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from the your horse magazine team

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Horse Care All you need for a healthy, happy horse

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From The Your Horse Magazine Team

Beneath his skin, your horse’s complex knee joint allows movement


Accessory carpal Carpal bones

Small metacarpal

m Pla ov n eme o en f t

Large metacarpal

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The Equine Body | Joints

Care for his joints Your horse’s joints are marvellous things – vet Andrew McDiarmid explains how they work and how to keep them healthy


oints are the hinges and swivels of a horse’s body, articulating his skeleton and allowing him to move in all manner of different directions when his muscles contract. Expert orthopaedic vet Andrew McDiarmid explains how your horse’s joints work, looking at how they are formed, common problems affecting joints and how you can help keep them healthy so he stays happy and sound. At the most basic level, joints are formed where two bones meet, and they fall into two main categories: fixed (synarthrodial) and moveable (diarthrodial), which we’re going to look at here. Moveable joints are further classified as to what type of movement they allow – ball and socket joints, such as the hip, which allow the joint to move in different directions; hinge joints, such as the elbow or stifle, which allow for folding movement; hinge and plane joints, such as the knee, which combine folding movement with gliding movement; and pivot joints, which allow for rotation, such as where the head joins the neck. Despite all this variety however, the majority of your horse’s joints are set up to enable him to run. “The horse’s joints are quite primitive and most are in a front-to-back plane of movement,” says Andrew. “Even those in the horse’s back allow little rotation. Our hip joint allows quite a lot of movement, as does our shoulder, but horses don’t have that – it’s all about going forward. “If they don’t get away from wolves or predators quickly they’ll get eaten, and to go fastest they need to run in a straight line, rather than twist and turn quickly.” Joints can also be classified by how much movement they allow, and the amount of weight they carry. “High load/low motion joints, such as the spavin joints in the hock, don’t move very much. Then you also have high motion joints, such as the fetlock coffin joint, which have a far greater range of movement,” says Andrew.

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OUR EXPERT Andrew McDiarmid is a director of Clyde Veterinary Group Ltd in Scotland, overseeing the equine hospital, where his area of expertise is equine lameness. Andrew has worked in equine practice as well as in teaching roles at the Royal (Dick) Veterinary School and charity World Horse Welfare (formerly the ILPH). Clyde Veterinary Group is a member of XLVets – find out more at www. clydevetgroup. and www.

What are fixed joints?

As their name suggests, fixed joints exist where bones which don’t need to move meet, such as those between the bones that form the horse’s skull.

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Getting your horse’s teeth checked is a job for the experts!

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The Equine Body | Jaw

Inside his jaw From his incisors to his premolars, your horse’s teeth all play an important role – find out what they do and how to care for them


ake a look at what happens to your horse’s teeth from birth to old age and get clued up on dental ageing, common problems and essential dental care with advice from equine dental technician (EDT) Jonathan Keen. At the age of five, your horse’s teeth are still largely buried deep within his jaw. These teeth erupt at a rate of 2-3mm per year, gradually wearing down as a self-sharpening mechanism, until he’s 18-20 when the eruption rate slows and eventually

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ceases. If he lives out in a field of coarse grass, the eruption process can happen quite naturally, but due to the way the majority of us keep our horses it’s much more difficult for them to wear down their teeth at the necessary rate – eating soft grass, soft hay, wearing bits and time spent in the stable all contribute to this problem. Turn the page to find out more about your horse’s teeth and to learn how you can ensure his pearly whites stay in excellent condition.

OUR EXPERT Jonathan Keen is a qualified Equine Dental Technician who runs Pimbury Equine in Gloucestershire.

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Could a vaccine for grass sickness be on the horizon?

