Sunday, 31 May 2015

Day 149: Communication

4th session with Oscar, first time relaxing in the arena in trot on the right rein

Day 149: Friday

This is a 4 year old I school for a client at the moment. He has had a difficult life with rough backing, injuries, lengthy box rest, more injuries, "something not quite right" issues, attitude issues etc. In one word, a lot to happen to a horse that young. 

In the last three months his owner finally managed to keep him sound and happy for long enough to resume his schooling. He is still getting a regular physio sessions and his ridden life is very varied with plenty of hacking, fun rides and general baby stuff. He goes into the arena with me once or twice a week. And he learns about putting fun into schooling ;) 

He is a very rewarding horse to work with. Even though we have a long journey ahead to help him become a supple, comfortable riding horse, he is now at the stage when he realised working with the rider in the arena can actually be reasonably enjoyable and he started communicating back with me. 

Groundwork with Oscar. I do 10-15min of in-hand work with him before getting on to help him relax to my aids and understand them better. Like this, I can introduce him to yielding and relaxation without the burden of a rider on board. He is a very stiff, braced type of horse so groundwork has had a super effect on him already. 

P.S. Big thank you to Caitlin for taking photos and videos today :) 


Day 148: Taking time to look ahead

View of the Cafe window
I used to love planning for the future. Seeing the impossible in my minds eye. It's trickier when you get older because for some reason it's easier to create barriers rather than bridges once we have more understanding of various structures of life.
I'm doing this online course for freelancers who want to achieve something remarkable, just for the fun of an eye opening experience. One of the assignments requires students to publicly write about what it is that we are trying to achieve, who we are as far as our body of work is and what do we truly provide.
The course is run by Seth Godin and he is the reason I am taking it. Today, I try to clarify my thoughts and see things for what they are, see them for what I would like them to be.

I suppose it's a form of reflection with an action at the end. It's good to look ahead.

Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Day 147: Full on Wednesday

Full on day today with various different horses and riders. Great challenge to swap between a very wide range of experiences and abilities and adjust the training accordingly. The challenge I very much enjoy :) 

Morning with Lou and Freddie, a lovely sensitive horse with great range of movement who needs tactful riding. 

Shabby had his massage the day before and was found in a great shape bar some tension in the neck but considering how uptight he gets show jumping I was surprised that was the only issue. The superb news is that his overall flexibility has improved a lot as well as the state of his muscles through his hindquarters. Back in December his hindlegs worked quite asymmetrically so we've been focusing on helping him move straighter before we ask for anything more. 
Shabby is also an interesting case when it comes to bending. According to his chiropractor, he has some conformational issues through his ribs but the more relaxed he works, the easier it is to ask him for some curve throughout his body on both reins. 
I really enjoy watching this little horse learn, his trust in Emma's actions has always been good but now we noticed it has increased much more. This is our biggest training asset. 
Today, for the first time, he did entire session without a single one of his trademark shooting off moments (anxious reaction to something changing - from poll flexion, change of direction to a leg movement, anything "new" could be a trigger; usually we have at least one/two episodes). 

Shabby today - 27th May 2015 - in an easy, suppleness focused session post his body massage
Another first for Shabby today was to offer a stretch in canter and stay balanced enough to remain at a speed Emma asked for. It might take time with this boy but I am sure it will be worth it.

Now, I am off to tidy up the house a bit because I've been in and out for minutes at the time recently and the word mess doesn't even describe the current state of affairs here! 



Day 146: Socialising, taming and training

"I also use the term "socialized" rather than "tamed" wolves to emphasise that the animals were active participants in the process and that their behaviour and adjustment to humans went far beyond simple "taming". How the Dog become The Dog - From Wolves to Our Best Friends by Mark Derr

More about the book here (in Polish only)
At about eleven or twelve I went through a phase of fascination with wolves and wilderness in general which involved numerous re-readings of a series of books by Jack London, James Oliver Curwood and Piotr Korda. 

The latter wrote an interesting novel set many thousands years ago and telling a story of an injured, pregnant female wolf who cunningly decided to follow a human hunter in order to feast on his prey. 
The human lived in caves during the winter and in wooden houses built over the rider in the spring and summer. They were very much hunter-gatherers, moving across the lands with seasons and food sources. 

