Helping Noah, A Stoic, Rescued Lead Mare

When horses offer us undesirable behaviors it’s important to see it from their perspective, they are having a hard time, not giving us a hard time. That was the case with Noah during our Fall Horse Speak Clinic in North Carolina. I wanted to help solve her habit of crowding and getting in front of her leader, ultimately cutting them off to take the lead herself. (Hint: It had much to do with finding her leaders worthy.) Noah would also throw up her head up towards the person who was un-haltering her and leave town quickly. I believed the halter issue was caused by a triggered memory of ill-will towards her, or a memory of pain. As is always the first step, we ruled out pain first.

Our haltering session began with me first focusing on myself, assuring that I was at Zero, an inner and outer state of calm. Next I began to help Noah relax and go towards Zero herself. I held some of her face, head, and neck Buttons while taking deep breaths. She didn’t let down much but tolerated my touch. I held her Follow Me Button, inviting her to follow me into relaxation by dropping her head a bit. She wasn’t buying it. I broke down the task by using the 3X approach, a problem-solving Horse Speak protocol. I unclipped the halter, took a deep breath, reclipped it, and paused, stepping away, offering a hold hand toward her cheek, and taking a few more deep breaths. I repeated this process two more times. On the last set I removed the halter. She tensed up and brought her head towards me a bit, which was an improvement. I thanked her and we ended the session.

Noah is truly a stoic lead mare. During the retreat I assigned one person to her and another to a different horse. As they started to walk to their respective horses Noah changed it up. She walked directly to the person who she wanted to teach at that moment, showing us that I had it wrong. We went with it as the choice is always theirs at liberty. Her message was very clear!

At another time Noah was standing on the hill in the pasture and alerted to something in the distance. I walked a few steps in front of her using a Sentry posture and breath. She then walked around me, stepping in front and went back to her Sentry position. I obviously had not taken care of the problem. I tried to convince her all was safe but there obviously really was something very far off in the distance and she could still sense or see it. Oh how they make us smile!

Fast forward to our last afternoon of the retreat when we were working on in-hand applications. It was clear that Noah was seeking Clarity about who leads who, and about maintaining the Bubbles of Personal Space. When her leader got grounded, clear and consistent things began to get much better. She stopped trying to crowd and cut in front. She began to walk in unison, maintaining space and a nice rhythm. Big changes were happening for this mare. At the end of each walk around the cones and markers every horse was brought to a safety cone for some rest, digest and restore. Noah began to associate the safety cone with its intended purpose. She began to find some Zero, which had been challenging for her throughout the retreat. I decided to give the halter issue one more go before we wrapped up.

I approached her and we checked in with each other. I held various Buttons, taking a deep breath and pausing in between each touch. I used the 3X approach with the halter once it was clear that she was not being triggered. She allowed me to slip the halter off and remained completely relaxed. I stood for a while just “holding” and breathing with her. Lastly, I offered her a check-in before leaving. She did not acknowledge my offer. No change in her expression and no offer to connect with me for the first time in days. She was the horse that lingered on every Greeting, with every person, wanting to share a few breaths and converse. This time there was no response. It was a very telling indicator of her state of mind. Another teachable moment had presented itself.

Relaxed, or Shutdown, Going Inward and Processing?

Leaving her at the safety cone we took our seats nearby. She was free to go but remained in place. I asked the participants how they felt upon observing her in that moment. Did she seem relaxed or did she seem shut down, inward and processing? Her head remained in a neutral position, her eyes looked inward and vacant. She did not move. Her breathing was shallow. We all agreed that these were signs of a horse in a deep processing state. We offered her an “I see you” and let her be. We began our final wrap up session seated between her and the vast landscape that she so diligently searched for threats. Noah remained at the cone for 20-30 minutes. After a while she took a deep breath and returned to being more present. She cocked a leg, closed her eyes, and even let her bottom lip droop while she rested. Then she calmly left the cone with a gentle swish of her tail and rejoined the herd. Her owner said that that level of relaxation was unusual for her. We all began to feel better. What a wonderful way to wrap up our time together ❤

I am full of gratitude for Sharon Wilsie, the founder of Horse Speak, and for having had the opportunity to spend the last 7 years learning and practicing the truly natural language of the horse. It has enhanced a lifetime of skills and allowed me to offer connection, enrichment, and support, to every horse, in every situation. I cherish being able to share this work and teach others whose goals are to improve rapport, trust, confidence and connection with the horses they love. To begin or continue your journey in Horse Speak visit:

A Partnership Unfolds…Horse Speak Helped Get Us There

Last week I joined the herd in the back pasture where they had found some February grass. After some shedding out I led Riley to the trail head gate where my bridle and bareback pad were hanging. It was finally a beautiful day for riding with good footing.

