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My happy place ❤ Our next project is to build some stables, and after that, a jumping arena. The dressage works fine, but it does get a little old to be disassembling jumps before every dressage lesson, or schooling Elementary movements around the jumps. I still sometimes can’t believe we really have a full size, flat, sand dressage arena. It’s wonderful.

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Thunder has finally, finally started to put on some condition again. He can still do with a fair bit, but at least he doesn’t look so straggly anymore.

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Lady Erin, having done a bit of a growth spurt, is firmly in straggly status, but I can still see glimmers of something classy buried under the yearling uglies. Apparently so could a nice – and top – showing rider from the Eastern Cape, who bought her.

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I’m very relieved that she’s found a good home, but I will admit, I’ll be sad to see her go. I would have loved to have watched her grow up.

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I’ll watch these little nuggets grow up instead, ever aided by the faithful schoolies. Ash is establishing herself as a firm favourite among riders of all levels.

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Faith’s first time in bandages. I was amazed that she stood still for long enough for me to put all four of them on – she’s extraordinarily wiggly. But at least her front end has caught up at last.

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I tried Jamaica in the hackamore, on the chiro’s advice. It didn’t work at all to get him more connected and lighter in the hand. In fact he practically ignored it, but he’s so good off my seat now that we still had simple changes through walk just the same as in a bridle.

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I scrubbed the dragon. She looks decidedly better now, but she still has half a winter coat. I sometimes wonder, between being an 8/10 regardless of what she’s being fed and the fluffiness, if she has a bit of Cushing’s. If she does it only makes her fluffy and fat (a healthy level of fat) though, so I’m not losing sleep over it right now.

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Thunny got two apples for his birthday. He couldn’t have been happier.

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Lancey has been angelic for his little rider, if a bit spicy for her big sister after a long break to regain condition. She’s also starting to sit so much better. These two make my heart happy.

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So do these two; I think this tiny child probably has a better position than I do. Stirrups or no.

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Still my best goofball ❤ His birthday was also in October, and he is now ten. Supposedly all grown up. Ha.

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The farmer who works our fields made this big banky thing, presumably to prevent rainwater gushing down from the top of the hill into his fields and washing away the seeds. We are not complaining; it makes a wonderful cross-country obstacle.

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Arwen is sound again at last and back in work. We have our first show back this weekend and she’s going nicely, apart from being occasionally very dragonish and wild when the mood takes her (fresh = loony).

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She’s going such a perfect dappled grey now. ❤

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Emmy’s first day in training gave me my first proper look at her personality and I like her. She is forward-thinking and, like any thoroughbred, can get flustered when she thinks she’s made a mistake; but she’s sensible, robust, and has fairly nice movement – better than I expected. She tries very hard and someone has put in some lunging work with her before, so it won’t be long before we can move on to bigger things.

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Titan’s first day in backing was also pretty good. He’s had most of the basics done before we turned him out six months ago because he wasn’t quite as old as his previous owners said; he can lunge and has worn a roller. His baby Arab brain wanted to gallop madly for the first five minutes, but as we go on we’re sorting out that tendency and he’s remembering that he can, in fact, be quiet and obedient.

I do think we have our work cut out for us getting him quiet enough for his child owner. He is willing, he tries hard, but he’s going to be hot.

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Unlike both these horses, who were just born for kids. Rene and Trooper might be K and E’s, but they both have to earn their keep in the riding school, too.

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Champagne’s injury has still prevented me from putting a saddle on her, so we decided to tackle one of our biggest obstacles: the dreaded circle at C. She doesn’t like cows, and cows are next to C, so she doesn’t like C. We’ve been avoiding that conversation, but she’s finally in the place where we can talk about on the lunge, and we’ve got three relaxed gaits – even with stretching down – on her good days.

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Best of all, Faith’s third birthday came and went and we started playing with the idea of backing. It’s been a long time since I had a truly untouched horse, and while it’s taken me a moment to adjust to the slower pace, I’m loving it. I love just watching her move, she’s so beautiful. Her gaits are much like Thunder’s; boring to look at but balanced and rhythmic, and when she moves in a moment of self-carriage she floats. She is so, so, so wiggly, though. Really – she cannot stand still for more than one second. She’s also a little separation anxious, but happy to go to work, and obedient on the lunge. All baby horse stuff. I love having a baby again ❤

Glory to the King.

 

Review: Equestrian Elegance Earmuffs

At CHG Leg 6, while Thunder and I were warming up, a rather loud voice from the side of the arena right next to us piped up.

