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Issues with trailer
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Redmare
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 Posted: Sun Oct 9th, 2016 02:37 am
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Hello Dr. Deb, you may remember me posting about a year ago about my troubled chestnut mare. Since I last posted, I've been to audit with Buck, and have a much better understanding of why the mare has been as troubled as she is. I remind myself often of something you said in a thread on this board a while back, which is that when you would get frustrated with Painty and felt as if you were taking a step back, Ray would ask you how long Painty had been troubled. Your response was "his whole life", and Ray said to you something along the lines of "yes, and so it will take some time for him to become totally OK". And he eventually did. I remind myself I am in the same situation.

My question is in regards to trailering, but I'm sure it hits at something much deeper. I have been using trick training to help this mare learn focus. She now operates on a soft feel, I have the ability to get at her feet through the rope halter and lead. I taught her how to mount a low drum, and we are working on a higher one. I'm also teaching her the plie bow. The mare has been troubled about trailering in the past, and so I have taken to working her with the trailer in the same way I've been teaching her tricks: as a focus exercise that has the bonus of getting her OK with being trailered.

I can point the mare, with a soft feel, to the trailer, and she will walk in willingly up the ramp and onto it so all four feet are in the trailer entirely. I stand just outside the trailer to the right, holding the long rope, and wait until the mare settles. I know when she is settled because she cocks a leg, her ears go in a V, and her eyes soften up. It is only then I will ask her to back off, although I like to try and let her stay in this place for a few moments before I do. My goal has been to get the mare to this place every time I ask her to go on before I ask her to back off. Currently, about 50% of the time, the mare will walk on willingly, pause for about 30 seconds and then try and back off herself without being asked. She will often back partway off and I will redirect her back on, or she will start to rock her weight back, and I will cue to her keep all four feet on and still. Occasionally, she does not heed my cues and will back off at speed. I stay out of the way of her coming out, let her hit the end of the rope, and direct her back on and wait for her to sigh or otherwise relax without trying to back off herself, and then I ask her to back off and go hand graze for a few minutes.

I am trying to figure out if this response is out of fear/lack of confidence or a combination of lack of respect /impatience/anticipation, and how to best address the issue. Do I continue as I have been, or can I change something to better address the issue and show her that I am interested in seeing her settle where she is, no matter where that happens to be, and not move until I request her to? I do not want to attempt to put the butt bar up and move on to letting her hang out in there with it up until I know she will stand calmly of her own accord.

DrDeb
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 Posted: Tue Oct 11th, 2016 05:44 am
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Yes, it is an issue with the horse's Birdie, in other words, with where her attention is at any given moment.

There are two things that always underlie this particular problem, and sometimes also another thing too.

The first thing is that you probably need to go back and re-explain "go forward when I say to." This means putting the horse on the long halter rope and/or the longer longe line, and starting up and stopping numerous times. You are looking for prompt, willing obedience to the aids to go forward. In pursuit of this, you also owe it to the horse to be sure you aren't making some type of habitual mistake in your longeing technique. Generally these are errors that the handler is not aware of or only dimly aware of. Go get the most recent issue of "The Eclectic Horseman" and read my article in there on "Longeing: Why and How." This gives exact specifics, outlining (a) what people commonly do wrong when longeing, (b) how to longe correctly, and (c) the moment of transition between work on the short rein to work on the long rein, which involves the crucial moment where the horse learns to pass the handler's leading shoulder. Primarily, I'm after that you are aware of where the Green Zone is, you know to stay in or behind this zone at all times, so that the horse must always be in front of the leg or driving aid.

The second thing is to ensure that the interior of the trailer is the horse's area of focus. Their area of focus is what they are looking at, nothing more and nothing less -- really very simple. If they get looking to the sides or to the back, then that's where they are thinking about and that's where their body is going to try to go -- their body always follows their thoughts. So you have to be able to redirect their attention to the front. Tapping them on the butt or doing anything behind them is only going to draw their attention backwards -- and once the horse has already started to back out, I assure you, striking them firmly enough with a whip to stop them will be impossible -- you could break the whip over their butt and it wouldn't be enough to stop them, but it WILL be enough to convince them not to listen to YOU anymore, and that they need to defend themselves from you. Something you need to realize is that if you see the horse backing out, you're LATE.