The book captivates the unlikely relationship of a wild wolf and an early human who hunts to keep his family alive…For reasons only explained in further books, the man and his family are alone and finding survival in the harsh winter very difficult.
At first, the man doesn’t realise he is being followed and so the wolf eats whatever the man leaves behind. When the man does find out what’s happening, over some weeks, he and the injured female form an unlikely alliance. The wolf finds the prey, the man hunts it, they both eat. Neither consciously knows what their role is at first. They do what their instincts and nature dictates and slowly notice the compatibility and ingenious benefits of the cooperation. The man uses the wolf’s superior senses to locate the prey, the injured wolf uses the man’s tools to replace her unusable leg and inability to run after the prey she found. Sometimes, the man’s arrow fails to hit the right spot and injures the prey instead of killing it. The wolf follows the scent slowly, the man follows the tracks the wolf leaves in the snow. They know each other’s tracks like their own. The wolf kills the injured animal and both hunting partners eat for days. 
They keep distance and respect each other. They learn about each other. In many ways, they fear each other. Until they don’t. 

At the beginning of the spring, the man realises the injured wolf is gone. He misses his hunting partner and decides to search for her. And as he finally finds her, in a den with her newborns, the new chapters in their lives began…


Right now it’s Tuesday morning and I am writing this on train to London where just a few minutes ago I was reading How the dog became the dog by Mark Redd (I finished the spy thriller). In fact, I was reading the exact sentence I quoted at the beginning of this post when the thought occurred to me. 
Perhaps in the quest to train horses, in designing new and using old gadgets, we are sometimes missing that important factor of socialisation vs “taming” Perhaps by telling them what to do and wanting it done immediately, understood swiftly and performed on point, we forget to let them be the active partner in the learning process? We forget to give them the benefit of their own learning speed, their own way of processing what we want from them - be it to work over the back or to jump cleaner or to jump higher or to simply be more obedient….? 

Wolves, horses, humans - after all, we are all some kind of animals. 
After all, if we are indeed the superiorly intelligent ones, perhaps we could use that advantage by fully understanding how the other species learn and how to help them take more active participation in the training process...?


Day 137 to 145: A week that got lost in cyber space (long post alert!)

My usual routine with these daily posts is to jot some thoughts throughout the day, pick a leading thought that is still with me in the evening, explore it some more and put it all together. Or simply recollect the whereabouts of the day. Unfortunately, my wi-fi at home continues to be really bad so although I have written every day I didn't have the energy to fight the constant drop offs. Other online duties took priority over this little blog hence this big catch up. You might want to grab some tea or coffee or whatever else you like to be sat next to you when you read blogs because this one will go on a bit ;) I cut all my scribbles to a few notes per day so nobody is here all evening ;)

137: Sunday: Aston Le Walls with Emma, Shabhash and Merehead 

Emma plaiting Merehead before his eventing debut at Aston Le Walls

Little report from the day at Aston le Walls is now on Aspire blog so head over there for photos and videos if you would like to check how the boys fared :)

138: Monday: Escaping the rain

Today, I've been playing hide and seek with the weather and winning. We arrived at the yard in the downpour and lashing wind for it to stop as we entered the arena. I would like to record this for the future reference when/if I complain the weather is not on my side ;)

I spent the afternoon writing so not much else to report here. Except maybe a little bit of a writer's block frustration!

139: Tuesday: The jump field is now open :) 

There is a wonderful sense of freedom to riding in a large, green space and I can't wait to get all the riders out there, test their balance, control and spatial awareness. Horses behave differently in an open space which allows for a horsemanship test in itself.

Mairi was the first one to experience the field's challenges. Since I mentioned the luck with the weather above, I must note we were less lucky on Tuesday. Shortly after taking this sunny photo, the hailstorm arrived and we trotted off back to the stables absolutely drenched in a space of a few minutes. The sun promptly came back out twenty minutes later ;)

140: Wednesday: Just a little bit of Merehead

Wednesdays are one of my favourite days of the week. Mid week, vibrant and full of fabulous, challenging horses to teach on.
Since I am trying to breeze through this update a little, just a short video for you of one of the big boys:


Back home very late today so just a little birthday meal for Richard with more B-Day celebrations tomorrow.                                                                                                                                        
141: Thursday: Richard's birthday continued in Oxford

Don't you just want to bring a horse here and school on this lovely arena?! ;) 

142: Friday: Rockingham Castle International Horse Trials

I will publish a full report from this event this week on Aspire blog so just some photos for now. Shabby tried his best again. Beautiful event all round, amazing day.

