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With all my students in my 35 years of being a professional riding instructor I have yet to see anyone that can actually have a relaxed and soft sitting trot.
Most instructors teach the trot by having the rider trot more . One cannot learn correctness if one is practicing incorrectly. Simple logic!
First the sitting trot is one of the most relaxed and effortless way to ride a horse. Also one should have an effective sitting trot to be able to get a nice smooth canter depart. If the rider does not , the why should the horse give the rider a smooth canter transition?
Start train you and your horse by through doing a nice slow walk. This is done by relaxing your hips so they actually move with the horses back. By learning how to do this your horse will learn how to relax his/her back and be able to swing the horses legs better underneath the horse. When you relax your hips do make sure you are not pinning your knees . Remember relax your lower legs also. Your lower legs should be lightly around the horses barrel. . your entire body should feel like it is jello. You should not have any stiffens in your entire body.
Yes that includes your ankles. Your ankles should feel like they are relaxing down , not being pushed down. (If you are pushing down your ankles to get a deep heel you will be pushing your self off the saddle and not relaxing your hips. ) To simulate the feel of deep relaxed ankles you can stand on steps, with your toes on the step , holding on a railing or something to keep your balance,the slowly allow your ankles to deepen or get lower . Look and see how low the ankles can get while staying comfortable. Are your ankles the same angle as you ride at the walk? If they are good . If not then how do you expect your ankles to be relaxed when you are actually riding ? (Hint... This is also a good exercise to be able to relax and stretch the muscles , tendons and ligaments for riding. )
Getting back to the walk. Now walk on a straight line, or as straight you can walk in a relaxed manner, and tighten or stop your hips from moving . Your horse should slow down , some horses will actually stop . They stop because the horse's natural flow of movement has stopped. Now relax your hips or release your hips . Your horse should walk more fluidly forward . This simple exercise can also be used to slow your horse down instead of using a half halt with your hands or arms.
Now once this relaxation and stiffening or slowing your hips down is accomplished you are ready for the next step.
Look at the horses inside shoulder . When the horses inside shoulder is back softly squeeze your inner calf on the horse's side. When the leg starts to move forward slowly release your leg to the relaxed position or as I call it a neutral position of relaxation. Then look at the outside leg and watch when the outside shoulder is back also. now squeeze your outside calf lightly on the horse side and slowly release your calf on the horses side to the neutral position.
With this accomplished now squeeze and release your inside leg when the inside shoulder is back and then squeeze and release the outside shoulder is back. This will create a tempo for the horse to listen to and will start to move a little more forward. The fast the correct tempo (see the above) if the inside and then outside leg the faster the horse will walk forward . If you use to much leg the horse will trot. Be careful not to use too much leg.
Once your legs can find a tempo of slow and then fast and then slow the horse will start listen to the tempos the rider has created.
Now your hands should have light straight line contact with the horse's mouth , Contact should be just the the amount of pressure to hold the reins straight . Squeeze release your inside hand and outside in same tempo of the inside and outside leg . This informs the horse not to trot and will also soften the horse's mouth . This will also start to tell the horse to listen to the tempo of the rider's fingers.
The next step is when the rider is squeeze and releases the riders calf slowly shift your weight to the side you are using your calf. This gets the horse to re balance the horse's stride and engage the inside and outside legs. It will also teach the rider how to re balance the horse and to step side to side softly at the trot.
Most riders only think of the up and down movement of the horse as they bounce around on the horses back . The horse has four different movements at all gaits. Front to back and side to side. It usually is the side to side motion that creates the bouncing on the horse's back.
By now you are probably wondering how the walk,creating the tempo of the horse and stepping will help the sitting trot.
The rider must educate the horse on these aids to best be able to control the trot. I have found the reason why most riders do not have an effective sitting trot is because they are too busy trying to hang on and stay in the saddle.
With the rider's aids of hands , the stepping side to side softly and legs creating a tempo the rider can practice a forward tempo and then a slower tempo until the this can be accomplished easily.
Slowly increase the horse tempo , or speed (not really speed but length of stride) , at the walk until the horse "accidentally" starts a slow trot . Just sit to the trot a few strides and slow the tempo down with the riders hands , slow stepping and legs . The rider may need to take a little more contact on the horse's mouth to slow or downward transition into the walk.