So what you do instead is you make sure there's something good in the feed bunk at the front, something that's going to occupy their attention and encourage them to stand in there of their own free will for minutes on end. You give them some good and while they're occupied with eating it, you stand in your normal position at the rear -- the horse knows you're there -- but make no attempt whatsoever to close the butt bar or chain. The old deal about "getting the horse used to the trailer by feeding him in it" was misdirected in the sense that getting a horse USED TO anything is not the same as educating him as to what we expect him to do; habituation per se does not work. However, part of educating a horse does involve teaching him what to expect, and what he should expect when he goes in the trailer is that it will be a good place to be, someplace he desires to be.

So you drive him up or longe him up into the trailer and lo and behold, there's something yummy and absolutely zero pressure or demand EXCEPT that if he backs out, that every time he tries that, he will be driven back in again. If your horse has a normal appetite it will not take more than a couple of tries to get this point across.

The third thing that destroys a horse's willingness to go into a trailer in the first place, or stand in it quietly once he has gone in, is that he knows that the subsequent ride is going to be scary and miserable. You need to be sure that after you've loaded the horse up and are on the road to someplace, you do zero-g turns; that you remember to accellerate and decelerate very gradually; that the trailer is quite well ventilated so that the animals are not miserably hot in there. Remember that horses were once circumpolar in distribution, and no matter what breed of horse it is, they are more comfortable when the temperature is nearer freezing than nearer 90F.

Now, once you fix these things and you can report that the horse is standing in there having a nice munch of hay and does not appear to care to get out, does not initiate trying to back out -- then and only then do you close the butt bar or put up the butt chain. Remember you've been at the rear all the other times, so the horse will not at this point be mentally pulled away from his hay if he perceives you moving around some back there.

So you close the butt bar or chain, but not yet the rear doors. Instead, you leave him in there eating, and maybe you rub him on top of the butt some after you've closed the butt bar, and speak softly to him while he's still eating. And so long as he does not back up against the barrier or try to "test" it in any way, then you leave him eat for a minute or a few minutes, and you observe and see when he might JUST have started to think about something other than eating, but before that thought congeals; and at that time, BEFORE it congeals, you undo the butt chain/open the butt bar. In other words, you beat him to it -- he is never constrained because he never constrains himself. He never was disobedient because he never got that far; you beat him to it.

If instead, you put up the butt bar or chain and he does step back and push on it, then you walk around and open the escape door, and grasp the halter or lead and help him step forward. Then you redirect his attention to the food, and when he goes back to eating you pet him. You're not really rewarding him for eating, rather for focusing forward, for keeping his brain in the trailer. You set it up with the food so he can be content with his brain in the trailer. By opening the escape door and helping him step forward you are supporting him in doing the right thing and also explaining to him again what the right thing is.

And further, when he is getting close to being done eating, but BEFORE he is done, then you undo the butt barrier and you TAKE him out. You take him out; he does not take himself out; it is at a time of your choosing, not at a time of his choosing. Nonetheless, it is at a time which you perceive would be very pleasant for him. So you're not taking him out on "your time" in order to show him who's boss; rather, you're teaching him to PREFER to go in or go out when you say, because he believes what you say will always work out great for him.

After a few days of this and you see he will go in and stand, and you can put the butt bar or chain up and he has no thoughts of testing it or even touching it, then you can close the rear door. And again you don't leave it closed forever, but only just so long as he is fully engaged in eating. Then before he begins even thinking that he'd like to get out of there, you open the door, you open or take down the butt barriers, and you take him out/give him permission to step backwards. You see how this means that every day you and the horse do this, the horse is going to get an "A".