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Disease and Infection | Grass Sickness

Grass sickness

It’s a devastating disease which proves fatal for around 90% of cases, but new research is bringing hope that a vaccine may be effective as expert Dr Jo Ireland explains

OUR EXPERT Dr Jo ireland is a vet and the grass sickness research co-ordinator at the charity, the Animal Health Trust and is co-ordinating a vaccine pilot study for the disease. She worked in equine practice before taking her PHD, and also has an advanced veterinary practice certificate in equine internal medicine. Visit for more information.

What is grass sickness?

Grass sickness causes damage to the areas of the horse’s nervous system, leading to full or partial paralysis of the digestive tract from oesophagus to rectum. It affects horses, ponies and donkeys and occurs in all ages from around four months old, but most cases appear in

This chronic case shows the terrible toll grass sickness takes on horses

horses aged between two and seven, with a spike at three to four years old. The cause is currently unknown, but the damage done to the nervous system suggests a type of toxin is involved, with toxins from the common soil bacterium Clostridium botulinum type C possibly implicated. There are three forms of grass This chronic case is showing the classic ‘elephant on a drum’ stance

OUR EXPERT Kate Thomson is a spokesperson for the Equine Grass Sickness Fund, a charity which funds and supports research into grass sickness and works to educate and support horse owners. For more information, visit www. grasssickness.

Photo: Professor Chris Proudman, School of Veterinary medicine, University of surrey


ou might not have heard of equine grass sickness, but for those whose horses are affected by this terrible disease, it’s an experience they’ll never forget. Grass sickness strikes without warning, bringing on a range of awful clinical signs and, with no cure available, it’s fatal in all but a handful of cases. However, hope is on the horizon as research moves ever closer to identifying what causes the condition, and a vaccine pilot trial is aiming to pave the way to protecting equines from this devastating disease. We’ve spoken to the experts at the Animal Health Trust (AHT) and the Equine Grass Sickness Fund (EGSF) to bring you the facts on grass sickness, explain more about what the new vaccine pilot could mean, and show you how you can best protect your horse.

sickness – acute, sub-acute and chronic – and there’s no cure. Kate Thomson, of the EGSF, says: “Of the three forms, chronic grass sickness is the mildest and is the only form from which a horse can recover. Around 70% of cases are either acute or sub-acute, and there is no hope of recovery from these forms so swift euthanasia is required to prevent further suffering.” Not all chronic cases are treatable either, but with intensive nursing around 60% of those suitable for treatment recover, and many eventually return to work.

The greatest risk

Photo: Professor Bruce McGorum, Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies, University of Edinburgh

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Horses most at risk include the age groups listed above, as well as those moving to a new yard or even a new field, as they’re exposed to unfamiliar bacteria. Putting more horses on pasture is also thought to increase the risk of grass sickness, as does stress. Cases occur throughout the year but most happen between April and July, with a smaller peak sometimes seen in the late autumn, and cool, dry weather with a temperature of 7-11˚C which lasts for more than 10 days has also been linked to multiple case outbreaks. The Ultimate Horse Care Guide

Sharp changes in weather and routine can result in colic

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Disease and Infection | Colic

Beat colic

Colic can strike at any time of year but it is more likely to occur in the winter. Vet Becky Lees explains how to spot it and, more importantly, prevent it striking in the first place


olic can be a worry at any time of year, but winter brings more than its fair share of equine tummy

Extra time indoors can disrupt your horse’s feeding regime

troubles. Cold, wet weather often means extra time indoors, and the added dietary disruption can result in a recipe for digestive disaster. From mild, gassy rumblings to full-blown intestinal blockages, colic comes in many forms, the most complicated of which require surgery and can prove fatal. Thankfully, simple preventative measures can reduce the risk of winter colic, and vet Becky Lees is here to tell you how to keep belly ache at bay. So read on to discover: l Why winter is a danger time l Possible causes of colic – and how to help prevent them l How to spot the signs l What to do if your horse suffers a bout of colic l Steps to ensure your horse’s gut stays healthy all season

OUR EXPERT Becky Lees is a vet based at the Scarsdale Veterinary Practice in Derbyshire, which is part of the XL Vets group. Becky has a particular interest in internal medicine and equine geriatrics.

