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Advice for overweight riders
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A Fat Girl & A Fat Horse
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 Posted: Sat Feb 27th, 2010 03:48 am
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Hi Dr Deb,

I am the author of a resource blog for plus sized horseback riders, encouraging them to find size appropriate mounts and take into considerations any limitations or challenges they may meet while continuing to do the things that they love.

In one of my entries, I briefly addressed appropriate mounts and touched, not very articulately however, on short backs and good bone. I would love to be able to share some information or insight from someone with your background and experience to help my readers better understand the endeavor they are undertaking when selecting a horse that is size appropriate to their body.

I was also wondering if there was any other advice or considerations you would suggest to plus sized riders in order to maintain the soundness and safety of both their and their horse's body?

My blog can be found at: http://afatgirlafathorse.blogspot.com - if posting a link is inappropriate, feel free to remove.

Thank you in advance for your words,
Amanda

DrDeb
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 Posted: Sat Feb 27th, 2010 04:51 am
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Amanda, if you go to google and click on the advanced search option, it will bring up a page where you can specify keywords plus it has a box where you can dub in the link to this forum, which is: http://esiforum/mywowbb.com. Specifying this as the search domain will limit the search to posts that exist only in this Forum.

We have discussed the topic of "how much weight a horse can bear on its back" a number of times here. The basic rules and concepts are:

1. Total weight of rider plus tack must not exceed 250 lbs. There is no horse alive, of any breed, any build, anywhere, that can go more than a few minutes with more weight on its back than this. Not even the U.S. Army ever packed a mule heavier than this. So if you mean by "plus sized riders" that they weigh more than 250 lbs., including the weight of their saddle, then in good conscience what you must tell them is to look for another hobby activity, or confine their horse activities to either driving or groundwork.

2. Horseback riding is not a right: it is not a right for small people, not a right for large people. It is a privilege. If the person is too big to be on a horse's back without doing the animal harm, they should in ethics and courtesy acknowledge that as a fact -- not demand that they ride anyway. To do this would be like demanding that, because they dream of being Superman, they should be permitted to fly when they dress up in a red cape and jump out of a fifth-story window. In other words: what they dream of is a violation of natural law, to which there are no exceptions.

3. It is a lie to tell any child that he can be anything he wants to be. You cannot be anything you want to be. You can only be what you are fitted to be. If you have a tin ear, I don't care how much you practice; you are never going to be Mozart, and you are also never going to be pleasant to be around when you are practicing your clarinet or your voice lessons. If you are short, you can love basketball with all your heart and learn to carry the ball aggressively and shoot like a demon, but you still aren't going to get on a professional basketball team. If you are long-limbed and not very strong, you're never going to be a gymnast. Unless you have knees that bend both directions, you're never going to be an Olympic medalist in the butterfly or freestyle. And unless you weigh less than 250 lbs. including your tack, you will struggle on horseback, you will fall more often, you will get hurt worse every time you do fall, and you will slowly ruin your horse's back. If you are a plus-sized person, find an activity that you like and one that you have an aptitude for.

4. A "plus sized person" is not one that is necessarily overweight. However, many large people are overweight. The more anyone is overweight, even if they have talent for horseback riding, the more they limit themselves. I know this from my own case. A decade ago, before my knees became so painful that I could no longer run (except in a therapy pool), I weighed 20 lbs. less than now. I am aware that the extra 20 lbs. costs me in the areas of stamina, flexibility, timing, balance, and feel, both in ground schooling and in the saddle. Another way to put this is that for every extra 20 lbs. you're carrying, you lose 1 "dressage level". I know several obese upper-level riders who would be KILLER if they would or could lose weight. Sometimes, for whatever reason, weight loss isn't going to be possible, and if that's the reality, and the total is above 250 lbs. rider + tack, then the person needs to re-structure their horse activities in such a way that they stay off the animal's back.

5. The maximum weight-bearing capacity of 250 lbs. already mentioned applies only to horses with weight-carrying conformation to their backs -- and this by no means includes all horses. Some horses cannot comfortably carry even 175 lbs. rider + tack; so that if the rider rides 'western' where the saddle typically weighs at least 20 lbs., then the rider is going to have to be below around 155 lbs. Horses that cannot pack the maximum have long backs and, more specifically, narrow, tubular couplings -- they are what we call 'dog backed' because the span from the last rib to the hips is rounded and narrow as in a dog. We do not ride dogs and this is the essential reason why. To be a weight-carrier, a horse needs a strong loin coupling, which is short, smooth, pathology-free, broad, and deep. See my conformation series in Equus Magazine, the issue out this month, for helpful specifics on the coupling.

