The Iberian Experience

June 21, 2010

The Side Effects

Filed under: Uncategorized — iberianexperience @ 3:34 pm

 I’m sure this will come as no shock to you, but I have to confess that recently I have been spending a lot of time mulling over the concept of loss.  It’s convoluted, for sure, and one that is undoubtedly a complex spectrum spanning every emotional facet one faces from the losing of a favorite sweater to loss through death, and absolutely EVERYTHING in between. If you feel up to a depressing mental challenge I highly recommend you spend a few hours ruminating over the concept of loss yourself. Side effects include but are not limited to: tears, vocational un-productivity, physical illness, the purchasing of melancholy music, difficulty concentrating, and a HUGE lack of motivation.  

Here’s my personal experience.  Work Thursday was impossible. Each hour was torturous. I had plenty of work to do and was even backed up quite a bit from having spent the past two weeks training a new staff member. The day was gorgeous but I found myself wishing for something a bit cooler, gloomier.  I somehow, unconsciously, wanted the weather to match my ominous mood. I felt bitter in response to its seemingly blatant, rebellious un-cooperation. I didn’t even get a single empathetic cloud.  

There were several times throughout the day I was on the verge of tears, and a high percentage of those times actually resulted in tears. There was a perpetual lump in my throat. I took a long lunch. That didn’t help. At 3:00 PM I made myself a huge cup of hot chai hoping for some form of liquid comfort. That just made me nauseous. Pandora, that has always provided suspiciously accurate music, was so far off I turned it off, and was tempted to erase it from my list of website favorites.

Then, I thought I came to a breakthrough. Perhaps loss is hard because it is inevitably linked to change. Nothing can perpetuate change like loss. It necessitates change, regardless if you are ready for it or not. Then I came full circle. It has to be more than change. Sure change can be hard, but I cannot allow myself to write off my pain as my personal inability to cope with change.

To do so would be to discredit what existed before the loss. If the only difficult aspect of this situation was change, than the only good aspect of the situation was consistency. I know we are creatures of habit, but I believe there are many a sweater enjoying, relationship having; horse owning people who would argue that there was more, so much more, to the good situation than just consistency. 

For the duration of the weekend I stayed away from the barn. Under normal circumstances, I would have spent several hours each day with the filly, but I just could not bring myself to do so. I thought about it several times and even found myself sitting at a two-way stop once, about a quarter-mile away from her.  Subsequently, I turned the car around and returned home.

My avoidance was not because I had come to feel detached from her in any way, quite the opposite in fact. However, it didn’t take long for me to realize that if in fact she wouldn’t be mine for much longer; my heart couldn’t bear to see her. The torturous game of seeing what wasn’t mine was too painful, so I stayed away.

No new updates so far…I’ll tell you when there are.


June 17, 2010

The Crossroads

Filed under: Uncategorized — iberianexperience @ 5:17 pm

This truly is something I never thought I would have to write. I believed that if I were to write something with the title of “the crossroads” it would be pertaining to my decision of which close contact saddle to get for DoubleShot or having to choose between one competition and another that conflicted due to scheduling. Truth be told I fully expected to face many crossroads in my time with DoubleShot, but not this one. Never did I foresee this dilemma.

There is something that I don’t believe I have told you. DoubleShot actually has two owners; myself and someone else. It may sound strange to those who merely think of horses as big dogs, but in reality it is very common for a horse to have multiple owners, and in some cases even 10 or 12 owners.

Dual ownership is really a great situation, unless something in that situation changes. My husband and I are moving, causing a big change in the situation of our ownership of DoubleShot. As you can imagine, both parties don’t want to give up their half, but baring King Solomon, no one would be able to find a feasible solution to this conundrum that’s been created. Someone has to yield.

The preliminary discussions of “what to do” did not result in anything encouraging, and I have to admit I am thoroughly broken-hearted. That filly has come to mean so much to me and it is truly difficult to envision a life without her. Tears have been common these past two days… tears that not many outside of our circle of horse-loving-humans would be able to empathize with.

I will keep you posted on what happens, but there is an undeniable feeling in my gut that tells me my Spanish Warmblood Venture is coming to a close.