Help banish colic In many cases of mild colic the exact cause remains unknown, but to give your horse the best chance of avoiding digestive disruption, keep on top of all areas of his routine healthcare:

1 Wage war on worms “Worms are a well-documented cause of colic, so a regular de-worming programme will help to protect your horse,” explains Becky. “Young horses in particular are prone to high burdens of large white ascarids, which can block the intestines and produce very severe colic signs. “However, horses of all ages are at risk from small redworms, or cyathostomes, which lie dormant in the intestinal wall and typically emerge in spring. This causes diarrhoea and poor health – and proves fatal in more than 50% of cases.” Currently there is no test available to find out if your horse is carrying encysted small redworms, and they can’t be picked up on faecal worm egg counts. “All horses should be treated over winter with an appropriate wormer, preferably in December or January,” says Becky. “Panacur

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Equine Guard, Equest and Equest Pramox are the only products that will kill these potentially lethal encysted small redworms.” Becky also highlights the dangers of tapeworms, which can cause spasmodic colic and, in large numbers, may block the small intestines. “Ask your vet about diagnostic blood tests and treatments,” advises Becky. “We recommend that all horses are tested or receive a tapeworm treatment every six months.” An effective worming routine is vital for gut health

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Getting his forage right Nothing means more to your horse’s health and happiness than what’s in his haynet or growing in his paddock, and finding the right forage to suit his lifestyle and needs is one of the most important decisions you’ll make


OUR EXPERT Dr Teresa Hollands R.Nutr is senior nutritionist at feed manufacturers Dodson & Horrell and one of the highest qualified feed experts in the UK.

hat’s your horse eating right now? Chances are he’s out in the field grazing or tucking into a haynet, chomping his way through several kilos-worth of food every day. The ‘lots of forage’ message appears to have got through, and then some, with owners keen to make sure their horses eat as nature intended and graze, graze, graze. But the forage world is a complex one and while some sources will suit your horse down to the ground, others will exacerbate an already expanding waistline, or add a sugar high on the list of things your hot-headed horse doesn’t need. None of it comes cheap, so you need to make sure you’re giving him the right feed for his work and temperament. The key is to understand the two major F-words – fibre and forage – and ensure your horse spends his day stocking up on the right types to suit his lifestyle and individual quirks.

Forage vs fibre

Let’s start with a brief biology lesson. Forage is the edible part of a plant used as feed for grazing animals or harvested for feeding, and this varies in its nutritional value depending on how much fibre it contains – and what type. All forage sources, from oat straw to grass, contain fibre, which is stored in

Fibre is an essential part of your horse’s diet

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the cell walls of plants, seeds, cereals, leaves and stems and is the plant’s equivalent of scaffolding. Traditional forage sources such as hay and grass are generally high in fibre, but other non-forage feeds, like oats, are also a source of fibre. “All plant feeds are sources of fibre, but they contain different amounts and types of fibre,” explains Dr Teresa Hollands. “It’s this difference in fibre content that explains why there are more calories in grass compared to hay, and why horses get fatter on hay compared to the same quantity of straw.”

The right balance

The commonsense message that horses should be allowed to ‘trickle feed’ throughout the day on bulky forages such as grass and hay is the key to their good health and happiness on lots of levels. Good quality forage supports their need for nutrients, enables their gut to function well, keeps their mind and body occupied as they endlessly chew, and is the reason nutritionists advise they eat at least 1.5% – and ideally more like 2% to 3% – of their bodyweight in forage every day. That’s at least 10kg a day for an average 500kg horse in the form of grass, hay, haylage or other fibre-packed feeds. But as vital as it is that our horses are allowed to eat as nature intended, so too is it essential they stay a healthy weight. If you’ve ever been heard to say ‘My horse lives on fresh air’ bear in mind he could be eating the equivalent of 10 heaped scoops of fresh grass per hour out in the field. Not so much ‘fresh air’ as ‘cream cake’ – and the reason why it’s so important to know your fibre types and feed accordingly, whether your horse is a little on the ‘cuddly’ side or in need of putting on weight. w w w.yo ur h o r