6. The ability to pack weight does not increase with height. Tall horses in fact often have weaker backs than shorter ones. Ponies often have the strongest backs of all. It is a question of absolute breadth across the loins, secondarily of depth from loin to groin, which indicates whether the horse makes the effort to arch its back and oppose the rider's weight with every step he takes.

7. The ability to pack weight does not relate specifically to the size of the feet or the amount of "bone". If you have been following the Equus Magazine series, you will already have learned that the heavier the horse (or horse + rider + tack), the more "bone" the horse needs in order to stay sound over the long haul. However, to be a weight-carrier the horse always has to have the short, broad coupling. If he is long-backed and dog-loined, he can have the recommended amount of 8 inches or more of bone-tendon circumference per 1,000 lbs. of weight, and it won't help him: his back will still go down over time, the weaker the sooner.

8. The ability to pack weight does relate heavily to how well the horse carries himself. Many, many horses ridden by people plenty small and light enough to fit below the 250-lb. cutoff weight slowly ruin their horses over time anyway, because they either do not know how, or do not care, to insist that the horse round itself up the entire time they're in the saddle. "Rounding up" is the minimum requisite effort that fills the rider's seat and opposes and neutralizes the downward force of her weight.

9. The ability to pack weight comfortably over the long haul also relates heavily to riding technique. If the rider bounces when trying to sit the trot, intentionally jabs the horse with her seatbones, sits all the time to one side of the saddle, hangs on the reins, or believes in "breaking the horse back at the root of the neck" in order to obtain high head-carriage, these things are recipes for a short useful life for the horse, and again, the weaker the back to begin with, the sooner it will go down.

10. The exact same may be said of tack: the heavier the rider, the more crucial it is that the saddle fit the horse well. And the more inexperienced or clumsy the rider, again the more crucial is good saddle fit. A rider's mere presence on the horse's back hyperstimulates the muscles that HOLLOW the back; so the last thing we want to do is add to this by hyperstimulating them further through bouncing on his back and/or jabbing it with an ill-fitting saddle.

These are the truths that I can share with you concerning rider weight and the horse's weight-bearing abilities. I am not lecturing anybody to lose weight. What I am doing is reminding you that not everyone is cut out to be a rider; there is a limit above which we cannot go and still claim that we care about horses' welfare. There are plenty of satisfying high-skill activities around horses other than riding, which makes it even more wrong to use these beautiful animals as vehicles to fulfill an unattainable fantasy. -- Dr. Deb

A Fat Girl & A Fat Horse
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 Posted: Sat Feb 27th, 2010 03:59 pm
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Thanks, Deb - I tried using the search function but I am afraid I never seem to be able to master it!

Allen Pogue
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 Posted: Sat Feb 27th, 2010 05:35 pm
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Sometimes a picture says it all.

 AP

Attachment: fanny-biggs.jpg (Downloaded 700 times)

Wow.
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 Posted: Sun Feb 3rd, 2013 01:46 am
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I think this is an absolutely ridiculous, and insensitive article. When telling a child they can be anything they want, there is no wrong in that. If we all did what we were "built" to do, no one would be happy. It's about happiness.

I know alot of overweight riders. They would beg to differ with your insights.

Jamsession
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 Posted: Sun Feb 3rd, 2013 02:29 pm
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Wow, what about the horses happiness? This is not about denying anyone the joy of working with horses, but denying your child the lesson that they are not the only beings with needs and wants, and that perhaps the needs and well being of others must be put above themselves is cruel in and of itself. It's called humility and humbleness, something few children have these days...

Dorothy
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 Posted: Sun Feb 3rd, 2013 06:20 pm
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To my mind this is sensible, factual and non-judgemental advice, that keeps reality in mind and in sight.


Sharon Adley
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 Posted: Mon Feb 4th, 2013 05:48 pm
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In line with this thread, I observed a rather heavy woman (200+-) mount a 28-year-old gelding bareback from a mounting block just recently and the poor old horse staggered as she struggled into position.  Thankfully she just walked him for a few minutes and got off.  Shortly thereafter, a young slender girl also mounted the old guy.  By sheer weight difference alone, she was more agile and mounted without difficulty if not finesse.  The difference in the gelding's stance and movement under this rider was obvious for anyone with eyes that care to see.