In short: every time he goes in and stands quietly, he gets rewarded by (a) no pressure, no demands and (b) even food also. But every time he backs out before you have given him a command, or explicit permission, to get out, he gets longed back in again. This is EXACTLY the same as the initial mannering lessons: if the horse steps out of his 'room' or the imaginary rectangle of space that you've put him in, then you will immediately put him back; but so long as he stands quietly in that space, then there is absolutely zero demand put on him, and maybe also even some petting or other reward.

And notice that everything really does depend upon the ability of the handler to perceive and anticipate. For we would never need to longe him in again if he had never gotten out, never even picked up a foot to move backwards, never even leaned back, never thought about going backwards. You have to catch them between the idea and the act, which means, before the act. If the handler were never late....she would tweak or rattle the line, say 'hup hup' to the horse (which means, 'better not do that, let's refocus please') BEFORE he lost his OKness about staying put, BEFORE he comes so far unsettled that he has already picked up the first foot to move....because if it gets that far, you may as well just say 'oops, I blew it' and start completely over, because that's the only thing that's going to work.

The trailer, you see, doesn't really exist at all; it's just another dotted line. Let us know how this little brushup on technique goes for you. -- Dr. Deb

 

MsEithne
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 Posted: Wed Oct 12th, 2016 12:47 pm
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Regarding part of your third factor (problem drivers), I've "cured" many dogs of carsickness without even meeting the dog. I have the owner take a container with an open top (such as a coffee mug or yogurt tub, both without lids), fill it to within one quarter inch (0.6 cm) of the rim with water and set it where they can easily see it on the dashboard as they drive. Their job is to keep that water from sloshing out of the container.

I've learned that I have to make sure that the owner takes an actual ruler to ascertain the water level because it's amazing how many people look at an inch or more (2.5 cm or more) and see it as a quarter inch (0.6 cm).

Many are amazed at how much slower they have to go around turns and how much they have to lengthen acceleration/braking distances to keep that water in the container. Those are the owners whose dogs will be cured of carsickness if their owner commits to using the open container of water for a month.

DrDeb
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 Posted: Wed Oct 12th, 2016 07:53 pm
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Great idea! -- Dr. Deb

Redmare
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 Posted: Thu Oct 13th, 2016 03:46 am
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Thank you so much, to you both.

I followed your directions today, Dr. Deb, and it did get worse before it got better. The set-up you outlined was a bit different from what I had been doing: I had both side doors open mostly because I had found the mare was more hesitant to go in if she could not see to the side. I also did not have any kind of food in there for her: I had perceived it to be exactly as you had said some people confused the purpose of the food to be. I had figured she needed to be able to walk in confidently without the bribe of food! Now I see it is only a bribe if it's used as one.

So I set it up the way you explained, and mare did not want to walk on. After a couple tries of letting her stop on the ramp and pause for a moment, she walked on a found the hay, but she only took a bite or two before immediately backing out by herself. When I would try and direct her back on, she would back up more. This happened a couple times, so I took her away from the trailer and into the arena and I asked her to move out in a large circle, making transitions from canter to trot and back again. After I was satisfied that she understood what I was looking for, we went back out and tried again. It took her a couple tries, but she finally "found" the hay bag and settled on it for a couple minutes before I asked her to back out. It does appear it made a difference whether or not the escape door on the side I was loading her on was open: she struggled much more with entering the trailer when it was shut. It was only after our longe session, when I decided to try it open, that she was OK. I understand the reason for having them shut was to minimize the distraction and draw on the birdie from other things...I imagine it would not be problematic to leave it open for now if it helps the horse?

I have had a subscription to the Eclectic Horseman for a couple of years now, so I already had the good fortune of reading your article on longeing. I know that The Green Zone, as you referred to it (I've always known it as the heartgirth, but I presume these are two different names for the same anatomical area) is the place where the rider's leg would fall. This mare and I have spent quite a bit of time on the longe and in hand, so my first instinct is to say she does understand "go forward when I say to" quite well, and yet it would appear not! Or perhaps she does, but is hesitant with this particular "dotted line" because she does not yet fully comprehend what I am looking for her to do?