June 8, 2010

The Seperation

Filed under: Uncategorized — iberianexperience @ 11:30 pm

There is a quote on the inside flap of the dust cover to a Horse Encyclopedia that I begged my father to buy for my birthday gift when I was in Jr. High School.  It says something to the effect that if the dog is man’s best friend, the horse is without a doubt man’s companion. Companion…something defines as a person who accompanies, assists, or lives with another in the capacity of a helpful friend.  

I like this definition, and this concept of the horse being our companion. Sure horses don’t express love towards people in the same manner as a dog. They don’t necessarily lick your face with intense expression and wiggle with uncontrollable affection when you walk up to their stall. But don’t be fooled. Just because the human-horse relationship isn’t an exact mirror of the human-dog relationship doesn’t mean it’s not as strong or for that matter as meaningful.  

If built well, the human-horse relationship can be just that; one that functions with the capacity of a helpful friend. A relationship I have been missing for the past few weeks. You see, following the first few mounts and rides I put on the filly, I decided to send DoubleShot off to an experienced, highly recommended trainer; someone who would expose her to the world of mountain cows, creek crossing and the full uncollected gallop…  

And it’s been 18 days since I last saw her. Eighteen days… that’s it, but as embarrassing as it may sound I feel as though I have been in a deep, lonely funk for exactly, well 18 days. As you can imagine, spending the past year and a half with DoubleShot resulted in us forming quite the relationship.  Always striving to be a healthy, strong individual I almost cringe to say it but without this quirky filly in my life these past few weeks I have felt, to a certain extent, empty…not whole.  

I find myself distracted at work and if it weren’t for the generous offer from a friend of mine to ride her horse, I believe I just might possibly have DIED this past month.  

I grew up with a wonderful father who was (and still is) by profession a psychotherapist. He was also (and still is) an avid mountaineer. If there is one thing I can remember my father saying to me throughout my childhood it was this “I do crazy things to keep my sanity”.  Because of this I always understood that his dangerous, man vs. nature expeditions were his outlet, his release, the one thing that could simultaneously cause thorough (needed) exhaustion and fully charge his batteries.  

Over the past fourteen years horses have become my release. The one activity I do to keep my sanity. I know that I am not fully engaging in intense psychotherapy… yet, but I am pursuing a graduate degree in clinical psychology, trying to sell my house, balancing full-time work/marriage/school and a myriad of other regular life activities that equate to anyone needing to do something crazy in a preservation effort for their own mental/emotional/spiritual functioning.  

The point is my soul is fully, 100% addicted to the horse (and to one horse in particular). I have experienced firsthand the unmistakable benefits of human-horse interaction that couldn’t be attributed to anything else. So I guess it’s safe to say that I am in some form of horse withdrawal …and I hope it ends soon!  

DoubleShot...the 1st day we met

May 25, 2010

The First Mount

Filed under: Uncategorized — iberianexperience @ 9:19 pm

As time passed, we continued in our pattern of discovering new issues, dealing with them in an attempt to resolve them, then discovering another issue and tackling that new development as it came. It was a process that was circular, and could be perceived as mundane, but it was in fact, quite the opposite.

In the past fourteen years, I have ridden a few horses and I have to say that the ones who are polished and know what they are doing are great and fantastic to ride, but rarely the sensation of accomplishment can be achieved. Eventually you just get the feeling that you are benefiting from someone else’s hard work and are simply along for the ride.

The ones who are difficult to ride and stubborn also cause one to think on their prior experiences and how you seem to be paying the price for another’s folly.

I wasn’t able to truly arrive at this understanding until I began work with DoubleShot; work that was not the result, in the slightest, of someone else. If we had a good day, it was because we connected, worked together and built on what we did the prior day. If we didn’t, I couldn’t blame her former training or the development of bad habits that occurred before I knew her.  She was essentially what I gave her.

As small as some of our accomplishment were, they were just that…accomplishments; our accomplishments, not someone else’s. They were minuscule at times, but often frequent, and it was the pattern of these small advances that became addictive to me and incredibly rewarding.

Yet one accomplishment was inevitably more gratifying than others. For over a year I had worked on the ground, investing in her understanding of movement, respect, and quality effort (and subsequently, unknowingly, I was investing in myself as well).  Everything was important; how I caught her, tied her, brushed her, touched her, spoke to her, walked with her, set her loose… EVERYTHING.