143: Saturday - The magic of riding barefoot

You will need fluffy socks for this one. It was Mariana who first shared this exercise with me and ever since I've been looking forward to trying it with a suitable "subject" ;) It's ingenious in its simplicity as it simply takes rider's awareness of the stirrup iron - ball of foot connection to the next level. You might think, stirrups are not that important for the good seat, but there is this curious desire in many riders to let that very seemingly unnecessary stirrup dictate their leg position.
When the rider becomes tuned in to the placement of the stirrup iron, they can in turn dictate the position of the stirrup leathers and the iron through small changes in weight distribution through the thighs and lower leg.
The other benefits include improved suppleness through ankle joints and a better command of the foot in general.
I loved the effect this exercise had on my rider today. Genius and simple.

144: Sunday - Day Off

I spent most of today uploading videos and editing them and made this task somewhat into a restful and pleasant exercise by doing bits at a time at different cafes with different cups of coffees ;)

145: Monday - More off-arena training and writing continues

More field training today at a different location for one of my Foundation level riders for whom it was the first time experiencing the grass arena lesson. When I have my own place I will make room for a big field arena with some gradient to it as it never ceases to amaze me how wonderfully challenging and educational riding off-surface is. We are so used to modern arenas nowadays that we seem to lose the ability to interact with the ground that isn't perfectly flat and perfectly designed with letters to guide the rider and what's more interesting, the horses lose that ability to some extent too.

More writing for me in the evening.

Sunday, 17 May 2015

Day 135 & 136: Shoulder-in and switching on senses

Day 135: Friday

One of the easiest ways to understand what happens during shoulder-in is to go on all fours in your living room and walk it as if you were a horse. Do with your body what you know the horse's body is required to do and notice what you need to do with your weight through each knee and each shoulder, how you manage to travel forwards yet somewhat sideways and how the energy flows within your body.

Go for at least 7-8 steps and if your living room isn't big enough, well, you might want to give your neighbours something to talk about during birthday parties and do some all-fours games in your garden.

Now, if you can ride a beautiful, balanced shoulder-in with great benefit to your horse please feel free to completely disregard the outrageous advice above ;)

Day 136: Saturday 

My current travel book companion is a spy thriller Kolymsky Heights. A very unique novel, brilliantly written and very hard to put down! Just as Porter, the main character and the spy extraordinaire, arrived into icy chill of Siberia, my train pulled into a little windy Ealing Broadway.
Thankfully, the weather for today's training sessions wasn't as critical for me as it was for Mr Spy (minus freaking fifty degrees celsius over there) and we had some really interesting learning experiences.

The big jumping field is finally open for play so I will be starting the jump training with the young riders in a fortnight. I have one more session sets planned for them to work on some technical aspects of their riding before we set off into an open space.

The warmer aura also allows for some enjoyable practical sessions so we played with the awareness of balance and the feel for half-halt using each other and poles on the ground...

It takes time to go over these details but it really is worth it. Sometimes riders have their light bulb moments straight away, sometimes many months later but there is never a question of if/whether a better awareness leads to better riding but when :)

Switching off particular senses or instincts in order to switch on different ones is one of my favourite areas of training. A simple act of removing a bridle and encouraging the rider to connect with the horse through weight aids, seat and legs can be a very powerful and empowering experience. Below is one of my young riders at Foundation Programme having a go at 20m circles, serpentines, changes of direction - she did fantastically well on a wilful little mare by planning in advance and turning the horse's neck rather than head...



Friday, 15 May 2015

Day 132, 133 and 134: Doing vs teaching, watching warm ups at Windsor and final preps for next event

Day 132: Tuesday

You know this saying - those who can, do and those who can’t do, teach? I wonder who came up with this first and how did that thought occur to them? Were they a frustrated underachiever taught by a cynical teacher who liked to put them down? Or perhaps they were a talented but impatient pupil wanting to climb faster and higher before their teacher thought they were ready?
It really makes me wonder because in riding, many a time, the doing is the easier part. Horses learn so quickly, so genuinely. It’s the training of the human component that’s the difficult bit!
Even more so, the riding skills, intricate and complex as they might be, are yet easier to teach than the mental side to riding is.