I think we will need to play with this more. I caught myself late a handful of times. In thinking about your last point about making sure the ride is pleasant, I will certainly take that into consideration, although I am a pretty cautious driver to begin with...however, it occurred to me in thinking about this that this particular mare may need MORE consideration while being hauled, as she does have some physical issues and tires easily in transport, moreso than other horses I've met. I do know, however, that on the occasions I have transported this mare, I know she struggles with was I presume is the air noise from traffic going by at speed. I load her on the right so as to avoid be directly on the side of the oncoming traffic, but on state highways or interstates, for example, I can't help how other vehicles pass us, and I have felt her moving around at times when vehicles go by at speed, or a large semi is stuck next to us, for example. I'm a loss for how to help her with this, any suggestions?

Last edited on Thu Oct 13th, 2016 03:47 am by Redmare

DrDeb
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 Posted: Fri Oct 14th, 2016 12:52 pm
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Redmare, as part and parcel of your playing with this -- try turning your truck and trailer around before you try loading the mare next time. Have the front of the trailer facing the barn or her stall or her buddies, or wherever she most likes to be. This may provide that little extra bit of incentive and commitment on her part to go in the direction you ask, which "just happens" also to be "in".

This is a realization I got from observing the late great Freddy Knie on videotape. He has an Arabian stallion who will courbette (hop on its hind legs) over a series of cavalletti, the front feet never touching down. In the first scene, Knie asks the horse to rear up into the courbette position, and then invites him forward over the grid of cavalletti (Knie is standing in front of the horse, so he backs up to ask the horse to hop forward). But the horse drops and whirls and is obviously reluctant. Then the camera angle changes, you see Knie and the horse again, and voila! Like magic it works. What changed? In the first scene, Knie asks the horse to work away from the out-gate; in the second, toward it. And he finishes this little lesson for posterity by saying to the camera, "We humans are very stupid because we consistently fail to perceive things from the horse's point of view."

I said nothing at all in my previous about leaving the escape doors open or closing them while loading. If you have them open, make damned sure that whatever "window" is open is small enough and high enough that there is no possibility whatsoever that the mare will push or jump through it. "Narrow" will not be enough. On one occasion I had a horse which I had thoroughly taught that backing up out of the trailer was not going to work go "OK then sister, going forward WILL work" and he went right out the escape door, banging himself up pretty good in the process. And at that, I had the owner up in front and had instructed her to keep the horse's eyes in the trailer and to block the door -- but she was inattentive and late, and of course that's why the horse was a bad loader in the first place. So you be sure you block that exit effectively. Truth be told, if you're loading in daylight, the light coming in the vents and whatever high windows are in the trailer and the front window if there is one, lights it plenty well inside. The real reason the mare does not want to get in with the escape door closed, is that she knows that the escape door is closed.

Keep us posted as to progress. -- Dr. Deb

MsEithne
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 Posted: Sat Oct 15th, 2016 04:39 am
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I don't mean to step on any toes here but I wanted to emphasise something Dr Deb already touched on in her response.

Redmare, you wrote: It does appear it made a difference whether or not the escape door on the side I was loading her on was open: she struggled much more with entering the trailer when it was shut.

Emphasis mine.

Dr Deb pointed out that the mare is keeping her options for escape in mind, rather than being okay enough inside herself to commit to loading up with no obvious escape option.

My point is that you noticed the phenomenon and yet you did not draw the obvious conclusion: that the mare regards the emergency door as a potential escape route if things get too much for her to handle. It may be helpful to your own insight into your own biases to figure out why you didn't draw the obvious conclusion. You seem like someone experienced enough with keeping horses to know that many (not all) figure out that what looks solid or too narrow can give way if enough brute force is applied. Thankfully, speaking as someone who used to own one, very few horses make the next mental step of figuring out that if they play with something with their lips long enough, many things can be twiddled into a different state of being and used for escape or just amusement.