Notice I have not ever spoken about a transition much , There is one piece for the walk trot transition I have left out. That will be gone over once the slow sitting trot is accomplished.
Make sure once at the trot the rider only trots a few strides . Once a few strides are easy, for the horse and rider team, then keep the forward tempo maybe 2 more strides. Then slow the horse again by slowing the tempo , using all the correct aids . Do this until it is again easy for the team.
If at any time this becomes difficult then go back to the start of the article and practice again from the beginning. One or both of the team members did not get the memo of listening to the tempo.
Once the rider can take a few more slow steps then go a little further . Do not get carried away and do this until you fail. If you do this then the team will need to go back to the start of the article and re learn the correct steps.
This takes as long as it takes to stay slow , calm , quiet and relaxed of both horse and rider team.
Do not rush this !
Once you can accomplish this slowly then increase the tempo slowly again for a few steps. So go a little more forward / faster and slow the horse . Do this until you can do a relaxed slow or forward sitting trot.
In summary create a tempo in conjunction with the horses legs. The tempo is found by using the rider's aids of inside and outside squeeze and release of the rider's calf , inside and out side stepping and inside and outside squeeze and release of the fingers . Make sure the contact of the reins are only the amount of holding the reins straight not tight or pulling/holding.
This is the foundation of all the movements of dressage or as I call it correct riding.
Ride and train well
If it was good enough for Genghis Khan, it's good enough for me (and you)
Using your legs, knees, weight and hips as aids to help your horse's performance.
Position of the rider's legs for dressage work:
The rider's legs should be extended vertically down. The length of rider's stirrup leathers/irons should be at a length that the rider feels safe and comfortable. Too short of the irons will create (most of the time) stiffness of your hips. Too long of the stirrups will leave the rider insecure and reaching for the irons, whereby they will not be able to use their legs properly because the rider is afraid to relax. That fear is because the rider is afraid of falling off.
Now most will say "Then the rider should ride without irons." By riding without irons the rider will be gripping with their knees to stay on. By doing this the rider will rarely have a secure seat/leg. Also the human being's body is not built to have their knees in contact with the saddle and still be able to have a lower leg contact.
I never suggest anyone ride without irons. Most people that I have seen that have ridden without irons get stiff and are afraid to move. This is also included in being lunged without irons. Same fears. Sometimes worse because the rider does not control the horse's movements. Also the horse is always bending (or trying to bend) to stay on the lunge circle. Then the horse does not stay balanced and the rider is not secure. Not being secure = fear.
When speaking with students some say they can ride better without irons! I tell them they make irons to help us; not to hinder us.
In an article
"Mongolia’s biggest breakthrough – metal stirrups"
In " History of Equestrian Stirrups"
Genghis Khan claimed the largest land empire under his rule and many historians believed that the power of his mighty cavalry was due to a technological breakthrough: the metal stirrups.
The metal stirrup allowed Mongolian riders unrivaled mobility, stability, and balance thus giving them a great advantage in any fight.
If it was good enough for Genghis Khan to almost rule the world by having stirrups then who am I to argue??
When I hear "I can ride better without Irons" this means to me that the rider is not relaxed in the irons and their legs are banging on the horses sides and are not being used properly with irons.
The rider's legs should be relaxed.
Now another mortal sin .... the riders knees should be slightly open off the horse. This allows the rider's lower leg (calf) to rest softly on the horses sides.
(I could never figure out how the lower leg was to be on the horses sides while my knees were pinned to the saddle. The human body does not bend like that!)
This position will also allow the rider's seat/hips to relax . By relaxing the hips, the rider will be able to control the hips by stiffening them to slow or stop the horse's movement. Then if the rider relaxes the hips this will allow the rider's hips to flow with the horse's movement. This allows the horse to have more freedom of movement, thereby allowing the horse to have a longer length of stride.
The rider's knees should be able to open and close as the rider needs. By doing this the rider will control the "lateral lean" of the horse and control the horse's shoulders.
The lateral lean of the horse can easily be seen when one watches a barrel racer. The horse is severely leaning close to barrel. In dressage movements this can be used in the canter pirouette, shoulder in, haunches in, or when the horse is actually strong enough to balance on each section of the turn (or each quadrant) of a circle.