When I dissect some movements in order to understand what I am doing and then try to devise a way to teach it to a particular rider, I often hit a brick wall. I ride something over and over again and I think, how do I teach this to someone who have never experienced anything remotely similar? Anything they might be able to relate the feel to?

You can watch many things. You can observe riders and horses. But to see, to truly see what you are watching - it’s not easy. Maybe it’s not possible to both do and see to the same top standard? Maybe if all your senses are focused on seeing, the parts of your brain responsible for doing no longer develop as well?

I don’t know. But I think it’s easier to ride well than to teach well. The former only requires you to master yourself, the latter asks you to not only master yourself but to empower the student to master themselves.

Day 133: Wednesday
Windsor Horse Show 2015

On subject of observation, today I was doing mainly that by planting myself in between the warm up arenas and the main show-jumping and dressage arena during the first day of Windsor Horse Show. One of the main reasons this show is firmly on my favourites list is exactly because it is possible to watch pretty much every single rider working the horses in before the round or a test. There is also plenty of going on as far as showing goes and although I have zero interest in showing itself, I do like to watch the working hunter classes and see what judges like about each horse, how they go and behave and what’s the winner’s conformation is like. 

In the jumping warm up, I like to observe what type of horse is being ridden and how and then compare those observations to their performance in the class. I like to watch as if I rode each horse myself and think how each issue would ride and feel. Like this, you can “ride” hundreds of horses in one day and learn a lot about different ways of dealing with different issues. 
Similarly in the dressage, I like to see how riders cope with their horses’ stage freight - many issues in dressage is due to lost concentration and relaxation. Some horses warm up beautifully and foot perfect just to make simple mistakes in the test a few minutes later. It’s a great mental game, dressage, and so again watching different techniques and strategies can be very educational. 

I wish there were more shows nearby with this sort of set up and so many classes and disciplines within one show ground.

Windsor Horse Show 2015: checking some new tack out, little champagne sip and lunch in the sun :) 
Day 134: Thursday

Awesome day today getting final preparations in place with Shabby and Meerhead before their run at Aston Le Walls on Sunday. Shabby did the best test-test we have ever done with him, if only he could retain his calm during the event so he can do himself justice! His trot work is becoming so much better, when we started back in December he had this pony trot going nowhere unless he could go hundred miles per hour, he now has so much more length to the stride when he is focused and relaxed. 

Merehead is learning basic lateral work - he is a very clever boy :) 

I also had a pleasure to meet Emma's new ex-racing project who is very exciting indeed, tortured an ex-jockey into a dressage seat and worked a young rider rather hard but everybody is so much pleasure to teach. Great day :) 

Monday, 11 May 2015

Day 130 & 131: Dog sitting and pondering on training companion magazines for non-horse owners...

130: Sunday

Spending the day with these two adorable critters today :) Woody (the piebald ;) is a permanent house fixture, Basil (the skewbald) is a visitor, I look after him from time to time.

131: Monday

I'd been browsing the usual monthly equestrian magazines (Your Horse, Horse and Rider, Horse) and it strikes me how much of the content seems to be aimed at a more "amateur-professional" areas of the market. Many training features are done by UK's top riders and trainers on some seriously smart horses (to be fair, there are some nice grassroots examples of riders too but all very much competition minded).
It made me think - what are the actual learner riders reading? Or do they? I often ask my riders what they tend to buy horse mags wise but most don't buy any. Some read Horse and Rider and Your Horse.
Maybe it's just me but do you think there is still a huge gap between a riding school rider/non-horse owner rider and owner/grassroots competition rider as far as magazine market buzz goes?  When you look at other sports mags they cover pretty much every niche you can think of.

Riding has pink pony magazines with stickers for girly girls and then some decent mags for an ambitious amateur horse owner...
Is it just me who has trouble finding some learner-rider magazines out there to recommend for my learner riders?

Why would you buy a mag? Any mag? I am thinking - to fuel your passion, see what others are up to - how they cope with that lost stirrup in canter or stiffness in arms or uneven rein contact or [input own issue here]; to learn what might be good to learn share experiences...?