All this makes me wonder if something that is true for dogs is also true for horses (Dr Deb?): a dog is not truly crate trained until they will go into the crate when asked to and just stay inside the crate until given permission to leave. The door is not what keeps the dog in, it is the dog's own commitment to stay in that keeps them there.

Dogs that have merely been taught to enter the crate (or worse, who are just physically forced into the crate) and stay there only because they are physically prevented from coming out either become crate screamers or crate escape artists. There are escape proof crates made but they tend to start around $1500; way too expensive for most dog owners and way too heavy to be easily moved from place to place. Even with an escape proof crate, most crate escape artists either become very resistant about going into the escape proof crate or they become crate screamers.

With dogs, the crucial period seems to be about 30 minutes; a dog that will relax and stay inside a crate with the door wide open for 30 minutes is highly likely to be able to stay relaxed and okay in a crate for much longer--long enough that physiology takes over with the need to pee. Since dogs evolved so differently than horses and humans live with them so differently, it is highly undesirable for a dog to learn to pee in a confined space such as a crate or house. Dogs that have that 30+ minute long okay-ness with confinement trust that their handler will respond appropriately to their needs. The crucial period may be shorter or longer for horses.

So now I have a different question: how good is your horse at committing to stand still for a period of time unknown to her? If you outlined a rectangle on the ground the size of half your horse trailer with something like poles, large enough for her to see but small enough that she knows she could easily step out of the rectangle, is she okay with just standing in there comfortably without your constant supervision? Or would you have to be always within sight of her and periodically acting to stop her before she moves out of the rectangle?

Redmare
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 Posted: Sun Oct 16th, 2016 03:23 am
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Thank you, Dr. Deb.

A completely valid point and question, MsEithne. I was pondering it while soaking my mare's foot, as she came up lame with a hoof abscess yesterday. No trailer work for a while, but plenty of time to think!

It did occur to me that the mare was likely seeking the comfort of having an "out" (whether or not she'd actually try and use that out is another question) when I realized she'd much prefer to load with the escape door open. I just didn't say it in quite so many words. But I suppose the other reason it didn't occur to me to be quite so obvious about it was because having the door open was how I was taught to load horses many years ago. Now my experience has been predominantly with straight load bumper pull trailers, and I have always led horses in, not taught them to self-load as I am doing with this mare. I have never trailered alone, so there was always someone to put the butt bar behind the horse, and you had the escape door open so once the horse was in and tied, you could step out easily.

So to me, this is not so much about biases, but about my still being in the process of identifying what practices are part of this old way of thinking and no longer useful. For in reality, we didn't leave those doors open for just our ease of use: we left them open as a quick escape in case something happened, because it was well accepted that most horses didn't like to trailer. I still know veterinarians who will suggest, as a last ditch attempt to get a colicky horse to pass manure, to take them for a trailer ride.

So since my trailer escape doors are definitely wide enough to get a horse stuck and not easily blocked, safety would suggest I should leave them shut. But in the bigger picture, it would seem that having them open is hampering my ability to get the mare absolutely OK with being in there, i.e. with no escape route, not helping it.

As per your question about how well she stands, it's still a work in progress. She still has somewhat of a limit to how long she will stand willingly before she thinks about leaving. But she ground ties pretty well, and I can confidently give her the command to stand, drop the lead rope, and leave her standing in the aisle or arena to go get something, knowing I could be gone a couple minutes and she'd still be there where I left her. I often groom and tack up like this. In fact, I soaked her foot this morning while she was ground tied, and I only needed to remind her once in a 20 minute span that she was not to move. But the idea of "going to her room" and having that be a wonderful place to be for as long as I ask her to be there, is still something we are working on. After a while she will get antsy and start either drifting mentally, or offering to do something she thinks maybe I want.

