Well that may have been the best day ever! I spent the entire day at the Caledon Equestrian Park, taking advantage of the Equestrian Canada dressage symposium in the morning, and hanging out behind the scenes in the afternoon as riders prepared for the Carl Hester clinic. I want to tell you ALL about it but hardly know where to begin. Perhaps this text I sent to a friend sums it up:
Just got home. Exhausted and my back is killing me but had an amazing day! Got to hang out with people I haven't seen in more than 20 years. Finally met and had lunch with (para dressage rider) Robyn Andrews and her mom. Spent time with Jane and Susan Fraser, who were my first dressage coaches. Watched lots of AMAZING riders and horses and chatted with Carl Hester. I can pretty much die happy now. :-)
The EC symposium was well thought out, well-run and a tangible benefit to riders of all levels who pay the dressage levy fee with their competition entries. It really deserves its own blog post and hopefully I'll have time to do one later this week, but in the meantime a couple of highlights.
The opening session saw Christilot Boylen (standing in for Belinda Trussell), Lorraine MacDonald and Cara Whitham going through the training scale and evaluating selected movements from Second and Fourth Level tests with the help of some very brave demo riders.
The second morning session was hosted by two-time Olympian Jacqueline Brooks and her freestyle designer, Tamara Williamson of Kurboom. Tamara is the creator of some of Jacquie's most memorable performances including the opera freestyle, the Hallelujah freestyle and the stunning new Sound of Silence routine which she debuted this fall. The pair shared their process for finding the right movement for each gait and modifying it to perfect the rhythm. I will post video of the ground-breaking Sound of Silence freestyle as soon as I have time to upload it. I don't believe a Grand Prix freestyle has ever been performed in competition before to a single song.
It was a treat as always to see Jacqueline riding Goose, and to witness up close just how much he loves his job. As soon as the music came on his whole demeanour changed and he was eager to perform for us.
In the afternoon, all the riders selected for the Carl Hester clinic had the opportunity to introduce themselves and their horses to Carl, and acclimatize their horses to the big ring while he observed. It was impressive how calmly the horses handled the unusual setting, even the young ones. One 4-year-old was a little overwhelmed but managed to relax by the end of her session.
Anyone going to this clinic is in for a big treat - not only for the rare opportunity to see Carl teach in person, but because the horses and riders really showcase the depth of talent in Canada we have at all levels, from 4-year-olds to Grand Prix veterans.
The day concluded with an informal meet and greet / cocktail reception for Carl and the riders. Everyone keeps asking me, "What is Carl really like?" From my observations this afternoon and a brief chat with him at the reception, I'd say he's exactly what we've seen in interviews and on TV: warm, personable, funny, and very down to earth.
The biggest - and possibly best - news of the day came at the reception, where Equestrian Management Group head Craig Collins announced that EMG would be running dressage shows at Caledon Equestrian Park next summer, with plans for one of them to be a 3* CDI. This is a welcome relief to GTA dressage riders and fills the void left when Cornerstone announced 2017 would be their last year running shows at the venue.
I could go on and on (and on and on) but a picture is worth a thousand words, right? Enjoy this mini gallery from today's events, and check back tomorrow for a full report on day 1 of the clinic.
The Carl Hester clinic in Ontario is less than a month away and the internet was abuzz today as the rider names were announced. Fourteen horse / rider combinations will be featured over the two days, ranging from the FEI 4-year-old level to Grand Prix. As well a special guest (I'm not at liberty to say who yet) will do a demo ride each day.
So who are the lucky Canadian dressage riders chosen to work with Carl? Let's get to know them:
Originally from Saskatchewan, Andrea is a well-known rider and trainer based at FoxFire Equestrian in Uxbridge, Ont. She is an EC Level III coach and represented Canada at the 2007 PanAm Games, helping lead the team to a silver medal. Andrea will be riding Ismeux at the 4-year-old level
Does Jacqueline Brooks really need an introduction? The two-time Olympian and owner of Brookhaven Dressage in Mount Albert, Ont. is a Canadian fan favourite with her popular grey gelding D Niro. However the famous "Goose" is staying back in the barn for this clinic and Jac will be riding Emmett Top, a half brother to Valegro whom she has been bringing up the levels and competed successfully at Fourth Level this year.