“I don’t understand this dreadful new fad with these earmuff things!” it complained.

Thunder was the only horse in the warmup wearing them, and our old pair was rather eye-catching; they had been white once until somebody washed them with the red pair, and were now a slightly startling shade of pale pink. The diamante around the edge was starting to come off, and a seam on the ear had split, causing Thunder’s trademark long and fuzzy ear hair to poke out of it. I was, at first, slightly miffed by this obnoxious railbird, but considering I’d just put in an order with Jessica Garnett from Equestrian Elegance, I knew that at the next show, their shock and horror would reach an entirely new level.

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the old earmuffs

The Ordering Process

I’d seen advertisements for these beautiful custom products all over Facebook, and when Thunder won his first bit of prize money, I decided to do a little bit of a splurge and looked up their Facebook page. Jessica answered my message within minutes and sent me pictures and pricing promptly.

Originally I was looking for a standard-shape white pair with a cross in bling, but the shape wasn’t available. It didn’t bother me too much – I don’t know too many people who strap blingy crosses on their horses’ faces, after all – because Jessica was able to do the cross in embroidery instead, and it worked out cheaper. She was more than helpful throughout the whole thing and went to a lot of effort to find me what I was looking for. I was invoiced promptly and the parcel sent off as soon as it was ready, and I was sent a tracking number immediately. She even sent me photos of the product before posting it, and to my great delight, added extra bling on the embroidered cost at no extra charge – a kind gesture, I thought, especially considering it wasn’t her fault that the bling cross I’d wanted wasn’t available. Jessica tracked the parcel herself and it arrived in excellent shape.

The only thing I ever waited for was for the actual earmuffs to be made. The waiting period was a few weeks, which didn’t bother me much because it is a custom product, but it’s worth bearing in mind if you want to order for a specific show or for Christmas or a birthday.

The Product

Obnoxious railbird, you ain’t seen nothing yet.

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In short: I. Love. It.

The material is has a sturdy, durable feel to it, especially the crocheted parts. It doesn’t have a string, but we showed with it last weekend and it really doesn’t need one – the design is such that the bridle holds it in place perfectly. I much prefer the look without the string. Everything is neatly finished, and the little blingy bits on the cross have stuck on perfectly.

Thunder is a fairly standard Full size head with fairly small ears. This is a Full, and it fits well, a little loose around the ears. I will say that if you have a ginormous warmblood or draft, you’ll need considerably bigger.

It’s also exactly what was agreed on, and he was quite happy toting it around on his beautiful noggin, showing no discomfort or rubbing.

The only thing that gave me pause about this product was the price. As you’d expect for a higher-quality custom product, it was about four times the price of the el cheapo one I’d picked up at a local tack shop. That said, the previous one did half a dozen shows and then promptly fell apart, and I expect much, much better wear from this one.

The Verdict

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I rarely splurge on nice tack – the last time I did was on Arwen’s double bridle almost two years ago – but when I have, I haven’t regretted it. I don’t think I’ll regret this, either. It needs to last me the duration of Thunder’s career, and if I take care of it, I reckon it will. Would I order from Equestrian Elegance again? Well, I’ll probably be broke for the rest of my life, but if not – you bet I would. The service was faultless, and the product absolutely lives up to my expectations.

Ordering this glorified tea-cosy meant a lot more to me than just cutesy dressing-up for shows. Dressage is worship, it’s my dance of praise to my everlasting God. He is my life, the song of my soul, and the Rock of my salvation; and I want to scream His Name from the rooftops so that the entire dark world can see the glory of His light. This is one more way for me to fulfill the deepest purpose of my life and the deepest calling I can hear: to preach the Gospel.

Now as I come down centreline, the first thing every judge and spectator – few though those may be at little local shows, at little bottom levels – will see is the symbol of my God on my horse’s forehead. It’s custom embroidered. It’s navy to match my coat and ridiculously blingy. It’s positively fabulous. And it’s a symbol of a Love so courageous it went willingly to the most painful death imaginable; a Love so forgiving it died for unrepented sin; a Love so far-reaching, all-encompassing, all-embracing, unending and timeless that it stretches out through the centuries and sings out in me as loudly as the day when it sent the innocent Son of God to die on a real, bloodstained wooden cross.

It means the greatest truth I know: My God is real. My God is loving. And my God is right here.

Glory to the King.

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HOY Day 5 and Supremes

Nooitie day was, as usual, complete and utter chaos. This was no fault of the organisers – they had done a fantastic job of keeping things doable for all the riders. We had a class every 20-35 minutes like clockwork, so we were hectic but managed to get where we had to be on time and warmed up.