A well-known self-promoting clinician in recent years was gaining weight at a rate to put him plus tack over the 250 limit.  I watched him (on video) repeatedly mount and dismount a young filly from the ground, from both sides, and the difficulty she had in keeping her balance as he swung on and off was obvious.  It was one of the many things I observed of this guy that really turned me off to his so-called horsemanship.

Ray Hunt said, "I'm here for the horse."  If you're not going to be there for the horse, find another hobby.

Sharon

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 Posted: Sat Feb 23rd, 2013 04:56 am
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What is the source for the statement about 250 lbs being the limit for Army mules? Why should one accept that criterion? I've seen some big guys on little cutting horses working a cow and the horse didn't even seem to notice the rider was there. That said, the horses had muscles like I've seen on weight lifters at the gym.

DrDeb
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 Posted: Sat Feb 23rd, 2013 08:22 am
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Vita, the mounted armies of the world, back in that earlier day when the major world powers still fought wars on horseback, knew a great deal about what was possible in terms of moving men and equipment on horseback. This is the "why" of why we should accept their advice: they knew what worked, and they knew what kind of working conditions would kill a horse or mule -- kill him fast, or kill him slow.

We also have some more modern data on the subject, beginning in about 1900 and continuing to the present, which comes from what were originally serious mounted military tests and what now have become the endurance and "competitive trail" competitions. In general, what we have learned from these many hundreds of trials and contests, in which good data on the condition of the horses was noted and kept, is that heavy riders cannot beat light ones. Not only weight over 250 lbs., but every extra pound that the horse must bear, weighs against his ability to maintain the necessary speed over the required distance of ground.

I am not here speaking primarily of the shorter contests, either; these are essentially horseraces, i.e. in which the average speed in miles or km per hour is greater than six. What we as pleasure riders should primarily look at is the data from the longer-distance rides, the 75's and especially the 100's, where the average speed and energy output required of the horse is more in line with what anybody might do on their local trail, i.e. less than 6 mph. And here also we find that heavy riders generally cannot beat lighter ones.

Do not get mixed up with thinking that there is a heavyweight division: there is, of course, in most of the modern contests, although not in the old days when it was military, because in the old days the military did not tolerate obesity as it sometimes now does, so that in the old days all the riders were at a proper weight, and fit. So yes there is a heavyweight division, but I don't know of a single long-distance rider who weighs more than 250 lbs., and most of the "heavyweight" entries are in the 160-180 lb. range (that is, rider + tack and everything else that is to be carried included).

Your statement about seeing big guys on little cutting horses holds about as much water as when we all knew the kid down the block who was allowed to go downtown by himself or with his buddies, or go to the movies and hang out with older boys. And didn't we all go to our mothers and say, "yeah but JOHNNIE gets to do it, so how come I can't." And your mother said, "just because Johnnie does it does not mean you get to do it. We don't do those things in our family."

So yes, there are quite a few heavy people who try to ride. And every single one of them who weighs more than 250 lbs. tack + rider both included, is asking their horse to pack more than an Army mule was asked to pack. The Army knew that this would shorten the mule's working life. There was a cost-benefit ratio there for the Army.

There is also a cost-benefit ratio there for you, me, or anybody. You want your tack to fit; you want to know how to sit properly and you want to learn how to ride well. These are things that any decent person would want, because they would realize that they would be of benefit to their horse. So it's a cost-benefit ratio but I also have to assume that you love your horse in some manner, that you have compassion for him. And for that reason also -- if not to take care of your own pre-diabetes or your own high blood pressure or your own high cholesterol or aching joints or the other thousand health downsides that there are to obesity -- you would make every effort to achieve and maintain a proper weight. And if you weigh too much -- you stop riding until you can get some of the weight off.

As I have said in just about every post in this thread: you do not have a RIGHT to ride, and neither do I nor anyone else. Riding is a privilege, and we owe it to our animals to be as fair as we can be to them. In this school, we do not believe that horses are chattel, or that they are jeeps, or that they are disposable. -- Dr. Deb

 

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 Posted: Sat Feb 23rd, 2013 07:41 pm
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This really makes sense to me! I put on a considerable amount of weight after I got an office job. At that time, I was also a college student and a mom, and I ate tons of calories which I had no hope of burning. This is one of the reasons I have stayed off my horse; however that's changing, because I have started working hard at losing weight. I am starting with work on the ground to help my low-backed older mare strengthen her underline, and I hope to get back in the saddle in the next 6 months. I am sure that getting on and walking a lot, which I need to do anyway until I learn to encourage and feel the softness, won't hurt her even if I haven't entirely met my weight loss goal before getting on again.