In an effort to stay motivated, I would repeat to myself relentlessly that one day it would pay off. One day, when it truly mattered, she would be soft, focused, and calm. And almost before I knew it, that day arrived.

I had spent considerable time throughout our months together introducing her to saddles, bits, and bridles.  Then, I worked on getting her accustomed to them. But I had yet to mount her. As the months passed and she continued to progress (and grow), I knew the day was coming.

It was a fairly warm winter day. I had practiced stepping into the stirrup for several weeks prior to this day; but this day was different. After doing some ground work with her, I realized she was calm, attentive and ready. Within the security of the round pin, I steadily stood in the stirrup just like I had countless of times before, but instead of stepping down after several seconds, I gently swung my leg over her back and softly rested in the seat of the saddle.

I have to tell you now that I had never mounted a horse before who had never been mounted…until that day. I was the first and only human that had ever been on of this horse’s back. This was it, the culmination of a year and a half of work, and I have to say, she was perfect!  Relaxed, calm and not nervous in the slightest.  Just as I had hoped, she responded to my breath and my touch with the same confidence and trust that we had conquered on the ground!  And truly I have never felt as accomplished as I did that very day. No memory of cap and gowns or promotions can even come close to the emotion I had that day!…WE HAD ARRIVED!

May 18, 2010

The Help of Someone Older and Wiser

Filed under: Uncategorized — iberianexperience @ 2:47 pm

Today, I would like to introduce you to someone extraordinarily special.  He was a surpassingly loving horse, a true gentle giant and the first horse that ever carried me to a competition.  Named in part for his rather large stature, somewhere in time he was given the name BigMac… and it stuck.  His soft chestnut coat and empathetic eyes made him beautiful to look at while his calm temperament and understanding personality made him irresistible to love. 

BigMac and I at our First Show


He truly was the perfect horse.  Perhaps not the world’s best athlete, but he would without a doubt, give it his best shot and ensure his rider had the time of their life!  He was a horse I would be proud to have DoubleShot imitate and it was with this idea that I began working with the two of them together. 

Up until this point, all of my work with DoubleShot was done with me standing on the ground.  With BigMac in the picture, I was provided with the opportunity to change that.  Ponying is a technique that places one rider on one horse while the second, un-mounted horse, tags along.  It’s a practice that was purely functional for many hundreds of years. Used for transporting more goods that one horse alone could carry or simply for transporting more horses than one person could ride. 

The pack-horse was valuable, but something else was even more valuable.  The fact that you could use a horse that was too young to ride to be a pack-horse.  It’s obvious that many riders saw the additional value in the training element this offered young horses as well. Not only did the pack-horse get the job done, but they learned a lot in the process.  And this was the very same training element I was seeking with DoubleShot and BigMac. 

With BigMac as my lead horse, suddenly DoubleShot saw me from a completely different perspective. No longer was I on the ground, but I was above her. I could reach over her side and pet her back, head and neck from an angle she hadn’t experienced previously. Frequently I would also lean over and rest on her back, providing her the first sensation of carrying a person’s weight. 

With BigMac’s clean movements, DoubleShot had to match her gait to his and begin the learning process of strides, balance and forward.  And they were great together! Patiently, BigMac would let DoubleShot rest her head on his neck when she needed a break and appropriately he would threaten with a bite or a kick if she got out of line.  I truly became surprised at how fond they seemed to be of one another. 

We worked at this for several weeks and eventually we did a Free Style competition with me on BigMac with DoubleShot coming along. It was a wonderful, personal experience that the first competition of my life was on BigMac and that my first competition with DoubleShot was also with BigMac.  He had provided the bookends, if you will, of my equine life.  Gracefully he ushered me into this exciting world of training, competing and connecting with something other than myself and benevolently he escorted me into the next phase of my equine life with an extraordinary filly called DoubleShot. 

BigMac, DoubleShot and I at our First Free Style


I was so thankful to have had that time with BigMac. Being in his early 30’s and having enjoyed a wonderful life, he passed away only a few weeks after our free style. He was truly a gift and a horse that will never be forgotten.  The lessons that he taught me are undoubtedly the foundation of what I do every day and I know that the lessons he taught DoubleShot will serve as her foundation as well. 

He was old and he was wise and he was wonderful.