The entire herd saw us leaving and came charging our way with the lead horse Scout buzzing right up behind and past us. They all raced over the bridge and back to the barn. Riley scooted a bit but didn’t pull on the lead. He stayed with me.

As I brought him to the gate for tacking up he kept looking over his shoulder towards the barn saying, “But, all the others are back at the barn.” Using Horse Speak gestures and breath messages I was able to tell him that I heard him and that he would be safe going with me. He willingly stood to be tacked, walked with me across the brook and up into the woods where I mounted. He lined up quietly, waited for me to mount, we took a couple of breaths and off we went.

I ended our ride up in the back pasture, hopped off and unbridled him. We “grazed” together and then he started heading back to the barn. The others had not come back up to the pasture. Although he was walking only at a normal speed I knew he wanted to rejoin the herd, but whenever he got a ways away from me he would stop and wait. (At almost 16 hands he out-strides me 😉 ) Him waiting proved so much to me. He even waited on the bridge when I went back to the trail head to retrieve the halter and lead. This is what Horse Speak can do.

Waiting for me to catch up……

A Tribute to Partnership……Riley and I had a good relationship prior to my journey into learning Horse Speak which began in 2017. I did everything I knew to help him trust me out in the big world and, we had made great progress. Learning Horse Speak took it to the next level. We don’t know what we don’t know, but I can tell you that you WANT to know Horse Speak if you have any interaction with horses.

Once you know how to truly understand their language, what they are saying to each other, what they are saying to you, how to answer their questions, and how to communicate your desires in THEIR LANGUAGE, the sky is the limit. It has nothing to do with dominance, running them around, disengaging their haunches or teaching them “tricks & cues”. It has only to do with communicating in a calm, clear way that they innately understand. We aren’t teaching them anything as this is THEIR LANGUAGE. Learning Horse Speak begins from outside the fence and at liberty. Any age or skill level can do it. It’s safe, quiet, and so deeply moving. It is changing the lives of horses and humans across the globe.

Waiting on the bridge before returning to the barn & his buddies.

If you do anything with horses, even just love them, click on the link below to learn more and view this years events. Horses are provided for all Horse Speak events. https://heidipotter.com/events/

Centered Riding & Breathing To The Rescue

THANKFUL FOR SUCH A SURE-FOOTED HORSE!


Riley and I got out for a bareback ride a couple days ago. The goal was some exercise and some foraging for grass through the snow. We ride these woods and neighboring fields year-round, avoiding the two known ground hog holes in the far field. Unfortunately, we discovered a 3rd one on this ride.

Suddenly Riley’s right front leg disappeared, dropping him completely down onto his left knee……..and then the scramble started! Time seemed to stand still, as is often the case in these types of situations. I sat pondering my dismount because it was clear to me that we were both going down in some unknown fashion. Suddenly, Riley rose up beneath me and continued walking along calmly like nothing happened.
I was filled with relief that we were both upright and he seemed to be uninjured.

What I found so interesting was the visceral reaction my body had to this event. My lizard brain was triggered and I found my heart racing as we walked along. I don’t even remember the last time I felt like this on a horse. It was such a good lesson for me because I work with many anxious riders who are trying to overcome these feelings. I was able to practice what I preach……deep breathing and returning to the present moment. In addition to my wonderful horse, I credit my Centered Riding background for staying on top.

For over 25 years now I have taught students about breath being their most important tool. It is always the place to return to, during daily life, in crisis and for just trying to be in the present moment.
If you are interested in learning about how breath and mindfulness can lead you to more safe, enjoyable experiences there are several lessons and exercises in my book, Open Heart, Open Mind-A Pathway to Rediscovering Horsemanship. You can order your copy on this website. Just click on “Shopping”. Ride safe and enjoy the journey.