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 Posted: Sat Feb 23rd, 2013 10:13 pm
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And by the weigh -I mean, way --  My saddle and I weigh less than 150 and we ride an aged pony. My original question, which can't be answered here, concerned a different pony that a lot of people would have euthanized at birth. Never be rideable, they said.  How little we know.

Of the millions of horses in the world, there have to be some that can be safely ridden by weighty people -- safely for both horse and rider.

Another weigh in-- I notice on the fat girl web site that riders who try to ride at their plus-size weight, find that it's not comfortable and they either lose weight or they stop riding. Sounds like a plus-side of not discouraging riding by the the plus-sized.

Vita

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 Posted: Sat Feb 23rd, 2013 10:55 pm
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Oh dear, looks like my previous reply didn't make it. I wish I could reconstruct it. Basically, I did not disagree with the well known fact that added weight reduces performance. That's the reason for handicapping race horses with added weight. However, there are SOME, maybe only a FEW, racehorses that can outperform other racehorses despite added weight and even stay sound.

My interest in weight-carrying is not for competition. If a heavy rider needs the therapy that riding a horse can provide better than any other therapy, then I don't think it is cruel to ask a horse to carry that rider 30 or 40 minutes once or twice or even three times a week on a level surface in decent weather. I can't believe there aren't any horses that can do that.

Why do you pooh-pooh the cutting horse rider you've never seen? There are all kinds. One older gentleman is about 6'2", probably over 250 with saddle, has ridden a small muscular stud for over a decade without harm to either (and he knows harm when he sees it). He doesn't compete at high levels if at all, he mostly moseys along looking for stray calves, dismounting to fix fences. He could probably lose a few pounds and use a lighter saddle. But why?

I'm not asking a pleasure horse to do what an Army mule does/did. I wouldn't put a 300-lb beginner on a two-year-old.  I would prefer not to see that beginner on a big ten-year-old fit Warmblood. But I do think there are such horses that could carry such a rider slowly for short periods without injury. I think that starting horses under saddle too early, regardless of the rider's weight, is more likely to cause injury than asking a fully mature and fit (FIT!) horse to carry more weight than an Army mule would carry.

Has anyone studied non-competitive weight carrying? Why shouldn't it be possible to physically train some horses to carry more weight than most can , just as weight lifters train to lift more with than the average person would dream of lifting? My small driving pony could pull incredible amounts of weight. She could also carry a much heavier person than one would expect for her size (tho' seldom asked to do it).  Does harness work strengthen a horse's back for carrying? Starting with the ideal weight carrying conformation, what exercises would improve the horse's ability to carry weight? If you stop at 250 lbs how will you ever know?

DrDeb
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 Posted: Sun Feb 24th, 2013 08:42 am
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Dear Ride: If a heavy person wants or needs to be around horses, there is a world of ground-schooling, line driving, and driving-to-cart and wagon that they can do -- instead of ride.

To answer your other statements one by one:

(1) I'm not in the business of pooh-poohing; I am merely giving you the facts of the matter -- the data as we have it. It is you who are insisting on the ridiculous. By this I mean, you may for my part go squash the devil out of your horse if that's what pleases you, dear -- it's your affair entirely, your right under the law -- as well as being a measure of your ethics. We have more courtesy and more compassion for our animals than that in this school -- but you are not a member of this school.

(2) You said, "I'm not asking a pleasure horse to do what an Army mule did". If you ask your horse to carry over 250 lbs., that's correct; as I said, even the Army never did that -- but YOU are making a plea for doing it because you think that it's OK because you're covering less ground or spending "less time in the saddle". But you see, it does not matter whether you're on the horse for five minutes or forty minutes or two hours -- you squash him just the same, in other words, you do the same damage to him whether you can see it "immediately" or not. Two hours is the longest anyone should ever ride a horse without getting off it to give it a break, and the Army knew that and so do all the current enduro competitors -- not to mention working cowboys of this and earlier eras. Anything that applies to a rider weighing 80 lbs. applies a fortiori to a rider weighing 250 lbs.

(3) Whether data are taken concerning the physical condition of the horse during a competition or during pleasure rides would make absolutely no difference. The great thing about the modern enduro competitions is that they have rather close veterinary control, and at some rides, other knowledgeable people are present who are there to take photographs or are otherwise permitted to examine the horses and make systematic notes. I have on a number of occasions been privileged to be one of these people. At a competition, one gets a concentration of rider-horse teams, and thereby lots of good data in a short period of time. It would certainly be possible to gather data from boucoups private individuals going out for a ride, but we don't normally have the veterinarian there, nor are other impartial experts on hand; and there would only be one, or just a few riders, so it would be rather inefficient.

