The Gift of a Royal Pause

“All my longings lie open before you, Lord; my sighing is not hidden from you.” (Psalm 38:9)

“Your heavenly Father knows what you need before you ask ….”

(Matthew 6:8)

“Every good and perfect gift comes down from the Father of heavenly lights with whom there is no variation due to change….” (James 1:17)

“For if the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what one does not have.” (II. Corinthians 8:12)

“And my God will meet all your needs according to His glorious riches in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:19)

“And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.” (II. Corinthians 9:8)

“All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned, each of us, to his own way; and the Lord has laid on Him [Jesus] the iniquity of us all.” (Isaiah 53:6)

“For you were like sheep going astray, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.” (I. Peter 2:25)

“You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.

(I Peter 2:9)

“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever.”

( I. Corinthians 9:24,25)

 

Sometimes God asks us to “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10) —to pause in the midst of our wanderings and take stock of what roots and grounds us, enabling us to be instruments of change and establish “the boundaries of our habitation.” A horse by the name of “Royal Pause”, who was essentially a rescue headed to slaughter , was brought to my doorstep at a time I needed roots—more specifically, a reason to stay in one place for a while—a place to call “home” for a season. “Royal” references power and authority, while “Pause” means a momentary cessation of movement to consider options before moving on—the summary of a journey over the past 40 days that has been an example of what’s required when One who loves makes sacrifices to rescue a creation of God from certain death. It costs everything: time, money, and attention; testing whatever measure of faith is invested, drawing on mere sparks of confidence willing to take chances, and sharpening once dim eyes to see miracles of direction and provision within the context of daily life. It has taken a horse, after the “arm of man” failed, to give hope again that intentional care is worth the cost. I am not embarrassed to say: I believe “Royal Pause” was an offering— a gift from God, requiring responsible action—an assigment I chose to accept. Her arrival and ongoing progress have demonstrated to me and a handful of others, how things of great value, lost or given up, can be restored with focused attention, deliberate care, rest, and time. Furthermore, that consistent care given to an individual life is a part of healing a greater community, and that participation in the process touches and changes more than just oneself or the life being preserved. Encouraged by a small and growing fan base, the cause of bringing one discarded horse back to health, as a small community has rallied around her, contributing diverse abilities and resources, demonstrates the essence of healing that eventually spills over into a larger reservoir where others can draw inspiration for their own journeys.

The commitment and love required when a creation of God depends on you for its life—like a young child— has grounded me in a relationship where trust can be rebuilt and a spirit of cooperation nurtured. It’s been a lesson in becoming a little more like Jesus, who saves us from spiritual depravity and the sting of physical death, through fresh supplies of grace and mercy needed to know a new and more abundant life. When we’re willing to risk new perspectives and methods, and approach each day as an ongoing adventure, new purposes in life are found and shared.

Please allow me, now, to share what I believe is only the beginning of a wonderful story still being written:

Important gifts sometimes come in large packages. At least, this is the consolation I’ve given myself when considering the fifteen-hand horse out in the stall and pasture for the past forty days—and counting. Sunday Oct. 11th was a pivotal date when an answer to unspoken prayer came to my door, unsolicited. Let me share a little history leading up to what I believe was a much needed shifting of gears in my personal life.

I had been traveling the U.S. west of the Mississippi for two months with two dogs and a tent, living out of my car or with friends and family along the way. I was trying to put miles between myself and a past I felt a need to grow beyond. Among other things, I’d felt it best to give up a beloved mare with a foal in her belly, a year and a half earlier. So when I’d paused in Texas on an historic family farm for a couple of weeks, one of the things I’d done to console myself was to visit the foal out of the mare I’d once owned. It seemed no small coincidence she was being stabled nearby. I knew the filly I’d been privileged to name “Via Nova” —-by way of a bright shining star— was scheduled to leave for the Fasig-Tipton sales in Kentucky on October 6th, so I’d carved out time to visit her three times just to marvel at her growth and “pray her forward” into the brilliant future I’d always envisioned.

Several hundred miles further east, a small farm I owned in northeastern Kentucky had been on the market too long, and proving problematic. I’d had a couple of good job offers in other states, but it had become painfully apparent that starting a new life anywhere else without its sale was close to impossible. So after two weeks of scraping and painting the exterior of another old farmhouse in Texas, I decided to start driving back to Kentucky on October 5th, arriving at the small farm-house the evening of October 7th. My plan was to “take the bull by the horns” and do what was needed to clean up the neglected property, make it a place where I could rest, regroup, and live until hopes of a “sooner rather than later” sale might be realized. Being an absentee landlord had not worked in my favor, and I’d concluded it would be better to temporarily camp out inside a cozy house in an obscure place for the winter, rather than a tent. In my travels, I’d also learned it’s where you choose to focus that makes life either disagreeable or a thing of beauty. I was determined to find a way to settle down a while, at least until the next crossroads appeared.

On the third day back, Saturday Oct. 10th, I’d gone on a peaceful hike with a friend and our three hiking dogs in a beautiful southeastern part of a state that felt like “home”. It was a glorious Kentucky fall day that ended well, after a leisurely picnic and promises to keep lines of communication open with the possibility of a new start on the horizon. It seemed better days were just ahead, and the chill of fall was more invigorating than threatening. At the time, I didn’t have the foresight to see the circumstances that would undermine any hope of restoring a once-cherished relationship. My “life as an open book” policy was soon to backfire with the realization I could no longer agree to secrets and deceptions, like the ones leading to a cataclysmic breakup a year and a half earlier. A profound sadness and loneliness was soon stalking me like a wolf trying to find its way through the door of a safe-house.