May 7, 2010

The History

Filed under: Uncategorized — iberianexperience @ 6:32 pm

The Horse of Kings

I feel that now is as good of time as any to fill you in on the prominent history that contributes to the genetic makeup of my Filly.  As I have said before, she is an Iberian Sport Horse. A breed name that is completely derived from the original location of her century old ancestors.  And it’s a story that begins in Spain.

Like most of Western Europe, before Spain became the joined country that it is today, it was predominately composed of regional kingdoms.  Among those kingdoms was the Iberian Peninsula.  I imagine that the Kingdom of the Iberian Peninsula was similar to the others, however; these residents had something special…a certain type of horse.

Long story short, the Andalusian is thought to have been around since the 13th or 14th century, or at least some form of the breed was around at this time. Official records documenting the Andalusian as indeed a definite and distinct breed appear in the early portion of the 15th century.

I know what you’re thinking… Andalusian? I thought she was Iberian… Well she is and she is Iberian because her Sire (the horse daddy) is Andalusian.  You see the Andalusian is considered a PRE (Pura Raza Española) Translated: Pure Spanish Horse and the Iberian is not.

The reason DoubleShot is Iberian and not Andalusian is because her Dam (the horse mommy) is not an Andalusian, she is a Warmblood. However, because of the strong Spanish roots of her sire, DoubleShot fits the requirements to be registered as an Iberian Sport Horse. Essentially, the Spanish characteristics and qualities of the Andalusian are so dominant that even half-Andalusian are given their own distinct breed and registration.

And, the Iberian is only one of many breeds that benefited from the blood lines of the Andalusian. Originally know as the “Horse of Kings” it is clear how highly regarded these animals were to the Spanish.  Undoubtedly they recognized the phenomenal qualities of the breed, namely their cool sensibility, intelligence and relational personalities, and therefore sought to instill these characteristics in other horses ultimately “bettering” other breeds.

Their results produced some of the world’s most recognizable breeds such as the famous Lipizzaner, Frisians, Lusitanos and others. It’s no question that among the centuries when wars were common and horses were the essential ingredient for success, the demand for a superior horse was astronomical and consequently the trade industry for such animals was explosive.

We tend to think upon Spain’s military history as a sea-faring one with terms such as “the Spanish Armada” stuck in our heads since the fifth grade. But I believe that perhaps they were more of a cavalry country then we tend to think. After all, it was the Spanish themselves who brought the first horse to the American continent some centuries ago.  

Yet there had to have been a turning point somewhere along the line.  Eventually the Spanish took to diligently guarding their precious breed as opposed to sharing it.  Perhaps they felt they had benefited the world enough and that they deserved some quality down time with their horse.  During these several hundred years, the Andalusian continued to flourish within the borders of Spain, but this was precisely the only place they could. Strict legislation mandated that the exportation of an Andalusian was illegal. 

And this rule was sustained right up until the very recent year of 1960. Today, the majority of Andalusians and Iberians still remain in Spain, but the world did not hesitate to once again tap into this extraordinary horse.  Fortunately, the breed has not been compromised or exploited throughout this expansion period and to date there are still fewer than 20,000 Andalusians in existence worldwide.  The United States claims 4,500 are in residence within our borders… and DoubleShot is one of them.

February 21, 2010

The Day I Wanted to Give Up

Filed under: Uncategorized — iberianexperience @ 7:49 pm

If I only told you about the successful days of working with DoubleShot I would be doing you a disservice because you truly would only be hearing half the story.  As I mentioned before,  my work with this young warmblood was challenging, ridiculously challenging. It had to be one of not the hardest things I had ever done.

If you will allow me, let me take you back to the round pin. One day in particular stands out in my memory. It was a warm day, sunny and rather late in the afternoon. At this point, I was still working on the attention-getting process and the moving her feet process which coincide completely.

At the start of the work outs, we would enter the round-pin together without too many upsets.  Then, immediately after I would remove the halter, she would take off! Running round and round, calling to other horses, looking in every other direction except at me, jumping over objects in the pin, kicking up her back feet, exploring the divots in the ground, exploring the fence rails, exploring the scent the breeze was carrying through the air, exploring everything else she possibly could except me.

 In response to this behavior, I would move the whip through the air while positioning my body in a way as to communicate a direction change. With the whip, I would also point, in the hope that eventually the basics of classical conditioning would hold true and that one day the pointing would be enough to change her direction without the accompaniment of the whip.