Morning Star madness

Liana had a MUCH better show than Pre-HOY, thanks to a bitting change and a valiant effort by her little person, and the two of them put in good, relaxed efforts in hand and show riding. Ana fluffed her leads in the ridden class so they didn’t place, but I’m so proud of their progress.

this great little team ❤

Poor K was running around turning out everyone else’s horse all day, but she still managed to turn Renè out beautifully. Renè was a superstar all the way through. Although she didn’t place in hand (losing condition from fussing in the stable all week didn’t help), she won the novice show hunter, and placed third in a big working riding class.

with which she was thrilled!

Vastrap’s kid couldn’t make it to HOY, but Rain stepped in and showed him beautifully in hand to supreme champion partbred gelding. We took him back on supremes day, and though he didn’t make it into the top ten, it was pretty incredible to see our little white pony standing amongst all those top geldings.

so much gorgeous

My threesome were also very good, barring one very bad moment from Midas. He was as usual shouting his head off because his girlfriends hadn’t come with him (Vastrap apparently was not good enough), and while I was tightening my girth (mounted), he decided he’d have a tiny rear. Ever tried to sit even a tiny rear with one leg hooked over the saddle flap? I almost pulled him over on top of me. A hurried semi-intentional dismount, good hiding for Midas, and girth-pulling from the ground later, I got back on and he proceeded to be very good for the rest of the show. A few whinnies but considerably less than before the aforementioned goodly hiding. Only one cure for boys that think too much of themselves, I’m afraid!

He did his individual show beautifully and got most of his leads, so I was really happy with how he went in the end. He won the sport horses in hand and didn’t place under saddle.

Sunè was amazing. Really – for a first ridden outing, she knocked it out of the park. We hacked the long way from the stables to the show arena alone and she only gave one tiny whinny when she saw Renè in the warmup (watch and learn, Midas). Despite having had the week off at home, she was calm and collected the whole day. She did fluff her leads properly in the show hack, but in the working riding she took everything in her stride. I’m really impressed with how quiet she was about the obstacles, including a scary covered lane. She even trotted over the jump.

satin!

Arwen was also on her game and ready to impress. After a week in a stable she was a tiny bit fizzy, but she handled it well, and dragoned merrily around her show hack class without missing a beat. She did lean on my hands a bit, contributing to our not getting a very good placing. Working riding was even better and it was a challenging test, including cantering over a covered lane and cantering a figure eight with a simple change one-handed (carrying a basket). Arwen rocked that simple change through walk, basket and all, and launched onto the covered lane with a little more enthusiasm than we actually required. Regrettably, she also completely forgot how to stand still. She’d stop all right, but I had to scoop the basket off the barrel while my dragon piaffed merrily. This meant we didn’t get to go to supremes for working riding, which is a pity because I think she could have placed if she’d just stand still.

Working hunter unleashed her inner dragon fully and she devoured the course and galloped beautifully, so this time the judge did let us go to supremes. We shipped her over on the Sunday and just had the best time ever. She was horrific to plait and we picked an argument about that, but once the hair was done and I was in the tack, all was forgiven and she was just beyond amazing to ride. She felt bouncy and fresh despite her long week, but manageable, focused and filled with that enthusiasm only Arwie has.

We warmed up over 90cm fences and went in blowing smoke and snorting defiance at anyone who dared point out that, actually, she is far more of a hack than a hunter, chips at most fences and just madly flaps her little legs instead of really galloping. We jumped the 80cm fences and she was game for everything and such a joy to ride. Obviously, we didn’t place, but it was incredible.

God is with us. Glory to the King.

and thanks to all the help behind the scenes

Upping Our Game

Be prepared: This post is rated PG13 for boring dressage content. It will contain a vast amount of dressage-related drivel. Showjumpers and anyone who doesn’t want to hear about the ridiculous minituae of the most nitpicky sport of them all, look away now.

With Nell safely (and very happily) installed in her new home halfway across the country, poor old Arwen has resigned herself to the fact that she is now the current top dressage horse in the yard and has been pressed into service satisfying my craving for the sport so hard it’s almost art. When I brought her back into work in mid-November after the quarantine, I’ll admit I didn’t hold much hope that we’d be doing great things next year. Arwen likes dressage (Arwen likes anything as long as it makes her brain and body work), so that’s not the problem; the problem is that our dressage was becoming steadily more mediocre as last year went on. In terms of marks, we were slowly climbing the high 50%s, so they were very ordinary but at least improving. But the way she felt was just always iffy.