Vanessa, daughter of well-known rider Diane Creech, is proudly carrying on the family dressage tradition. She has been a medallist at the NAJYRC, both in the junior and Young Rider divisions, and in 2017 began competing in the U25 Grand Prix classes as well. Her mount at the Carl Hester clinic is Fleur de Lis, a Hanoverian mare owned by her sponsor Leatherdale Farms. Vanessa and Fleur captured individual and freestyle silver medals at the 2016 NAJYRC and had a successful summer in 2017 competing at several of Europe's biggest shows.
Tom is another well-known and well-respected international rider who probably needs little introduction. He has represented Canada at the PanAm Games, World Championships and World Cup. Together with his wife Ellen, Tom operates Friday Hill Dressage in Hillsburgh, Ontario. He will be riding Cyrus in the PSG, an exciting young gelding owned by Carla Bahr.
Brittany is one of Canada's brightest rising dressage stars. Originally from New Glasgow, NS, she spent much of her career in New York and Florida working with Ashley Holzer. Brittany recently relocated to Montreal where she has established her own training business. We'll see her ride her KWPN gelding All In at the Grand Prix level in the clinic. This pair was part of the silver medal team at the 2015 PanAm Games, had a very successful winter in Wellington and summer in Europe, and just scored their first large tour victory with a win in the Grand Prix Freestyle at the recent CDI3* in Tryon, North Carolina.
Jane Fraser might not be a household name across Canada, but the Fraser family is something of a dressage legend on the east coast. Jane and her sister Susan are widely credited with introducing and nurturing high level dressage to the region and have been both competing and teaching throughout the Atlantic provinces for more than 30 years. Based out of Susan's Fraser Equestrian Centre in Port Williams, NS, Jane has been partnered with her clinic mount Banjo since 2014. At Bromont in 2016, the pair received an 80% at Training Level, making Jane the first Maritime rider with this remarkable achievement.
Jaimey & Tina Irwin
The owners and operators of Stoney Lake Equestrian in Stouffville, Ont. this husband and wife team have made a real name for themselves in the dressage world. They have been in the international spotlight since their Young Rider days and now have some very exciting horses ready to compete in the Grand Prix ring. Jaimey will be riding Donegal V in the clinic on Saturday, while Tina rides 5-year-old Simsalabim on Sunday.
The daughter of Canadian dressage legends Cindy and Neil Ishoy, Kahla has proven that talent runs in the family, both as a successful competitor and up-and-coming young professional trainer. She will be riding Sakima at Third Level, a lovely imported gelding owned by Cindy whom Kahla competed this summer, winning the Third Level Open Division championship at the Cornerstone Summer Classic.
As part of the silver medal-winning Canadian team at the 2015 PanAm Games and representing Canada at the 2016 Rio Olympics, Megan Lane has etched her name in our national dressage history books. We're used to seeing her compete with her Olympic mount Caravella, but Megan has a string of top prospects at her home base Deer Ridge Equestrian in Loretto, Ontario. We'll get the chance to see Denver, a 2008 KWPN gelding by Vivaldi, at the Intermediare II level in the clinic.
Erin MacQuarrie may not be a familiar name to many dressage fans in Ontario and points west, but she is well known in Atlantic Canada for more than 20 years of success in the show ring, her talent as a trainer and EC Level II coach, and the quality warmblood breeding program she runs at her Hampton, New Brunswick farm. Erin will be featured both days in the 4-year-old group aboard Iron Butterfly (not Iron Maiden as listed in the announcement), a Dutch warmblood she bred and trained herself.
Maya is one of Canada's up and coming young dressage professionals. She first gained international attention by twice representing Canada at the Nation's Cup in Wellington, FL with Lumiere, and hasn't looked back since. A former student of Canadian Olympian David Marcus, Maya now operates her own business, Equest Dressage, in Cambridge, Ontario. In the clinic she will be riding 5-year-old Something Royal, owned by Fiona McLellan.
Karis Van Essen
Born in Toronto and raised in B.C., Karis has ridden and learned from dressage masters all over the world. She spent time in California as a working student for Elizabeth McConnell, then travelled to Germany to work with Canadian Eiren Crawford. When she returned to Canada in 2010 she began working with dynamic duo David Marcus and Nicholas Fyffe, spending several winter seasons training and competing with them in Florida. Karis now operates KVE Dressage and will be riding her own mare Camistry J in the clinic at the Intermediare II level.