Equine Digestion and Feeding | Fibre

Horses should be allowed to ‘trickle feed’ throughout the day on bulky forages such as hay

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Fat scoring explained Since it’s pretty tricky getting your horse onto the bathroom scales, fat scoring and weightaping are easy ways to monitor his body condition. Nutritionist Dr Teresa Hollands tells you how

Where to look Horses carry fat on their necks, over their shoulders, backbone, ribs and rump, so these areas are where you need to concentrate when you’re fat scoring him. The easiest way to do this is to divide his body into three sections – neck (everything in front of the shoulder blade), middle (behind the shoulder blade to the hips), and bottom (hips, pelvis and quarters).

Assess and score each area individually – 0 is seriously underweight while 5 is very fat. Remember you’re scoring for fat cover only, not muscle, so you’re looking to judge whether there’s fat over his skeleton. Keep tabs on his weight by fat scoring no more than once a fortnight, regularly weightaping him and keeping dated notes and photos each month so you can track his weight.

Neck section

OUR EXPERT Dr Teresa Hollands is senior nutrition manager at Dodson & Horrell. www. dodson

How to fat score Assess each of the three sections separately as horses carry fat differently - just like humans may be apple or pear-shaped. When a section has two areas to be assessed half-scores may be used to give an overall score. For example, if your horse has fat on his crest (4) but you can easily feel his shoulder (3) his overall Neck section score woule be 3.5. The horse in these pictures scores 3 on each of the three sections.

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NECK Place your hand behind his poll and pinch across his neck with your finger and thumb to find the nucheal ligament – it feels like a big rubber band. Follow this down his neck – anything above it is fat. Then run your hand down towards his shoulder blade - the shoulder contour should bring it to a stop.

SHOULDER Feel around his shoulder blade. You should feel the outline easily where it meets his neck and ribs, and the point of the shoulder. Just behind the shoulder check for fatty deposits by seeing if you can pinch and inch.

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Equine Digestion and Feeding | Fat scoring He is what he eats, so monitor his weight to keep him healthy

FAT FACT Horses don’t store fat on their bellies, unlike us humans!

Middle section

BACK Lay one hand across the lowest point of your horse’s withers this gives you a marker point so you also assess in the same place. Now lay your other hand next to it, also at 90 degrees across your horse’s spine. Relax this hand - does it naturally lay in a slightly cupped shape?

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Bottom section

RIBS Place your hand flat on your horse’s side and run it diagonally over his rib cage. Use firm pressure, but not so he moves away from you. You should be able to feel his ribs, specifically the last three, even if they are not visible.

HIPS Lay your hand over his hip bone. It should make a slight cup shape around the outline of his bones. You should be ale to feel the hips but they should not be sharp or prominant.

RUMP Stand behind your horse and place your hands flat on the top of his rump – can you feel his pelvis? Don’t cheat and poke about with your fingers. From behind, his quarters should look like an inverted ‘c’.

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Equine Digestion and Feeding | Feeding youngsters

Feeding your young horse Get your youngster off to the best possible start with our top feeding tips


ne of the most critical aspects of feeding youngsters is to ensure they’re getting enough good quality protein, vitamins and minerals,” says Louise Jones, of Dodson & Horrell. “Protein’s needed for growth, muscle and cell development, while vitamins and minerals such as copper and calcium are important for cartilage and bone.” A youngster’s requirements for these trace elements in the diet are far higher than an adult horse’s, so Louise recommends you choose a specialist foal or youngstock mix – and follow the manufacturer’s guidelines when it comes to quantity.