The inside leg (the leg facing the inside of a circle) should be at the girth and the outside leg should be slight forward of the girth. The leg at the girth controls the horses entire body. The leg forward from the girth control the horse's shoulders. When the leg is placed behind the girth, it controls the horse's haunches.
This is simple physics. Imagine if the horse was a straight board hanging from the center and balanced in the air. If you put pressure on center of the board, the board moves away from the pressure. If you put pressure on the same board forward of the center (in front of the girth) of the board, the front of the board moves away from the pressure and will move the front of the board to the outside. If you put pressure behind the center of the board (behind the girth) the back part of the board (hindquarters) will move away from the pressure.
How the lower leg (calf) should be used is a light squeeze and release of contact on the horse's side. The most important part is the release of the pressure. This release is the reward for the horse moving from the lower leg.
The pressure from the lower leg should never remain "on" the horse. If the rider does have the lower leg constantly pressing on the horse to send the horse forward then the horse will not have self carriage. The rider then has to keep the horse going.
Instead, softly squeeze and release the lower leg. If the horse does not respond to the soft queue then the horse should be disciplined. (Remember Disobedience = discipline + one. Do not have an argument with your horse. A discipline should actually be a discipline.) This should be repeated until the horse learns how to listen to the soft queue of the lower leg and move from that queue. After all, the horse can feel a fly on its side and responds to the fly. Why can't the horse listen to your soft lower leg appropriately and move from it?
Using your weight when riding depends upon how well trained and skilled the horse and rider team is. For example, when first working with your horse on a turn, the rider's weight should be lightly to the outside. The reason behind this is that the rider's weight to the outside will lighten up the horse's inside hind leg and allow the horse to engage (bringing the hind leg under the horse and between the horse's 2 front legs) more easily and allowing the horse to bend it's back and make an arc.
As the team improves, the rider's weight can be in the center of the horse. As the team becomes more skilled in riding a turn (an arc) and the horse becomes stronger and more balanced around a turn, then the rider's weight can go to the inside and have the horse's arc be even tighter while the the horse stays balanced on the arc of the turn.
An example of this is when the rider is able to ride a 20 meter circle. The circle is actually ridden as a square. At each point of the square, the rider makes a balanced turn arcing around the corner of the square. The horse's body is then arced in the shape of the 20 meter circle. The rider then can put his/her weight to the inside of the circle and then use the outside leg (outside leg is in front of the girth) to round the horse's back more, arcing around each point of the turn.
Using the rider's weight doing upward and downward transitions:
When transitioning the horse upward and downward the rider's weight should lighten in the seat; not deepen. If the rider's weight becomes lighter the horse is able to round the back, reaching under himself/herself more easily and have more power for engagement.
When you deepen your seat, the horse U's its back and makes the distance of engagement longer and therefore has less power. In addition, the horse has to lift its head and leg and thereby fight the bit.
This is a simple version of using the riders aids. The rider must always feel where the horse's balance is and then appropriately respond with whatever aid is needed.
Every horse wants the rider to stay as much out of the horse's mouth as possible. Use your fingers (see our earlier article) and complement the fingers with the corresponding leg and weight aid. Instead of using one hard queue (aid), use a combination of soft queues so the horse is not overpowered by one heavy queue.
I hope this helps. There is only so much one can explain in writings.
Happy riding !
𝗧𝗲𝗮𝗰𝗵𝗶𝗻𝗴 𝗧𝗵𝗲 𝗔𝗜𝗗𝗦 𝗣𝗮𝗿𝘁 𝟭
In my 40 years of giving lesson and observing other riders I have found only a handful of people that can actually use there aids correctly.
For those who are not familiar with the terminology of the word "aids" in the context of the equestrian (relating to horse riding & horses) world the aids are are those signals which you give to your horse using your body i.e. legs, hands/ fingers , weight and voice.
Let's start with the rider's fingers. Yes I said fingers! The riders fingers actually cue the horse's mouth, poll and neck to concede to the rider's contact. The fingers should be slightly curled and should cue the horse's mouth with a soft squeeze and release of the fingers (the fingers opening and closing slightly and then open again back to a neutral position). The contact should be (at this point of the horse and riders' training ) just enough to hold the reins straight without any pulling back of the reins.