I realise, now, that we were just missing true connection. She went in a frame and it wasn’t exactly a false frame; she didn’t break at the third and her back was lifted. But it wasn’t truly through, not the proper cycle of power we all read about from the hind legs to the hand. She was just holding herself up the way I wanted, not flowing through herself the way she needed to be. It was subtle; the judges’ comments never pointed at something specific. Everything was just mediocre. Comments almost invariably began with “Needs more”. She wasn’t exactly crooked or stiff; she just “needed more [insert term here]” and it was everything. Connection. Straightness. Bend. Suppleness. Impulsion. Meanwhile she was always resisting just slightly; never my aids – obedience is her speciality – but there was just an against-ness in my hand, all the time. I didn’t like it, but I couldn’t put my finger on it. I just knew she didn’t feel like Nell; there was a softness and a power-moving-through-ness in Nell that just wasn’t there in Arwen. I decided we’d try and do Elementary and if we got it done I’d retire her from dressage. Neither of us were enjoying the fight for more than that.

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stressage

And then Nell went, and I had to try and fix Arwen as much as we could. Of course, the horses and I all have a deal. I don’t make them try and do something they physically can’t or mentally really don’t like to do. But in a last-ditch effort to touch those higher levels I want so much, I threw all the focus that had been Nell’s into trying to bring out the very best in Arwen. And God, Who of course had planned all this, revealed a whole new level of awesome that had hitherto been locked away in Arwen for lack of necessity of belief in her.

First, even before Nell’s sale was a probability, we had the chiro out. She found a small arthritic change in Arwen’s off fore fetlock. It wasn’t enough to make her lame, but it was enough to make her lean just a little to the left to spare that foot a little, which in turn put out her back and that put out her neck. Connection’s like pouring water through a pipe; a good flow is dependent on straightness. Kink the pipe to one side and the water can’t all flow nicely out the front; it dams up by the kink, all boiling and nasty. Arwen continually tipped her nose to the right, and that locked up her whole back. The chiro put her back and neck in again and left us to take some time off and give her joint support to fix up the fetlock.

When I brought her back to work, she was feeling better in her body than ever before. And I was desperate; desperate to school Arwen perfectly, because perfect schooling and a brilliant brain can make up for non-flashy gaits like she has, as long as they’re correct like hers are. One of the biggest things I changed was our routine dressage warmup. I noticed that she only started to feel good in the last five minutes of each session, but by then her brain would be tired. I also read everything on the Internet that Charlotte Dujardin ever said (mild exaggeration, but seriously. I tried.) and she was always talking about her warmup. Warming up like Blueberry might not turn Arwen into him, but it was worth a shot. And the change was phenomenal.

The new warmup isn’t dramatic. It’s actually simple. The most important part is that we start with a hack. 10 minutes maybe; just around the long stacks of bales and back in a walk on a long rein. No contact, no long and low, just forward and straight and forward and straight. I usually take the time to roll my ankles, stretch my quads and do a breathing exercise or two. When we get back I’m breathing and she’s dragoned out some of her dragonness; then we halt, salute and pray, and then we trot two laps of long and low without stirrups. I rise the first lap and sit the second lap. Only then, 15 minutes into a 30-minute session, do I actually put the horse into a contact. By then she’s warm and listening and forward and straight and the connection is just amazing. The power is flowing up her back from her hind end straight and true; all I have to do is recycle it in my hands and it just happens. We do working trot a lap each way, then do some transitions within the trot and a halt and rein back. The halt and rein back isn’t really warmup, it’s just something we have to do every day until we get it good. Same with counter canter; we do working canter, a simple change on each rein on the long side, medium canter, and counter canter because we’re not much good at it.

That usually leaves us like 10 minutes to actually work on stuff, but it’s quite enough because by then the horse is so ready for it that we only have to do things once or twice before we see improvement and move on.

You guys, the change in this horse is just amazing. She does still struggle with medium trot and rein back – her old enemies – but suddenly she just magically has counter canter. She never did, but now she’s doing half 20m circles, changes of rein, the works. Her turns on the haunches are awesome. Every canter transition hits the correct lead no matter where we are in the arena. And the feeling in my hand is incredible. She’s seeking the contact for the first time; she’s solidly there, but not pulling, just happily taking the contact and going forward and soft. I love it.

DQs are nutcases. Excited by the oddest things. But I am excited now. Our scores have spiked; we now have points for Elementary, and I can’t wait to see what happens next.

As usual, God knows exactly what He’s doing, especially when we don’t. Glory to the King.

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