Emotional Stress=Physical Ailments??

Could Equine Asthma Be A Sign of Emotional Stress?
A couple months ago Riley developed a deep, throaty cough, loss of energy and an increased respiratory rate. Our veterinarian was a bit perplexed based on our horse keeping practices, but eventually diagnosed him with the equivalent of Equine Asthma. He was prescribed a two-week course of Zyrtec with further discussions about how to manage this disease long term. I struggled with this diagnosis as Riley is a 15-year-old Canadian who was born outside and has lived outside his entire life. It was winter in Vermont, the ground had been covered in snow and our second cut hay was of great quality.

Listening To Your Gut
My gut told me that his symptoms were a result of the stress he was feeling due to a couple changes in his life. The first one was a concern regarding Jordie, an energetic playful Morgan and Mike, our herd elder. Mike’s owner was concerned that their playful antics were getting too tough on him physically. A trusted intuitive suggested that Riley could perhaps step up to help manage Jordie’s energy. I explained the situation to Riley and asked for his help. He took this request seriously. To watch how things unfolded was quite astonishing, especially for a PB & J, Peacemaker sort of horse. Riley prefers to be in the middle of the herd, neither leading nor being last in line. He stays well out of the way of conflict (unless it involves feeding time and the gate😉). However, he took this request from me seriously. More than once I saw him standing on the bridge to the back pasture with Mike on one side and Jordie on the other, wanting to cross. He stood calmly, quietly, and grounded for long periods of time, holding space and keeping things calm. In the 7 years he has been with me I had never seen him do this.


The second and more stressful change was a difficult integration we were going through with a horse that arrived in the fall. After a very slow process it was time to turn them out together. It was fine at first but then at some point Mike began challenging the new gelding in big, aggressive ways. During that time this horse had begun to randomly chase Riley away, thus causing him to often stand apart from the herd for long periods of time. I watched this for a couple of weeks waiting for things to settle down. The lead horse Scout spent a lot of time “talking” to the new guy about manners, respecting bubbles of personal space, calming down, etc. He was separated from the herd at night, staying with Jordie who he got along with. This allowed time for Riley, Scout and Mike to rest and restore. 


My gut had been telling me that Riley’s symptoms were caused by stress. His lungs were “depressed” as I’m certain he was, at the loss of the herd harmony. In Traditional Chinese Medicine the lungs are believed to be connected to emotions of grief, sadness, and detachment. It all lined up. We stopped the Zrytec as it didn’t seem to be helping. I released him from his responsibility, asking him to focus on healing himself, and we stopped the integration.  Riley’s recovery was swift after that. His energy returned and his cough subsided. Three days later we looked down from the house and saw him playing all by himself in the paddock. He was rolling our plastic “safety” barrel across the paddock, trying to stand it up on end and bouncing it around. My horse was back!


This was a lesson in listening to my intuition and realizing how especially volatile sensitive horses can be. If your horse begins experiencing troubling physical symptoms that seem mysterious to you and your vet, try checking in with your gut and your heart. Sit in quiet meditation with your horse. Open yourself up, allowing pictures, thoughts or feelings to be exchanged. Consider that environmental changes, changes in herd dynamics and or human interactions, can affect our horse’s physical well-being. Just like humans, mental and emotional stress can manifest itself in physical ways with our horses. Always seek the help of professionals but count yourself in as an important part of the team. Listen to you your gut and listen to your horse.

Horses Know……..We Just Have To Believe

A few weeks ago I was getting on bareback for a little winter ride. Mounting up on Riley without stirrups takes a bit of effort as he is just under 16 hands. As I pushed off my left leg from the mounting block I experienced an intense pain in my knee. I doubled over on his back, did some deep breathing, and waited for the pain to subside. Riley stood stock still there in the paddock with the other horses looking on. After regaining my composure, I considered my options. I could stay on and ride, or I could get off. Of course, I chose staying on 😉 Whatever was going on with my knee surely wasn’t going to get worse by sitting on my horse. We had a nice ride. I returned to the paddock and carefully dismounted. The intense pain returned as soon as I found the ground. My husband and son came to my rescue and helped me get up to the house.