(4) As to teaching horses to carry the rider: the PRIMARY job of a riding horse (as opposed to a race horse, a draft horse, a carriage horse, or any other type) is to carry weight on its back over a distance of ground, maintaining the horse as serviceably sound over a long span of years. The physical technique for resisting the downward "squashing" which is the inescapable side-effect of having a rider on their back is the one thing that all riding horses need to learn, and yet it is also almost never explicitly addressed. I can tell you from years of study concerning this, that the majority of horses in this country are not taught to "round up" when they move, because the riders do not know how to teach it to them. Rounding up is the weightbearing posture for a horse, and they need to do this whether the rider weighs 80 lbs. or 250. When it is not taught to the horse, the ultimate result in all cases is that the horse's back will sag over time. As it sags, the chances of damage to the dorsal processes and to the intervertebral joints are greatly increased. The deep intervertebral sheathing of ligaments is stretched as well -- little by little, day by day, ride by ride, step by step on each ride. Only a small amount of sagging is enough to start the several processes that create the damage.

I have discussed in numerous public seminars, and also rather thoroughly in my ongoing series on conformation biomechanics currently appearing in Equus Magazine, those conformational features which structure a horse for weightbearing, and which indeed define him as a horse of riding type as opposed to one of the other types. These aspects of a horse's build are protective to a degree, but nothing can protect the horse when the structural strength of the articulations and the tissues -- ligament, tendon, muscle, cartilage, and bone -- are exceeded. This is why, although one good rule of thumb states that the rider should weigh no more than 20% of the horse's weight, that rule is only good up to an absolute rider + tack weight of 250 lbs.

Now, I have at this point said all that I think needs to be said upon this matter. I have given extensive information in posts higher up in this thread. "Ride", and others, who want to do whatever they want to do (irrespective of compassion or courtesy toward the animal, and in the teeth of the laws of physics), can do as they wish -- but don't come back here with the thought that you are going to convince me, or others of our school, to give you some kind of "permission".

There is, in short, such a thing as Natural Law. Natural Laws are laws that are built into the structure of the universe. Unlike "legal law" (the laws made up by mankind), Natural Law cannot be violated. You can try to do so; and foolish people often have tried to do so. By this I mean that, for all I care, you can go right on dressing yourself up as Superman and jumping out of sixth-floor windows, and see what happens.

There are many things that an obese or very large person can do with and around horses. There are other things that can be done to ease the horse's burden no matter what the rider weighs. But weight itself cannot be escaped, nor will it change, unless the obese person makes weight loss a priority for her horse's sake, and succeeds in getting their weight below about 220 lbs. -- Dr. Deb

 

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 Posted: Mon Feb 25th, 2013 04:26 am
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Your item #4 is what I was looking for. I have been playing devil's advocate because of the very circumstances which you deplore -- most horses . . . of course most horses don't have riders that can teach them.  Riders have to have instructors to teach them. Can any instructor teach a beginner rider how to get a horse to round up his back?  IF a horse does learn to round his back, will he do it for the inexperienced beginner who doesn't know how or have the coordination to ask? (That's a rhetorical question.)

"(4) As to teaching horses to carry the rider: the PRIMARY job of a riding horse (as opposed to a race horse, a draft horse, a carriage horse, or any other type) is to carry weight on its back over a distance of ground, maintaining the horse as serviceably sound over a long span of years. The physical technique for resisting the downward "squashing" . . . is the one thing that all riding horses need to learn, and yet it is also almost never explicitly addressed." EXACTLY! " . . .  horses in this country are not taught to "round up" when they move, because the riders do not know how to teach it to them." YES YES "Rounding up is the weightbearing posture for a horse, and they need to do this whether the rider weighs 80 lbs. or 250."  ABSOLUTELY!  It's not as if 249 lbs is OK but 251 is not.
 
" . . . nothing can protect the horse when the structural strength of the articulations and the tissues -- ligament, tendon, muscle, cartilage, and bone -- are exceeded.
  OF COURSE . . . true for people, too.   

I have a stack of EQUUS magazines and The Horse etc. that I used to read and sometimes refer back to. I might look for the latest EQUUS in the library to see if what you wrote tells me anything useful.  I've never found anything that applies to my worthless pony. His anatomical aberrations make one wonder how he can walk never mind carry someone around, but he can.  The pony I ride is quite elderly and still sound so I guess her conformation is OK. I am also elderly so I suppose we'll be riding off into the sunset together. Adios!


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