Cecile von Martels-Perry
The von Martels name is a familiar one to Canadian dressage fans. Though perhaps not as well-known internationally as her brother Chris, Cecile von Martels has been involved in the family dressage business her whole life riding, training, importing and selling top quality dressage horses. She will be riding Captain, My Captain in the 6-year-old level.
After what seemed like the wettest summer ever in Southern Ontario, I'm not complaining about finally getting some sizzling summer weather, even if it's at the end of September. Not sure if it's officially a heatwave but with temps in the low 30s and humidex values reaching 40 for the past few days, it sure feels like it!
Let me be very clear - I LOVE this kind of weather and LOATHE everything about winter. Every single day without a sweater at this point is a bonus, as far as I'm concerned. But to be honest, even I am struggling a little this week. Saturday I was so drained after mucking stalls that I didn't even bring Gus in from his paddock, let alone tack him up and ride him. I even broke down and turned the A/C on in my house - something I've only done 3 or 4 times since May.
I don't know if something in our bodies switches when the calendar flips to September, but hot and humid this time of year seems harder to deal with than in mid-July. Gus is struggling a little too, and gave me a bit of a fright today when he developed swelling in all four legs that made them look like sausages. With no fever, no soreness and no change in behaviour or eating habits, I was pretty confident it was simply stocking up doe to the heat and humidity. But still, it's not something any horse owner wants to see when they come in the barn! Happily an hour or so of walking and light work brought the swelling back down to normal, and Gus' cool shower afterwards was a nice treat for both of us.
If you're in Ontario, what are you doing to beat the heat? What are you dealing with elsewhere in Canada? Is anyone already having to blanket and bundle up for winter? Any tips you all can share to make the coming frigid season more bearable would be greatly appreciated! In the meantime I'm going to enjoy one more week of sweat and swimming pools :-)
What a wonderful weekend for the Canadians who travelled to Saugerties, NY for the CDI-W this past weekend! Lots of great scores and results, and a clear indication that the Canuck contenders for WEG 2018 are going to be strong.
Some of the wins in the FEI ring included:
Lori Bell & Flirt - CDI Prix St-Georges
Brittany Fraser & All In - CDI Grand Prix Freestyle
Denielle Gallagher Legriffon & Everton - FEI Test of Choice
Loren Hopkins & Denali - FEI Test of Choice (twice!)
Allie Youngdale & Ramiro - clean sweep of the FEI Jr division, winning all three classes
Belinda Trussell & Carlucci - CDI Intermediare I
Belinda Trussell & Tattoo 15 - CDI Grand Prix Special
The best moment was perhaps seeing Canadians finish 1-2-3 in the CDI Grand Prix Special, with Ashely Holzer (she's still Canadian in my heart) and Lindsey Kellock finishing right behind Belinda Trussell.
Onward to Dressage at Devon!
I'm a lucky, lucky girl. Today I had the chance to watch and learn from one of the best. Rien van der Schaft, the national team trainer for the Dutch dressage team, gives clinics at Hill Haven Farm in Hillsburgh, Ontario several times a year and Hill Haven owner Alison Banbury was kind enough to invite me to audit.
I wasn't sure what to expect, to be honest, but am delighted to say Rien didn't offer anything new, or groundbreaking or earth-shattering. Does that sound weird? It shouldn't. Rien emphasized simple, clear communication with the horse and correct basics. Over and over he reinforced the need to maintain a "positive topline" with the horse lifting the back, relaxed in the neck and reaching forward to the bit.
The riders I saw were all very accomplished: well known local trainers Alison Banbury, Daisy Kosa, and Isobel Dopta, along with dressage judge Leslie Kennedy. With the exception of Leslie, all were riding lovely, talented, fairly young horses that they are bringing up through the levels (Leslie's horse is well established in the upper levels). The youngsters each had their own strengths and quirks but also shared a lot of similarities as they worked on finding balance and self carriage in the exercises presented by Rien.
Some tended to get high headed and tight in the neck and back, while others resorted to curling behind the bit and getting heavy on the forehand - both common issues in young horses. In each case case Rien used simple exercises such as nose to wall leg yield in the trot to create a horse that was relaxed, rhythmic, balanced and responsive to the rider's leg.