If you know of some good titles that can be an interesting learning-to-ride companion, please do let me know! You know, a good pick me up type of read for people without own horses who want to improve their skills and work on own seat, confidence, understanding of training and healthy development of the horse. Learning to train and training to train level of rider, not training to compete level of rider...On that note, neither do I mean a read for someone who prefers hacking/trekking to schooling and training.

The current monthlys are great, they really are, and I am sure many riders enjoy them immensely but I feel they are not enough.

I try to browse all horsey publishing at least every couple of months but to buy it all to read through is out of question :-/


Saturday, 9 May 2015

Day 128 & 129: The choices and the wi-fi hunting continues

Day 129 - Saturday


OK, you know when you are at someone's house and you have no idea how to find something and you think, shit, why can't dogs talk for crying out loud!!
So, I am looking for the router so I can input password into my laptop when prompted for it and I can't find it. I follow every cable in the living room. Like - follow it. On my knees. Begging the dog to tell me. H., if you are reading this, don't laugh.

My friend said, it will be by the plants so I am looking for the plants but you know when you have an image of something and that something really doesn't quite match up to reality? That. I think - PLANTS - lots of them, maybe even with fruit or flowers you know. It's spring after all.

I look at the dog - hope can kill you you know. Finally, I give up. I will have to go and upload the videos tomorrow from the hotel again. Hopefully they won't mind me occupying the seat for several hours, again! I pick up the keys, the dog is delirious with happiness and bounces all over the place.

Ok, ok we are going and you can poop as much as your heart desires and...then, I spot it! Next to the smallest plant - a single plant - on a little table. The router.

Thank you, thank you, thank you!

I set the videos on upload and take the dog out for a quick walk. Come back. And wait, And wait. It is ow 21:14 and 8 out 26 videos uploaded (today's lessons went great, really happy with all the riders :) ) . I started around 6pm. Well, it is not my week for this internet malarkey, that's for sure.

Out and about today

Day 128 - Friday - The new order has been chosen

Some of you might be aware that besides Badminton Horse Trials there have been a fairly important event happening on Thursday with results being given today.
I am probably as a-political as one gets but I would like to express my relief in writing - it is good to know that the Xenophobic UKIP didn't go too far. However, I would also like to express my terror upon hearing 3.8 million people voted for them. Scary.


Thursday, 7 May 2015

Day 125, 126 & 127: Writing further afield, keeping the beat and WiFi hunting

Day 125: Tuesday 5th May

I saw it a few days before the deadline and sent my proposal....


Putting aside the wonderful opportunity to connect with like minded people around the world. there is one more thing that makes me want to keep on writing, even if I am sure some, if not majority, of my written English must be rather lame and grammatically challenged.

I would like to try to share with you my reason.

Apparently, you can't teach anyone anything until and unless they made a decision (subconscious or conscious) to learn that very thing. Isn't that an incredible concept?
Say, if I would like to teach someone to change the way they ride - get them to use the reins to help the horse to shift his balance rather than to dominate the animal through learnt helplessness - they need to first abandon their previous beliefs, assume yours might have something in them, acknowledge a potential in the new technique, allow themselves to put trust in what you are saying, and finally then allow themselves to learn...

Now, that's a long way from instruction/suggestion to action...

So, you might say that the learner needs to somehow arrive at the learning path by the means of their very own idea...Somehow, the seemingly disjointed pieces of information have to form a vision of a bigger picture in which it becomes possible to place our very own puzzle.

You know, the "if you can see it, you can achieve it" sort of thing...

I feel like, if I write and share my experiences, somewhere someone might place them on a map of their own reality, look at it one day and see, that by adding some landmarks, some mountains, some woodlands, some cities...they now see a new path from A to B that they hadn't allowed into their vision.

I feel like, if I write and share my experiences, I too will find those new paths for to write about something you need to make yourself understand it, explore it in ways you maybe discounted before, see it not only as if with own eyes but with the eyes of others.


In that light, I am honoured to have been chosen to blog for Featured Team on HayNet :) I hope you will visit my posts on there, I will pop the links as and when they are published but in the meantime, do check the other bloggers chosen. A very interesting bunch of people who I am very much looking forward to following:

Day 126: Wednesday 6th May

Work with Shabby continues. The other horses work well too. We are mainly working on the rhythm, on keeping the beat, on finding the canter in which Shabby feels most confident, balanced and rideable.
I am using more "rider training props" like wings and poles to trigger rider's technique and thinking.