But while most of us reach for a weightape to monitor our horses’ waistlines, they won’t give an accurate result for very young horses, so you’ll need an alternative way to watch your youngster’s weight to make sure you’re feeding him the correct amount of youngstock feed. A weighbridge is ideal, though not practical for many, so ask your vet for advice or contact one of the feed manufacturers’ helplines. Experts there may well refer to the guides given in the Nutrient Requirements of Horses (available from www. but, as a general rule, a horse who’s likely to weigh 500kg fully grown will weigh 215kg at six months of age, and 320kg by his first birthday.

system, too, as the feed will contain vitamin E and other health-boosting nutrients.”

Avoiding the f-word

Start as you mean to go on

Choose quality forage

The second most important factor when it comes to feeding your young horse is to avoid letting him get fat. Research has shown that overweight youngsters are at greater risk of health problems later in life, and at risk of developmental problems in the short-term, so it’s a huge issue (if you’ll excuse the pun) for owners. “I always like youngstock to be on the leaner side as their joints are still developing,” says Louise.

It’s common for a foal’s growth rate to drop after weaning – followed by a compensatory growth spurt, which may be damaging to his young joints – so experts recommend you get your youngster used to eating from a bowl prior to weaning to help avoid this. “When the quality of the mare’s milk starts to decline, and certainly by three months old, make sure your youngster has been introduced to foal or youngstock mix,’” says Louise. “It’s beneficial for their immune

Calorie checker

Pick a feed that suits your horse’s type

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A lot of youngstock feeds are developed for Thoroughbredtype foals, and are designed to be fed in high quantities to ensure the necessary vitamin and mineral intakes are met. If your youngster’s more of a native or warmblood good-doer, it may be that his feed’s providing too many calories and a low-energy balancer is enough, such as Dodson & Horrell’s Suregrow or Saracen Bio-Life 2000

Feed your horse right at the start and he’ll benefit all his life

Foals will start to pick at forage from an early age, but try to stick to the softest, best quality hay as it’s easier on a young horse’s digestive system. While haylage can be fed to youngstock, it may be too calorific for good-doers. It’s also important to ensure any haylage has been properly fermented as young horses are prone to digestive problems.

How to avoid high jinks

Beware of over-feeding your youngster when the time comes to back him, as any excess energy could prove a danger to health for both of you! A high-forage diet, combined with a vitamin and mineral balancer that’s suitable for young horses, will provide ample calories for the majority of horses and avoid over-excitability. “Our fibre feeds are a complete feed in a bag as they’re fully balanced,” says Anna Pyrah, of The Pure Feed Company. “For horses being backed the Pure Fibre Balance and Pure Easy feeds are ideal – both low in calories and starch.”

Different mixes

As a general rule, a foal mix can be given until a young horse is one and a youngstock feed is designed to be fed until the age of three.


Whether your horse is two or 22, the basic common sense rules of feeding still apply. And while times may have changed since the classic rules were first introduced by the Pony Club in the 1950s, the basics still ring true. Feed little and often, give plenty of fibre, make no sudden changes and keep to the same feed times each day and you won’t go far wrong.

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Routine Management | Clipping

A close shave

Giving your horse a haircut can be a daunting prospect but a bit of professional help could be just what’s needed to have you clipping with confidence in no time

W OUR EXPERT Julie Gould is a BHS II (SM) who runs her own 65-horse livery yard. She also teaches equine NVQ subjects up to level 3 and is an assessor and part-time lecturer at Writtle College, Essex. She’s been clipping for 25 years and has even clipped llamas and sheep! To contact her call 07971 882060.

hether you’ve done it before or are clueless about clipping, picking up these noisy tools can leave you with a whole host of concerns, from making a mess of it or hurting your horse to worrying he might freak out. As newbies to clipping Your Horse reader Joanne Hickey and writer Kary Islip discovered that a ‘How to Clip a Horse’ course at Writtle College in Essex is the perfect way to learn from an expert. Find out what they learned from pro clipper Julie Gould including:

Why and when to clip The best clip for your horse ● Essential kit and what to wear ● How to clip with confidence ● Clipping nervous or young horses ● Clipping aftercare ● ●

Why do we clip horses?