In the canter he had the riders use a slight leg-yield like movement - just a stride or two to shift the horse's weight - to prepare for the flying change. This simple exercise resulted in much smoother, correct changes, especially in the horses who tended to rush through the movement and change late behind.
The biggest treat of the day was watching Rien ride Sakima, the stunning young gelding owned by Cindy Ishoy and campaigned with great success this summer by Cindy's daughter Kahla. If I sound a little starstruck, it's because I am! No matter how many clinics I watch Cindy teach, or shows I go to where she's busy helping her students warm up, I can't quite get over my astonishment at being in the same room as my childhood dressage idol.
I don't have an educated enough eye to report in detail on Rien's ride, unfortunately, but I can tell you the main things that stuck out to me. He made the horse work - really work - always encouraging him to be more "through" from behind and not accepting anything less. As a rider he was soft, subtle and still 90% of the time, and firm when he needed to be. But immediately after giving a firm aid, he went right back to being quiet and soft, and rewarded the horse for responding correctly to the lighter aid.
Though quiet, his hands were never fixed in place or still. His fingers opened and closed frequently, always maintaining a light communication with the horse, and his wrists often had a slight rolling or wave action to them. Nothing every looked stiff or tight or harsh.
The biggest takeway for me was just how often Rien asked Sakima to do something different. Our coaches tell us this all the time - that we should be doing frequent transitions between and within gaits, circles, change of direction etc. Until this clinic, however, I don't think I understood just how frequent "frequent" really means. I don't think Sakima went more than 4 or 5 strides without a change of some kind, whether it was a few steps of lateral movement, more collection within the gait, a transition to a different gait, etc.
While not all of us are working on movements like passage and flying changes, as Rien and the clinic participants were, we can all put into practice the lessons learned. Nothing replaces lightness, relaxation, balance and self-carriage, and correct, classical basics. We can all work harder and stop accepting less than a good effort from our horses. And we can all do the hundreds of tiny transitions every ride to create a stronger, more elastic, more responsive horse.
If you are interested in learning more about Rien van der Schaft and his methods, he recently launched an online training program that anyone can benefit from. Check out some free sample training videos and learn more at DressagePro.com.
It's always been hard to find good stable help. The work is dirty and physically demanding, the hours are long, the weather is always a factor and the pay isn't great. Good barn staff are worth their weight in gold. Bad barn staff....not so much.
Unfortunately for anyone who owns or manages a barn, the latter is much easier to find. In fact, after seeing what our barn owner has gone through and swapping horror stories with others in the business, I've come to the conclusion that some of these people genuinely don't want to work in a barn. They must be trying to get fired because otherwise, there is no logical explanation which justifies some of the behaviour I've witnessed and / or heard about.
To help those candidates be successful in their quest to fail in the horse industry, I've compiled a list of helpful tips:
1. Don't show up
This one is a no-brainer. Don't show up when you're supposed to, either for an interview or for actual scheduled work. This method is particularly effective if you're scheduled to work only one day a week, and at least twice a month have car trouble, the stomach flu or a family wedding to attend on that day. To be even more effective, don't notify your boss until the very last minute or - better yet - not at all.
2. Suck at your job
This one is a bit more challenging because, let's face it, mucking stalls isn't rocket science. To truly suck you have to do a spectacularly bad job. Try picking only the visible poop and leaving all the pee behind, buried under a light dusting of clean shavings. Or you could go the opposite route and quickly strip everything out of each stall without bothering to sift, filling the stalls back up with an entire month's worth of clean shavings in a single day. If needed, you can always kick it up a notch by "forgetting" to close gates and stall doors. That ought to do the trick.
3. The more the merrier
What's more fun than shovelling poop all day? Doing it with a friend tagging along to entertain you! Bonus points if your friend is terrified of horses or wears flip flops to the barn, or if it's a new love interest and you spend more time groping each other than mucking stalls. If you truly aspire to terrible greatness, take a job babysitting a toddler, bring said toddler to the barn with you and leave him / her completely unsupervised in the arena for three hours while you muck stalls with headphones in your ears and music cranked on max.