First just squeeze and release one of your hands /fingers softly. Does the bit move slightly? I know the answer is yes (Grins). Now ask yourself a question: If the horse can feel a fly on its mouth why can't the horse feel your soft squeeze and release of your fingers?" Is your soft squeeze and release of your fingers less than a fly's weight on the horses mouth? The answer is no. The fly weighs less. So why does the horse respond to the fly and not your fingers ? The obvious answer is because the horse thinks the fly will bite its mouth. So the horse has more respect for the fly than the rider's fingers.
Now while you are walking the horse (do not do this while the horse is standing still) take a soft straight line contact of the reins. The contact should be just enough to have the reins straight; not floppy. Then softly squeeze then release your your two middle fingers. You should imagine that you have a small bird, mouse or hamster in your hand. If you squeeze too tightly you will injury or kill the the little animal. Remember the horse can feel a fly on his/her mouth. The squeeze and release is just enough to move the bit in the horse's mouth.
The horse will either concede to the soft squeeze and release of your fingers, and respond by bringing his/her head slightly to the the side you are squeeze and releasing, or ignore your fingers. If the horse concedes take back the light concession by bringing your elbow back softly. Hold it there for about 1 to 3 seconds then let the rein go to the straight (neutral) position. Softly bring the horse to some grass or to some hay that you put in many reward stations in the arena and allow the horse to take a few bites of the hay. (You should always have either grass or hay stationed in different parts of your arena to reward your horse for correct performance immediately). Then get your horse back to the soft straight line contact , as previously mentioned, and repeat the exercise.
If the horse does not concede then the rider should give a disciplinarian half halt (a slight tug) on the rein that you are squeeze and releasing until the horse concedes. When the horse does concede then go to the previous paragraph and reward the horse.
Again repeat the performance of squeeze and releasing your fingers or the disciplinarian half halt until the horse concedes then immediately reward. You should do this until your horse will respond to the cue of the sqeeze release of the fingers about 90-95 percent of the time.
Depending how much the rider wants the horse to concede will depend upon how much the rider will bring bring back their elbow while squeeze and releasing ones fingers as the horses concedes. Remember the horse has to concede first with the head, neck and mouth before the rider brings back their elbow.
Remember the rider's discipline should be enough to get the horse to perform correctly.
𝑪𝑨𝑼𝑻𝑰𝑶𝑵: 𝘋𝘰 𝘕𝘰𝘵 𝘰𝘷𝘦𝘳 𝘥𝘪𝘴𝘤𝘪𝘱𝘭𝘪𝘯𝘦 𝘢𝘯𝘥 𝘧𝘳𝘪𝘨𝘩𝘵𝘦𝘯 𝘺𝘰𝘶𝘳 𝘩𝘰𝘳𝘴𝘦.
Like all disciplines there is a simple equation disobedience = discipline + 1 . This means the rider's discipline should not equal the amount of disobedience that the horses is giving the rider. If it does then the rider is just having an argument with the horse. The discipline should actually mean something to the horse so the horse understands it should either listen to the soft cue or correct his/her performance.
Do this with one side of the horse's mouth, and then the other side. One side of the horse's mouth will respond more softly and easily than the other. This is due to one side of the horses body being stronger than the other.
The sides of your horses mouth being soft and the speed and degree of concession will change over time as one side becomes stronger than the other. I suggest practicing this exercise with the more difficult side first, and more frequently than the easy side until the horse's mouth is "balanced" with softness and concedes easily.
I usually start this exercise on a straight line of a rectangle or a dressage arena. Only squeeze and release your fingers fingers around the corners. When the horse starts to learn what the fingers mean and concedes easily then make the long sides of the rectangle shorter. Eventually the rectangle will become a square of about 20 by 20 meters. When your horse can do this, then start making an oval eventually a 20 meter circle.
Use your inside leg to keep the horse on the straight line. (We will talk more about this in article 2: use of leg aids and how to use your leg) If the horse falls in from the line of the turn then either you are pulling the horse in or the horse is only listening to the squeeze release of your fingers and loses balance and falls into the turn and is not making an arc of a turn.
This method works very well especially with horses with a hard mouth. The horse protects its mouth by stiffening the jaw to resist the pain that will follow from poor hands. This "protection" manifests in the horse starting a preemptive strike and stiffening its jaw.