OUR reader Joanne hickey had never clipped before and was quite nervous, especially after her last horse was very unhappy about the whole idea. “I wanted to learn to clip so I’ll could do it myself in the future. The course really helped me to conquer my clipping nerves.”

Horses’ winter coats grow from mid-September to October and fall out between February and April as their summer coats come in. Because the winter coat is much thicker, horses can get very hot and sweaty when they’re worked. “If your horse grows a thick winter coat and you ask him to work hard during winter, it’s going to be like trying to run the London Marathon wearing a fur coat,” says Julie. By removing his coat using clippers, he’ll stay cooler during work, can work harder for longer, will dry off faster afterwards and maintain condition better because he’ll sweat less. However clipping isn’t restricted to winter, as riders showing or competing regularly may clip as often as every month – this isn’t a problem, but coats may become fuzzy as horses get older.

Choosing the right clip

Not all horses need clipping, so first consider how heavy your horse’s winter workload will be – if you mainly hack or don’t do much fast work, light sweating can be managed with wicking rugs when you get back. If you’ve not clipped your horse before but think he’d be w w w.yo ur h o r

Choose your clip according to workload, not aesthetics

more comfortable, Julie recommends starting with a bib pattern, clipping his gullet and lower chest. A high trace is another good starter clip – clip his gullet and lower shoulder, belly and hindquarters, leaving his leg hair on. “This is great for ponies and can easily be modified, for example you can stop at his belly and leave his hindquarters complete,” says Julie. Next up are the chaser and blanket clips – the former is a higher version of the trace clip and the blanket (as its name suggests) sees hair left

over the horse’s back and hindquarters, doing away the need for an exercise sheet. At the far end of the clipping scale are hunter and full clips for horses in heavy work. With the hunter you leave on a numnah-shaped area of hair beneath the saddle as well as his legs, to offer protection. A full clip sees all the coat removed, including from his legs. Don’t be afraid of modifying clip patterns if a slightly different shape would suit your horse and his workload better. The Ultimate Horse Care Guide

Beat arthritis Arthritis is the most common cause of lameness, but there’s lots you can do to prevent, treat and even reverse the symptoms if it’s caught early enough


OUR EXPERT Charlie Tomlinson is an equine vet in Wiltshire and director of Cadence Veterinary Rehabilitation.

on’t be fooled into thinking your horse will be reaching for a Zimmer frame by the time arthritis sets in. Whether you own a six- or 16-yearold, this debilitating disease can affect your horse at any time. But the good news is that a diagnosis of arthritis doesn’t necessarily put the kybosh on your plans for competition success, or even just a happy ever after for you and your horse. Here we look at the current thinking for preventing and treating arthritis to help your horse stay fighting fit for as long as possible,

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with advice from equine vet Charlie Tomlinson, who is the team vet for the GB Endurance Development squad and a director of a centre that specialises in acupuncture and chiropractic care. The term arthritis basically means ‘inflammation within a joint’. In the horse, it can occur for a variety of reasons, but in the majority of cases it results from abnormal loading on a normal joint as a result of poor conformation, repetitive strain or chronic lameness in a different leg. For more on the causes of arthritis, how to recognise it and what the latest treatments are, read on. w w w.yo ur h o r

Care of the Older Horse | Arthritis

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e all want our horses to be healthy and happy for life, so whether your horse is young or old, big or small, a happy hack or a competition horse, this in-depth guide will provide the answers to all of your horse care questions and beyond.

The Ultimate Horse Care Guide From The Your Horse Magazine Team

Bauer Media, Media House, Lynch Wood, Peterborough, PE2 6EA | Tel: 01733 468000 | Email: For more horse care help and advice visit:

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