Fast forward a week later and my knee was feeling much better. Ice and elevation seemed to have made a difference. The swelling behind my knee only flared up when I did too much. I grabbed my helmet one day and moved the block into the paddock. I decided to stand on it and see what Riley might offer me. The thoughts that flittered through my brain were that my knee wasn’t really 100% and there was still some ice in the paddock and pasture. However, I had decided that everything would likely be fine. Riley approached me within a few moments. He stood by me and we hung out for a while. I invited him to step up to the block, but he didn’t take me up on my offer. He responded by reaching out and lightly touching my left knee with his muzzle. He lingered there for a bit, never moving his feet. We continued to relax together for a while and then I turned to leave. It wasn’t until I was walking away that I realized what had happened. Was it just coincidental?? Possibly. Either way I’m quite certain he made the best decision on my behalf that day. It was still a bit icy, I wasn’t 100% and he was naked.


A brace, ice and elevation mostly controlled the swelling and discomfort in my knee while I waited for the X-ray and MRI appointments. I realized that mounting and carefully dismounting on the off-side worked quite well and prevented reinjury. One day I decided it was time to get back to more serious riding and tacked up with full gear. Riley was a bit edgy that day, protesting about almost everything I did in preparation. I took my time and we were finally ready to head out to the newly dried out ring. Anxious to get on and begin some real work I led him up to the block.

His attitude for the day continued at the block with him refusing to step up. Every time I lined him up and prepared to mount he would slowly take one step backwards. Ugh!!! I tried to remain patient but admit to feeling a little frustrated, knowing that I could just insist he do it. However, I have worked hard over the last few years to really listen to him and not fall back to using my “training tools” to get things done. That is when it happened, again. Riley reached out and touched my left knee. I stood there a moment in disbelief. He was right! I had forgotten to line him up on the off-side. Last time I had mounted from the left it had turned out badly. I turned him around, he lined up perfectly and stood calmly while I got on.
Clearly, this was no coincidence. Horses are more sensitive than we are. Why should we doubt their ability to communicate with us in this way? Science has proven that other species, such as dogs, can sniff out cancer, notify people in advance of seizures, etc. One of my clinic students told a story about her horse of many years suddenly not letting her mount up. During that time she went to a routine Dr. appointment where it was discovered that she had Wolff-Parkinson-White Syndrome, a condition that causes rapid heartbeats. She was totally unaware of this. Once she was on medication to regulate her heart rhythm the horse again allowed her to mount him.


Over the last few years I have gotten much better at slowing down and listening to the horse. Horse Speak® has taught me how to create space for the horse to communicate more freely and how to better understand his messages. It has also taught me how to respond in a way that is natural to him. Horses do NOTHING by mistake. Every gesture, posture, and signal mean something and are done purposefully. Often, they are incredibly subtle and easily missed. If we can become present and open, letting go of our intentions and agendas, we will be able to “hear” what they are saying to us. We can answer their most pressing questions, create enrichment and assure safety, thus demonstrating our strong leadership skills. Then we become the one they want to follow with trust and heart. It is an amazing journey.


Next time you are with your horse try spending a few quiet minutes just “being”. Open yourself up to receiving the subtle messages that come your way. Resist the urge to touch him, allow him to touch you. Notice how and where he does that. Is there a message he is giving you? Learn how to respond in his language. (Horse Speak will get you there.) This is how, where and when the magic happens. Enjoy!

Oh yeah, I forgot to mention that I am writing this as I recover from knee surgery to remove a torn meniscus and cyst. Looking forward to getting back to the barn, back to my friends and back in the saddle in a few weeks 🙂

Liberty Play: Doing “with” or Doing “to”?

Horses and humans playing at liberty has always excited me. I love the idea of the horse being free to interact and play. When I watch horses I innately become aware of how it “feels” to them. I am elated when filled with feelings of joy, concentration, desire, and pride. I feel great sadness when the the feelings represent a horse that is just doing his “duty”, not being allowed to express himself. Like a trained “soldier”, he performs what is asked through fear of repercussion, not through willingness and not with joy.

As a Trainer for the International Horse Agility Club of England I never forgot feedback I received from the club founder, Vanessa Bee, many years ago. After viewing one of my Liberty Competition videos she commented that while it was good, I needed to allow things to go “wrong”. The point was that liberty play should always be a dynamic conversation between the horse and human, allowing space for the horse to express himself. The point was not to “micro-manage” it with the goal of perfection and obedience. It should be a demonstration of connection, conversation, mutual respect and fun.