Instead of using a more severe bit for a hard mouth or jaw the rider should use a less severe bit and train the horse's mouths to become more sensitive to the soft squeeze and release of the fingers.
This training is not going to happen instantaneously. This will and does take time to convince the horse to soften the jaw and not to have the preemptive strike of stiffening the jaw. The horse needs to be convinced that his/her mouth will not be hurt if he/she listens to the soft cues. If the horse listens to the soft cues the immediately reward the horse by loose rein and a bite of hay from one of your reward spots in the arena.
In summary every horse would like the rider to stay out of their soft mouth. Pulling, holding and driving do have there place and can be used if needed , but the rider should always go back to soft fingers. Straight line contact should only have enough contact/pressure to hold the rein straight.
The next article will be on the proper leg aids as viewed by this trainer.
🅱🅴🅷🅸🅽🅳 🆃🅷🅴 🅱🅸🆃
𝑻𝒉𝒆 𝒎𝒐𝒓𝒕𝒂𝒍 𝒔𝒊𝒏 𝒐𝒇 𝑫𝒓𝒆𝒔𝒔𝒂𝒈𝒆
Why are so many people (trainers and students) so afraid of working behind the bit?
I have seen so many people pushing their poor horse into their hands trying to get the horse to become soft and have a long length of stride. You may as well put your car's emergency brake on three or four clicks ( or more) and wonder why your car does not have much power!
What has the rider done to teach and train the horse to have a length of stride and to concede to the the riders hand?
While the holding and driving has its place in training the horse, this should not be a normal, every day technique. If you are constantly holding and driving, how do you actually know if your horse is conceding? Most riders have such a hold on the poor horse's mouth, the rider cannot tell if the horse is conceding or not.
I hear a lot "My horse hates dressage." No. Put bluntly, your horse hates the way you are training/riding him/her.
I also hear a lot "My horse all of a sudden blows up." Well, so would you if I was holding your mouth back and at the same time, kicking you to move forward.
One should look at why trainers teach this. When I was coming up the ranks of riding, most of the horses we had were Thoroughbreds. Most thoroughbreds are bred to be very hot and forward. It is there nature. It is in there DNA. So one had to finesse the Thoroughbred.
The Warmbloods on the other hand, were looked upon as dull and lacked the energy to perform very well.
Since then the Warmbloods have become more popular for two reasons: First, the rider can actually get away with bullying many Warmbloods into a "correct frame" while maintaining a long stride.
The second, and more unfortunate, reason is that, in many cases, the quality of rider has taken a hit as the horse industry as a whole has taken a down swing. This is due to the economic downturn. And because of this, in order to put bread on the table, many instructors/trainers had to convince the student that they could actually ride; not just be a great passenger. Hence the hold and drive and get into perfect position (straight back, tighten the core, closed fists, pinned knees, elbows locked to your side and heels driven down) was developed.
Now I know you are saying "Oh ... no we do not do this ". And you may not. But look at how many dressage horses flip over. How many injuries there are because the horse flipped over? Maybe not you.... but the "hold and drivers" are out there.
With my little rant now over ....
The mechanics of dressage is to have the horse round the back, come back on the hind end which lightens the front end and relaxed and soft into the bit and having "self carriage" (self carriage is the horse carrying itself and light in hand). Whereby most of the horses power is generated from the horse's inside hind leg to engage under and as far forward as the horse can reach (usually between the horse's 2 front legs, otherwise known as a shoulder fore). This puts most or all of the horse and rider's weight on the inside hind leg to work very hard to engage the leg. Being on the bit or having the horse's head vertical (even a little in front of the bit) allows the horse to generate the most power from his/her hind leg.
What exercise or exercises has the rider done to prepare the horse mentally or physically to do all of this?
You might as well have a weight lifter first day learning how to do a clean and jerk with the maximum amount of weight he/she can lift!
First, the weight lifter does not have the proper form to do this movement. Thereby is the first recipe for failure. Then you put so much weight on the bar that they injure themselves while trying to figure out their form to do the correct movement . Are you getting my drift ?
Having your horse "behind the bit" actually helps teach a horse the proper movements without putting the poor horse's head in a head lock while driving the horse forward from your leg. This is because the form, softness and length of stride are not impeded by holding the horse back and seemingly round and up.