Day 127: Thursday 7th May

Today I am mostly hunting wi-fi connection since the one I have at home is malfunctioning badly and leaves me unable to keep up with online part of the Aspire world. I resigned myself to just assigning the whole day to catching up with all the crazy amount of emails and video uploads and feedback due accumulated since Saturday when the connection died. I have planted myself at a hotel lobby with this catch up mission. Could be worse. I have a nice view on the river and a reasonably fast wi-fi. Way to practice one's patience ;)



Monday, 4 May 2015

Day 123 & 124: Quick catch - up

My internet connection is currently taking the mick and I am stranded in between a lot of loading information and trying to sign in and failing miserably.
Sunday was a bliss of rest. I finished the Hunger Games Mockinjay and I am now half way through the book I picked up at random at a tack shop last week. It's a life story of Lars Sederholm told by his daughter, Tina Sederholm, and a great insight into a life of a very successful coach. I will write more about it when I finish reading it.

Sunday with a book :) 
Today brought some successful training in the morning. I forgot it was a Bank Holiday today and was somewhat surprised by the quiet aura at the station until I remembered and the thought occurred to me that there might be no trains to my destination at all.
Then, the ticket machine decided it didn't like the £20 note I was trying to feed through it. I tried several times oblivious of the man at the machine next to me until he offered a swap.
You know when you are in the middle of something and someone asks you a completely unexpected question and you look at them as if they just asked if it's ok if you rob a bank together? That.
When my brain computed his offer I agreed and swap my tired note that had spent some time crumpled in my pocket for his brand new one that felt as if he had ironed it especially for the occasion.

As I slide the note into the machine, the thought occurs to me that perhaps he just gave me some false, Monopoly money. No trust in humanity ;) It's ok. The ticket pops up and the train arrives.

Frustratingly, the internet connection continues to play up back at home, showing up for a moment to disappear the next and I am stuck in a loop of downloads and uploads of the now back logged videos from Saturday onwards.

I hope it's temporary as usual.

It's 20:34 right now as I hit the publish button, I hope this little post manages to slide in between some narrow openings between the working and failed mega bites.



Saturday, 2 May 2015

Day 122: Silent conversation

With my young rider on Aspire Foundation Programme today
I stare at a page in a book and then at my Mum who is resting on a sofa bed with her own book and I cannot fathom how is she doing it. I look up at her and all I can see is that she stares at the book. She doesn't move her lips like I have to in order to mouth the words and bring them to life. She doesn't make a sound.

- What are you doing Mum?
- I'm reading...

Her eyes scan the words left to right, left to right. I do the same but the words just don't come alive.

That's my earliest childhood memory to do with reading - the inexplicable inability to read simply with my eyes. I must have been about 4 years old because my Mum taught my brother and I to read very early. I don't remember being impatient or annoyed or frustrated but rather bewildered at the fact I could not do it.
Then, I remember being absolutely determined to understand how reading with one's eyes was possible and I also remember the overwhelming curiosity and the need to figure it out.

Of course, I have no idea when and how I simply became able to read without saying the words out loud or tracing them with my fingers but what I do remember is the incredible pleasure in doing so. To this day I find myself searching for ideas and experiences that make me stop and think and drag me into the state in which the the act of figuring things out is the main one.

Teaching is revisiting that moment in which I cannot comprehend how something can be done. Searching for clues in the rider's movements, in horse's reactions, in confused lack of awareness. Then putting some observations together, weaving them in and out, trying to put them together in various combinations until all of a sudden, they come alive and I no longer have to say much.

It fascinates me to watch how at first the riders have to verbalise things loudly, the words rugged, uncertain, until suddenly - they can read their horse silently, with their feel only, without the need for tracing the horse's movement anymore...

Rediscovering harmony. Creating silent conversation.



Friday, 1 May 2015

Day 121: In pictures

Now and then it's good to pause in our pursuit of happiness and just be happy. 

Guillaume Apollinaire 

The world is best seen through a pair of fine ears ;) 

Warm welcome to the newest Aspire rider joining us today :) I have never thought I would meet someone who would analyse every moment of a ride as much as I do but I was very wrong for I have met one today ;) Very much up for the challenge!

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