But for now, the whip was necessary. The heavy sound it would create as it moved through the air was often the only stimulus that could successfully convince DoubleShot that I was in fact in the round pin with her. At this point my existence was not important to her and the only time she had to acknowledge my existence was when I, with the help of the dressage whip, would prevent her from continuing on in her chosen direction, forcing her to turn around and go the other way.

And that is exactly what I would do, constantly. Often I would only let her go four or five strides before I would ask for another direction change. The belief was that with enough encounters of being forced to deal with me, she would grow to watch me and pay more attention.

But the process of direction changing could go on seemingly forever and this day in particular I wholeheartedly wanted to give up.  Nothing seemed to work. The afternoon was winding down, the sun light was softening and the air was growing colder. Most of the other riders and trainers were cooling down their horses and turning them out for the night, and there I was, stuck in that round pin, unable to even get DoubleShot to stop long enough for me to throw a halter on her.

Thus, I had to stay. I had to get to the point where she would turn for just a few seconds and look at me. But I couldn’t. Feeling so overwhelmed I hung my head and bent over in frustration. In that moment, there was no reason I wanted to be there. I began thinking ‘there’s no way I can do this’ and what’s more, I said to myself ‘I don’t even want to do this’.

Eventually yes, DoubleShot did turn and look, but I didn’t have a breakthrough that day. There was no moment of accomplishment or success at all.  I cooled her down and turn her out and literally ran to my car. I drove away with music playing shaking my head, trying desperately to forget about the afternoon.  I finally breathed deep and finally reached my release.

Just as I would award DoubleShot with a release when she gave me an appropriate response, my release for that day was driving away. That entire afternoon, I felt that I had been pushing her, but in truth she was pushing me. And to be frank, she was much better at it than I was. By the time our work out was over, I was far more exhausted than she.

Not in that moment, but much later, I was able to see once again, how connected we truly were. If I wanted her to work, I was going to have to work. If I was ever going to get her to the point of commitment, I had to be willing to go there first. If I was going to push her, I had to fully expect her to push me. I finally realized the effort I had gotten by with in the past wasn’t going to cut it with this horse. I needed to find a deeper desire and stronger commitment if we were ever going to succeed.

February 17, 2010

The Psychiatrist

Filed under: Uncategorized — iberianexperience @ 6:37 pm




As you know, it was last February that I embarked on this Spanish Warmblood Venture.  What you may not know is that a week and a half into March I was laid off.  I had been working for the past few years at a law firm that was subsequently an incredibly intense and stressful environment.  Nonetheless it was a job, and I had bills to pay and I was crushed when I lost that job.      

The particular details of the job loss made me lose quite a bit of confidence in myself.  In the immediate aftermath, I found it difficult to concentrate, difficult to sleep and difficult to foresee a successful acquisition of a future vocation.      

I felt shaken to the core really, and it’s strange how something that can seem so trivial can affect someone so distinctly, but it did. I suddenly found myself with no schedule, no income and no daily tasks.  But perhaps what I did have during that time of my life was even more important than what I didn’t have… and what I had, was a horse.      

Daily, I would make the trek to the barn and for the entire time I was there, my mind and body were equally engaged. Completely unable to think about the “poor me” situation I was in the midst of.      

Instead of editing my resume, I was thinking about which direction DoubleShot’s ears were facing, indicating in which direction she was giving her attention. Instead of running over interview questions in my mind, I was concentrating on the swift movement of my dressage whip and would watch intently as it gracefully floated through the air gaining a direction changing response from DoubleShot.      

I found myself listening to the rhythm of her hooves and the pattern of her breath. I would get lost in the motion of disengaging, a circular movement that is graceful and balanced.  She was my release. A challenge so great, I could not find the mental effort even if I wanted to, to drift into the disheartening events that had recently taken place.      

It’s an interesting personal belief that might be somewhat ironic or contradictory considering my chosen profession in mental health, but since then I have fully adopted the mindset that this unknown author was so wise to express.      

“All I pay my psychiatrist is the cost of feed and hay, and he’ll listen to me any day.”      

This statement was true to the core, DoubleShot had indeed taken on the role of my psychiatrist. And the funny thing is I don’t think she minded it much.