Being "behind the bit " also helps teach the horse to become soft. Now if you are holding the horse back with poundage of contact and the horse is "behind the bit " then that is definitely wrong. The horse should be slowly trained through softening and bending exercises. If done properly the horse will start to become round and soft on his/her own. He/she will also have a lovely length of stride, self carriage and be able to become soft.
I have taken "4 movers" and turned them into "8 movers" by training suppling exercises and allowing the horse to be "behind the bit" so I do not impede the horse's natural flow of movement, thereby training the horse to have a nice long length of stride. This becomes invaluable once the collection of the horse starts, because the horse understands concession of the bit and how to have a long relaxed length of stride.
How can you tell if the horse is not learning to move correctly?
One should ask themselves these questions?
• Is my horse soft and round ? (Soft being only having the rein contact as taught to keep the rein straight. No poundage/weight in the hands!)
• Is my horse's stride going forward more then up and down? Does my horse have a long length of stride or does the horse has a mincy short stride?
• Can I throw away an inside rein and then an outside rein for a few seconds and does my horse maintain the proper form or does the horse fall apart? (By falling apart I mean is your horse now tripping or falling when giving up one rein then the other?)
• Does your horse need the heavy holding of your hands to stay "balanced"? If the horse does then the horse is balancing his/her weight on your holding hands?
• Can your horse continue to move squarely forward even if you take both legs off the horse's sides or does the horse just drop out of the gait you have?
Think about your answers to these questions and ask yourself why.
Dressage is supposed to be calm, quiet and relaxed and the horse a pleasure to ride. Is your horse actually a pleasure to ride? Do you think having a heavy hold on your horse's mouth and grinding your legs into the horse's side is a pleasure?
I use the technique we've been discussing on horses that will not allow the hold and drive abuse. If it works on them then it will work on any horse.
I am not advocating to only ride your horse "behind the bit"; but do the open jumpers train daily on 5 to 6 foot jumps always? It's a training technique, and an important one.
Food for thought.
So you want to use a round pen to train your horse. What exactly are you training your horse to do? Have you really thought it through?
The most common use of a round pen is for lazy man's (or woman's) lunging.
The theory and concept of a round pen is that the horse moves freely around the circle or arc of the round pen. This theory and concept is very good on paper, but I personally have never seen a horse move correctly in a round pen.
Instead, the horses I've observed being worked in a round pen, actually move counter to how the horse should move for any correct riding.
What I've observed most often, is horses with their heads bent to the outside, while their hind ends are to the inside of the circle. This position does not allow the inside hind leg to engage under the horse, and thus teaches the horse to move and use his body incorrectly.
The correct position of a horse, whether for riding or lunging, should be as follows:
The horse's inside hind leg should track under the horse, moving toward the outside of the horse's body. This position allows the horse to push off through his powerful inside hind leg. The horse's body should conform to the arc of the round pen. In other words, his head should be bent to the inside of the circle and the body curved along thearc but remaining to the outside of the pen. Again this position allows the horse to push off the inside hind leg. But the horse must learn how to carry himself correctly in this manner. And that doesn't happen by just having him go in circles, in a round pen.
Similarly, when you ride a 20 meter circle, the horse's body is bent in the direction of the arc of the circle, powering off from the horse's inside hind leg.
So why would anyone use a round pen to train a horse to be ridden correctly? The round pen actually hurts the eventual rider by allowing the horse to move incorrectly, and promoting incorrect muscle development, promoting incorrect movement and use of his body. And that incorrectness is also less comfortable for the rider.
I know, I know - Round pens are very popular. But are they actually what you want to do? Do you want to work that hard to have your horse go around the round pen counter bending of the arc that they need to be ridden?
What ever happened to good ole lunging, and lead line training? How about training the horse's mind so that he moves on voice commands?
Lunging or longe-lining was , and still is, used to train horses to pull. The trainers teach the horses to respond to voice commands while they actually direct the horse with reins or theie voice.
What I believe to be correct lunging, trains the horse to respond to simple voice commands of walk, trot , canter and whoa while the horse stays to the outside of the circle or arc, bending the horse's head, neck and back to the inside, while the haunches remain on the track.
This is the correct position the horse's body to be in to be ridden correctly. And since lunging (and round pen training) are generally a precursor to riding, why not do it correctly from the word "walk"?
I hope this helps you.
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