4. Know everything
One of the quickest ways to lose your job is to disregard everything your barn owner or manager tells you. Their 30 years of experience can't possibly compete with your very expensive two-year equine management college course in the U.S., right? You're a highly trained expert, so make sure everyone knows it. Offer training and riding advice to the boarders and suggest new feed programs for every horse. Question everything from tack and equipment to vet care. Loudly. If your boss has the audacity to suggest that you follow instructions, simply roll your eyes and sigh each time you're shown how to do something.
5. Slow and steady wins the race
In this case the goal is to get fired quickly; ironically the best way to do this is to go slowly...very slowly. The less you get done in a day, the faster your boss and co-workers will get frustrated with you. Let them! Why hustle when you can take 20 or 30 minutes to clean each stall and not break a sweat? Fair warning - this method may not work at barns where the manager is smart enough to pay a flat fee or per stall rate instead of an hourly wage. In that case I recommend waiting until you are left in sole charge of the stable, preferably when everyone else is at a show. When they return after a 12-hour day to find only five stalls have been mucked, your termination is guaranteed.
I'm curious; how many of you have read the FEI's rules of dressage? OK maybe not every single page or every single rule, but what about the section devoted to the specific requirements and descriptions of each movement? Surely that's something every dressage rider has read...or not.
To be honest, it's not something I had given much thought to until the barn where I board hosted a clinic with renowned trainer Jeremy Steinberg last year. Several participants asked for help improving their piaffe and Steinberg went into a lot of detail about what makes a good, correct piaffe.
The FEI description is very clear:
1. Piaffe is a highly collected, cadenced, elevated diagonal movement giving the impression of remaining in place. The Horse’s back is supple and elastic. The hindquarters are lowered; the haunches with active hocks are well engaged, giving great freedom, lightness and mobility to the shoulders and forehand. Each diagonal pair of legs is raised and returned to the ground alternately, with spring and an even cadence.
1.1. In principle, the height of the toe of the raised forefoot should be level with the middle of the cannon bone of the other supporting foreleg. The toe of the raised hind foot should reach just above the fetlock joint of the other supporting hind leg.
1.2. The neck should be raised and gracefully arched, with the poll as the highest point. The Horse should remain “on the bit” with a supple poll, maintaining soft contact. The body of the Horse should move in a supple, cadenced and harmonious movement.
1.3. Piaffe must always be animated by a lively impulsion and characterised by perfect balance. While giving the impression of remaining in place, there may be a visible inclination to advance, this being displayed by the Horse’s eager acceptance to move forward as soon as it is asked.
1.4. Moving even slightly backwards, irregular or jerky steps with the hind or front legs, no clear diagonal steps, crossing either the fore or hind legs, or swinging either the forehand or the hindquarters from one (1) side to the other, getting wide behind or in front, moving too much forward or double-beat rhythm are all serious faults. The aim of piaffe is to demonstrate the highest degree of collection while giving the impression of remaining in place.
I will likely never be a Grand Prix rider, nor have I ever trained a horse to GP, so my knowledge regarding what a "correct" piaffe looks like relies 100% on the above description. Jeremy is both a successful GP rider and trainer, however, and he is adamant that where piaffe is concerned, the movement often seen in the ring (and often receiving high scores) does not necessarily match the FEI's description.
Instead of a lowered high end, he regularly sees bouncing croups. Instead of forefeet being raised higher than the hind feet, he frequently sees the opposite. Why the disconnect between what is supposed to be the ideal, and what is being rewarded by judges in the ring? Do the FEI's top international judges need a refresher course or does the FEI's description of piaffe in the rules need to be updated?
I had the pleasure of working with Jeremy to write an article for Horse Sport magazine on this very subject, including many of his helpful tips for introducing and improving the piaffe. Enjoy!
I swear I'm not a tackaholic. Well, I probably would be if I could afford to be, but honestly the reason I have gone through two bridles, three saddles and three girths in three years is Gus. He's the freaking Goldilocks of horses: everything is too hard, too soft, too stiff, too big, too small, too flexible, too something.
The bridle issues were easily resolved by giving up my drool-worthy, anatomically-designed, outrageously expensive Swedish dressage bridle for a plain-Jane padded monocrown snaffle with flash. The saddle saga was solved by the Prestige D1 Zero with its incredible shoulder freedom and super narrow twist. I am not sponsored by Prestige nor have any relationship with them, so believe me when I say this saddle is truly amazing. In the past six months four of us in our barn have switched to this model and every single horse has noticeably improved in their way of going, while the riders all say they are better balanced and feel more connected with the horse. A fifth barn-mate is trialing one right now.