February 16, 2010

The Facts

Filed under: Uncategorized — iberianexperience @ 4:20 pm

To give you a better picture of what our work looked like at this phase I realized I need to provide some rudimentary facts.  So here they are. DoubleShot was about 19 months old when we really started working and she was already over 15 hands tall, but because of her age, she was unride-able. Horse’s skeletal structure is relatively soft until they reach about 3 years of age, so in an effort to preserve their cartilage like bones, trainers tend to do all their work with young horses on the ground.  This works well for two reasons: one, you cannot ride the horse at this time and two, you wouldn’t want to. The increasingly ambitions and sporadic movements of young horses are enough to throw even the most skilled rider.

 The round-pin is where most of our work time took place. This is exactly what it sounds like, a small pin that is round.  The length of our work-outs is something to mention as well. In the beginning, DoubleShot’s attention span was right about twenty minutes. Just as if one was working with a group of kindergarteners, I too had to adjust every exercise, ever expectation and filter it through the short time span of twenty minutes.  

Despite what the movies frequently portray, “breaking” a horse does NOT consist of one stubborn cowboy clinching on to the saddle while the terrified horse bucks and kicks until the horse finally reaches an epiphany, stops the bad, bucking behavior and is submissive for the rest of his days.  This couldn’t be farther from the truth.

Sorry to burst the bubble, but that will never work, no matter how rogue the cowboy might be.  If you think back to the fact that horses are traditionally hunted animals, what does it look like when a horse is attacked by let’s say a mountain lion?  

Don’t worry; when I was asked this question by my trainer, I too had trouble answering. But again, it’s very simple, jumping on his back and not letting go.  Basically exactly what our quintessential cowboy does in the movies.

The horse needs to trust us, not fear us. Respect us yes, but not fear us. If that fear is cultivated, you will battle the animal’s flight survival instinct for the rest of your days.  Exactly why the pure element of trust has to be the most crucial facet of successful ridding, and one that is two sided. I need to trust my horse, and my horse needs to trust me.  Doubtful? Just try getting through a cross country course without trust…

See what I mean...

February 10, 2010

The Feet

Filed under: Uncategorized — iberianexperience @ 6:22 pm

Work with horses is a strange mix of physicality and philosophy. With every other sport objectives are relatively simple; score a goal, complete the race and the means to accomplishing these tasks are comparably straightforward; outscore the other team, or run faster. The elements are basic, but something else is even more simple; the fact that teammate and opponent alike are all… humans. It’s a strange component that most athletes take for granted, the mere fact that they share the same psyche as all the others involved.   

This is the greatest facet that separates equestrian sports apart from all others. With a little introspection you can quickly figure out what will motivate, encourage, inspire and restrict yourself and the others involved in a traditional game. But how is one supposed to unpack the inter-workings of a horse?   

This is where the philosophy comes in and there are probably as many training approaches as there are breeds of horses. All of them seeking to answer similar questions such as how on earth do you take a flight animal and accomplish such refined tasks as a half pass or a water jump?   

The Dressage Half Pass



The answer is found in the horse’s feet.  It’s tricky for sure. The horses feet are undoubtedly their greatest defense, and arguably their greatest asset.  So with advanced dressage movements set aside for now, how do I begin to harness this defense and cultivate it into desirable movements?  What now?   

The attention getting was progressing. In Time DoubleShot grew to watch me closely. When she did I rewarded her with some form of release. Simple things such as walking away from her or even redirecting my gaze and after a few weeks of this, I admit we got quite good!   

But now movement was introduced. Again, my trainer offered this piece of wisdom; “horses know power in the form of their feet, whoever can move the other’s feet, is the one in charge.” Applying this to my situation, I realized I needed to be the one moving her feet and not letting her move mine. For every time she moved purposely towards me and I stepped out of the way, I was communicating one thing; that she was in charge and could move me wherever she wanted.   

There are many different definitions out there of what good horsemanship is, but in a nutshell, I think it’s pretty basic: being able to move any part of your horse’s body, in any direction you choose, whenever you choose (my trainers brilliant definition).   A tall task indeed, but one that started with a give and take routine of me stepping towards her and she responding by yielding with her feet. This was often an awkward power struggle, but at times an interaction full of seamless grace and balance. Those moments were few and far between in the beginning, but they were just enough to feed the desperate hope that grew each time I felt success, each time I moved her feet.

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