MsEithne
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 Posted: Sun Oct 16th, 2016 03:04 pm
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RedmareSo to me, this is not so much about biases, but about my still being in the process of identifying what practices are part of this old way of thinking and no longer useful.

I had to do the same when I learned to train dogs. In the first few years after I made a switch from what I initially learned, I figured out I had to do a form of constant reality checking: why do I think or assume this? does this have validity or is it another bit I need to discard? I developed a strong habit of self assessing and it continues to this day. I've learned a different way or order in processing my thoughts.

As per your question about how well she stands, it's still a work in progress. She still has somewhat of a limit to how long she will stand willingly before she thinks about leaving. But she ground ties pretty well, and I can confidently give her the command to stand, drop the lead rope, and leave her standing in the aisle or arena to go get something, knowing I could be gone a couple minutes and she'd still be there where I left her. I often groom and tack up like this. In fact, I soaked her foot this morning while she was ground tied, and I only needed to remind her once in a 20 minute span that she was not to move. But the idea of "going to her room" and having that be a wonderful place to be for as long as I ask her to be there, is still something we are working on. After a while she will get antsy and start either drifting mentally, or offering to do something she thinks maybe I want.

Again, I really hope Dr Deb weighs in on this. I know the crucial period for dogs is 30 minutes; if a dog can be contented for 30 minutes in one spot with no reminders and their human out of sight, they will be fine for whatever their individual maximum crate stay is (for most dogs, that's 6 to 8 hours). But does that apply to horses? I don't know.

If I saw what you're describing in a dog, I would think that dog is not truly content (okay) inside. I think it is a bit like one of the types of meditation that focuses on being in the moment without past or future; most people who try it discover that while it is easy to describe, it is much more difficult to do (I'm nearly 60, was born into a Buddhist family and I still purely suck at meditation!). Dogs who are at rest that are truly content go into a mindspace that I think is very like meditation--they are just there, in the moment, not fretting about anything, just enjoying the moment they are in without undue excitement or lethargy.

Fortunately, dogs seem to learn it more easily than this human. It is greatly to the dog's advantage to learn to do this because it has so many benefits for them both in every day life and whenever there is something unexpected, like breaking a bone and having to be closely confined for 8+ weeks.

If your mare were a dog, I'd say that she has a limited capacity for okayness right now. Ten minutes, maybe? And that's only when certain conditions are in effect; she doesn't seem to have generalised okayness so that she's okay no matter where she is or what is going on around her. She's still stuck with emotionally reacting with everything that goes by--her own thoughts, something blowing in the wind, only in certain places, etc.

Well, this old rider and dog trainer thinks that crates and trailers are no more than collars and halters--they are something every horse and every dog has to learn about and accept. Not harder to learn to accept than learning to be internally okay.

Harder to learn is usually a human projection anyway.

Kuhaylan Heify
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 Posted: Sun Oct 16th, 2016 09:10 pm
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I'm not sure about projection. In my own case I think harder to learn means that my concretization( god what a word) hasn't been broken up enough by me for my horse to follow my logic.
best wishes
Bruce Peek

MsEithne
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 Posted: Mon Oct 17th, 2016 04:35 pm
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After mulling it over, I realised I could have made my point in a much shorter form.

I believe that there is a difference between patience and okayness (contentment). Patience is the ability to wait and it is not limitless. If patience were limitless in any animal, someday the situation would arise where the animal would simply wait until they dehydrated to death.

Okayness (contentment) can be limitless. It isn't anticipating what may happen next because the animal feeling that inner certainty has no need either to worry or to crave stimulation (which often manifests as fidgets).

I hope this makes more sense.

DrDeb
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 Posted: Sun Oct 23rd, 2016 08:09 pm
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This is exactly what my poster-to-color is all about. Please go see the description in the announcement thread above. I thought -- maybe if they took time to color it, they'd have a good time doing that but also there would be time and opportunity for the message to sink in. Cheers -- Dr. Deb


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