Trusting Me, Trusting You…….

On trail rides with Riley I balance elements of fitness with time for enrichment. For Riley the enrichment moments generally involve food, especially in winter. We go out into the fields to forage through the snow for buried acorns or patches of grass.

A few rides ago I sat on a rock while he was foraging with the lead line draped over his neck. I reflected on how strong our connection was and how much he trusts me. Because he lacks confidence he does things for me that he would never otherwise “choose” to do. I realized that I needed to trust him and our relationship as well, so I turned him loose. I let him forage for quite some time and then it was time to head home. We were two fields away, off property, but far from any roads or houses. There was no reason to think that he would want to go anywhere else than back home with me. Turns out I was right. It took a little extra time, because he had a voice, and because it was a conversation. Below are a couple clips of our liberty excursions this winter. Think about the partnership you have created with your horse. Consider some scenarios where you could put all that work to the test and show him how much you trust him. Be safe and have fun.  

Evaluating What You Are Observing

Can you determine if a horse is happy in work or play with a human, or just being obedient? Watch his expression and observe his body. Are his ears floppy, perky, back slightly in concentration or pinned? Is his tail swinging and lifted, or clamped and tight? Are his facial features and expressions bright, interested, and relaxed, or pinched and dull?

If you want to improve your observation skills I recommend learning Horse Speak®, the exact and specific language of the horse. Founder, Sharon Wilsie has created a learnable, teachable format based on the postures, gestures and signals that horses use naturally in communication with each other. Begin your journey by watching some of the free videos on https://sharonwilsie.com/webinars-and-online-courses/

Off-Property Liberty Walk VideoSee video below

Thank you, thank you. I have just begun this transition in thinking with my horse and myself. After years of mastering traditional natural horsemanship training and “liberty” work, I realized there was no liberty in what I was doing. Such a lot of rethinking for me to learn but I am experiencing a shift in our relationship that I feel is right. I am in Ontario Canada. Your article and Off-Property Liberty Walk video was just what I needed to read.

Trail Ride Conversation & Bare Naked Stroll Home-See video below

Conversations during our ride…….

Riley: We can’t pass by Captain because he walks through fences (which is true!). After lots of breathing, requests for movement, getting mini steps and waiting some more, I finally really listened. I broke a branch off the tree and moved Captain away from the fence. Riley thanked me by willingly moving forward right away.

Riley: This is A LOT of work, stopping several times in the deep snow.

Me: The snow mobile trail is just up there………

Me on the way home: Let’s stop and I’ll wear the bitless bridle.

Riley: Fine……

However, Riley vacillated between being okay and feeling a bit stressed. Sometimes he followed and twice he went ahead, waiting for me both times, once at the wood line and once at the bridge. Once home he stopped before the paddock, took inventory of the herd, nibbled the tree and dumped a lot of stress. After watching the video clips, I promised him I would remain present and fully connected on our next venture out. Filming and sharing is fun but prevents me from being fully in the moment. Thank you Mother Nature for sunshine, mild temps (30’s) and good footing, all at one time!!

Paying Attention to Intention

This past summer I was asked to ride this silly boy Cooper by his owner. On this trail lesson I was also working with the farm owner riding her horse Rhett, Cooper’s best buddy and herd leader. Cooper’s owner had been working on his confidence and had varying degrees of success, even just hand walking him away from the farm had its challenges. Sometimes his balking began in the arena before they even got to the driveway. Having owned this little chestnut Quarter Horse for many years myself I understood the balance of sensitivity and leadership he required. He could really dig his heels in and just refuse to move. I felt his apprehension as soon as we left the barnyard.

During the ride he vacillated between looking behind him for the boogeyman, being jittery and accepting some calming cues from me. Once we were headed back to the farm his pace picked up a bit, clearly stating how much he wanted the safety and security of home.

About a football field away from the farm I dropped my “magic wand” in the field. I decided to use retrieving it as a training opportunity. I dismounted a bit before the entrance to the farm and clearly stated our mission to Cooper as Rhett proceeded back to the barn. Knowing this would be a challenge for him I exaggerated my language. I pointed in the direction of the whip, verbalized out loud what my intent was, and took off marching at a good clip, keeping my eyes and energy focused on where I thought the whip was. I was thrilled when he matched his energy to mine without an ounce of apprehension. Occasionally he had to pick up a jog to keep up. He did so willing with the reins remaining slack in my hand.