The last puzzle piece is my never-ending quest for the right dressage tack is the girth. I started out with a very expensive, state-of-the-art British model, designed specifically for horses with a forward girth groove on whom saddles tend to slip. While it seemed ok for a while, over the past year Gus grew increasingly cranky while being saddled, and started to get small rubs. So I switched to a lovely Canadian made dressage model that claims to self balance. Again it seemed a huge improvement at first, but Goldilocks began to express his dissatisfaction after a month or so. I still love this girth, but think the elastic on both ends allows too much movement of the saddle, at least for my delicate 17+ hand flower of a horse.
In desperation I followed the advice of Liz at Bahr Saddlery, who fitted our Prestige dressage saddle. For a horse with Gus' fit issues, she highly recommended the revolutionary No Pressure Girth, also from Prestige. I was dubious and reluctant, mainly because it is so unusual looking. Ok, let's be honest, it's ugly. The girth consists of a circular padded donut, which rests against the horse's belly, distributing the pressure over a much bigger surface area than a traditional girth. I'm sure there's lots of science behind it that I don't understand, but for whatever reason it really does seem to work. Gus is happy and comfortable, moving freely and lifting his back, while the saddle stays in place without moving side to side or pulling forward.
We've had one on trial at our barn for a few weeks and so far I've been impressed, impressed enough to order one for myself. Fingers crossed that Goldilocks decides this one is "just right."
I know, I know, the Canada Day long weekend is already over but we still have lots to celebrate. Most notably, a few of our top Canadian riders representing the maple leaf in Europe and more than holding their own against the very best horses and riders in the world.
Diane Creech and her daughter Vanessa Creech Terauds are enjoying a dream trip competing at many of the most prestigious shows in Europe this summer thanks to the support of their sponsor Louise Leatherdale.
Brittany Fraser-Beaulieu and Jill Irving are made the Maritimes proud with their wonderful results at the CDI4* in Fritzens, Austria, where the stunning backdrop of the Alps is as spectacular as the horses on display. The Canadian duo will also compete later this month at Aachen, arguably the most famous horse show in the world.
These experiences are validation that Canadian competitors do have both the talent and the horsepower needed to be successful at the highest levels, with the right support. I would love to see more sponsors and owners investing in opportunities like these for their riders, along with Equestrian Canada of course.
What do you get when you take a huge (and handsome) Clyde / Hackney cross, and add in a determined amateur owner and a highly skilled and supportive coach? Proof that dressage really is for any horse, of any breed.
I'm not going to pretend that breeding doesn't make a difference, because of course it does. If you had serious ambitions to compete in Formula One car racing, you probably wouldn't try to qualify in a Toyota Corolla. But if you are an average person looking for a safe, fun and affordable car to drive every day, the Corolla might be a perfect choice.
Dressage horses are much the same. If you genuinely plan to ride at the CDI level and represent your country on the international stage, your chances will be much improved if you are competing on a purpose-bred horse with strong performance bloodlines. However most of us don't have the ambition, skill, time or money to even dream of showing at that level. Most of need the Toyota Corolla of horses; dependable, cute with enough get-up-and-go to get the job done, but safe and reliable for an amateur driver.
The beauty of dressage is that - at the lower levels at least - any horse can do it, and any horse can be improved by it. Breed, size, colour...none of that should be a barrier to success. But getting up the levels - all the way up the levels - is no easy feat even on the priciest warmblood. Huge respect to every rider and trainer who successfully trains a horse to this level while keeping it horse sound, healthy and happy in the work. If those riders happen to be amateurs and the horses happen to be draft crosses, well that ratchets up my respect to a whole new level.
Meet Jacob, the Clyde / Hackney cross I was telling you about. With the help of the supremely talented Meredith Risk of Nobleton Dressage, owner Alison Baxter has brought her former Mennonite carriage horse carefully and correctly up through the levels. At the recent Palgrave show she had what must have been an incredible experience, watching Meredith pilot Jacob through his first Gold show Grand Prix.
Watch and enjoy Jacob's test here:
About the author
I'm a middle-aged, overweight, rusty re-rider who refuses to let any of that get in the way of my passion for dressage.
Follow me on Instagram @dressageaddict.ca
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