Suddenly he stopped. I was envisioning that the wand was still about 20’ ahead and to the left of us. I backed up a step to better align myself with him and began to request that we continue. He was squared up in front and pretty committed to not moving. That is when I saw it. The wand was lined up exactly to the right of his front legs. I promised him that we were only leaving the farm to go get the whip……….and he held me to it. 😊

It is amazing how much horses understand us when we pay attention to our intention. Being congruent, honest, and clear is the way of the horse. They don’t know any other way to be. Amazing things happen when we base our interactions on how horses interact with one another. They are never not listening. Be honest, be clear, be a good listener and reap the benefits of a safer, calmer more enjoyable relationship with your equine friends.

Trailer Loading Success in Under 2 Minutes

Riley came to me for training as a 2-year old with the goal of helping him overcome his many fear issues. One of his biggest hurdles was trailer loading and this still plagues him 13 years later. We trailer out a few times a month and he always loads, but with varying levels of anxiety. Over the last 6 weeks I have used a Horse Speak® routine that has had amazing, lasting effects. This routine takes less than two minutes and has a calming, grounding, centering effect on both the horse and the human.  

The sequence I use was discovered during a filming session for the 2020 Horse Speak® Buttons Webinar Series at my farm. (visithttps://horse-speak.teachable.com/)  One aspect of our work involved combining a “Hold Hand” and a breath on two Buttons simultaneously. With Riley standing at liberty in the barn aisle Sharon instructed me to place a soft, open palm on Riley’s Follow Me Button and the other one on the Bridge of the Nose Button. I held for one breath, released, and paused, repeating it three times. After a short set of three I stepped away and relaxed. When I stepped back Riley took a sideways step towards me, saying “Do it again.” I did as he requested, repeating the series multiple times. Previously, he had been nudgy and restless. After each sequence he became calmer and calmer, softening his eyes, deepening his breathing and lowering his head.   

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Helping a Youngster Understand Bubbles, Boundaries and the wonder of Zero

“Horse Speaking” with young Dillion at Maple Woods Farm last March was one of the highlights of this clinic. Although lovable, confident and cute, Dillion was a “Bubble Popper”. Using the language of Horse Speak, his “Go Away Face” (GAF) Button was non-existent. He just had no idea that a sending of energy or touch to that part of his face was a request for space. He crowded me in an attempt for affection, protection, connection, you name it. When I gently asked him for a little space he didn’t know how to respond. To clarify my need for space I added the Mid-Neck and Shoulder Buttons to the GAF Button. I did this by facing him, pointing my center in the direction I wanted him to move towards and asking him to not only turn his face away but take his front feet and shoulders with him. That’s when the light bulb went on and he began to understand.

He honored my request for space by stepping over with his front end, and then he bounced right back saying, “Do it again……” After repeating the same request multiple times he suddenly didn’t bounce back. He stood quietly, keeping space between us. That’s when it was clear that the seed had been sown and we could take a pause, allowing time for processing. We quietly shared space with me stepping away a bit but leaving a “Hold Hand” up to define the edges of our bubbles. We were still connected, our Bubbles still touching, but not collapsing into one another.

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An Easy Way to Create Feelings of Safety & Security For Your Horse

What would make a horse seek out an object to stand near? The answer is easier to understand than you think, because we are not that different. If you were alone and sleeping outside would you choose to sleep near something or out in an large open space? What feelings would both scenarios evoke?

I’m guessing that like horses, most of us would choose to sleep near a tree, an outcropping of ledge, a large rock, etc. Like us, horses inherently know that being out in the open leaves us vulnerable. There is safety in numbers, but if that isn’t possible a “Safety Object” can do the trick.


Observe your horses at rest and notice the surrounding environment. Are they near other horses? Are their butts towards a shelter, tree, a post or the fence line? This gives us the answer to their preferences.

Horse Speak® founder Sharon Wilsie has coined the phrase, “Safety Object” and taught us how to replicate the feeling of safety for the horses we keep on our farms or travel abroad with.

It’s as easy as this:

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