On Sunday Oct. 11th, my fourth day back on the farm, I’d gone to a small country church around the corner and up a hill. The message had ended with “Be still and know that I am God.” (Psalm 46:10). Even so, I couldn’t bear the thought of going back to the house and being alone on another perfect weather day, so I made arrangements to meet friends who would be at Keenland in Lexington to watch horse-racing among happy people. Over the course of the afternoon, in conversation with others whose paths had crossed mine, I’d commented about how I missed seeing a horse out in my field: “I’d even take an old, retired Thoroughbred just to see a horse out back again, just to “love on”.

My home had never seemed complete after giving up a mare in foal, before I’d left the state abruptly on Easter weekend of 2014, trying to escape a relationship and living arrangement that had become too painful to tolerate. I had done what was best for the horses, at the time, but giving up things that have meant alot to you is never easy or pleasant. I’d always been thankful to know both mare and foal were in the best of care, but there was still a residual sense of loss lingering. (I now think an angel on assignment from God heard my comment at the race track, and set a plan in motion that very afternoon. I needed a reason to stay someplace for longer than a day or two, and someone with resources bigger than my own was creating that motivation as I stood about dreaming.)

It was after dark on Sunday October 11th before I got back to the farm house an hour and a half away from the rolling hills and manicured horse pastures of the Bluegrass region. As I was cleaning up a few dishes after dinner, the dogs barked when someone knocked at the front door. (Few come to my front door since the walkway leading to it starts and ends at a drainage ditch, and the hinges of the beautiful cut-glass centerpiece, hung on the wrong side by a previous home remodeler, make it an awkward entrance.) Even so, I turned on the porch light and greeted a young man who looked familiar. He was a couple of feet taller than I’d remembered him as a middle school student, and the faces of his parents for whom I’d substitute taught several years before came to mind.

“Spencer?”, I’d said with a tone of curiosity in my voice, wondering what had brought him to my doorstep.

“Hi Ms. Weber, I bought a horse today, and wondered if you’d like to buy her.” He was polite but direct in explaining his purchase of a horse at a local sale as part of a drug dealer’s assets liquidation. The former owner was going to prison, and he’d gotten her cheap. “I’ve never bought a horse before, but I remembered the stories you used to tell us about your horse. I can bring her by tomorrow after school.”

Amused, I said, “Spencer, I’ve only been back in town for four days. I don’t have a job yet, and the only fencing I have is the four-board corral you see around the stall out back.”

Undeterred, the young man explained that his grandfather was dying at home and had told him to stop moping around and get busy—to do something. His grandfather had been a horse trader and trainer in his younger years, so buying a horse seemed like the thing to do. But this horse, he confessed, needed help. It was underweight and though he could sell it for a small profit at the auction house, it was certain to go to slaughter from there.

“No pressure there”, I’d thought, knowing all too well I am a rescuer of animals, and there is nothing that tugs at my heart-strings more than hearing a horse or dog might be euthanized because a previous owner wasn’t responsible enough to give it care or find it a suitable home. So I asked, “Do you have a vet history or papers of any kind on the horse?”, trying at least to be polite and honor his industriousness.

“Only one,” the young man had commented. ” I’ll go get it out of the truck.” When he came back, the Fleming County High School Senior handed me a folded paper. I opened it to find a Jockey’s Club Registration for a 15 year old, Chestnut colored, Thoroughbred mare. Reading down the page, her father’s name was on record as “King of Kings” from Ireland; and the mother’s father from France was noted as “Riverman”. Something in me stirred , but then I read the rescued mare’s registered name: “Royal Pause”. The scripture spoken at the end of the church meeting earlier in the day came back to mind: “Be still and know that I am God.” Tears welled up in my eyes and I turned to the young man who’d handed me the paper. “Have you looked at this paper?” Spencer shook his head, “No.” I showed it to him unfolded. “I don’t have the money right now to buy her, but if you need a place for her temporarily and want to bring her by, she can stay in the corral out back a few days, and I’ll do what I can for her. Go be with your grandfather while you still have time”, I’d said.

“I’ll bring her by tomorrow after school,” the young man’s tone suggested the deal was already done. I offered to give him a small deposit until I could see if money might be raised to save her from the slaughter house, and he’d agreed. After he drove off into the darkness, I’d called the pastor of the small church up on the hill, and recounted the day’s events hoping he might give me some insight or make a suggestion. His only response was to laugh out loud and ask, “How many signs do you need?!” I felt in my heart the confirmation I needed.

I had the night to sleep on it. I’d been praying for a place to rest and regroup and finally call “home” again. The truth was I needed something to ground me a while. I’d been in transition for over a year and a half, and the novelty of going someplace new all the time was wearing off. One of the things that had made it “home” for me before in this place was waking every day to a horse in the field I could feed, groom, and ride occasionally. I ‘d even said earlier in the day, “the horse wouldn’t even have to DO anything for me beyond just being there.” Again, I considered that an angel from God had something to do with a young man’s arrival at an unused front door that Sunday evening, followed by a needy horse’s arrival soon there-after. I needed her as much as she needed me.

Monday October 12th was Columbus Day, so in the early afternoon, shortly after I’d spent all morning cutting down a year’s worth of weeds in the corral and around the fencing and gates, a livestock trailer with a subdued mare rattled down the grassy road to the stall area. She was tied to an open railing designed for cattle with a frayed halter, matted mane, and burrs in her thin coat. “Royal Pause” wasn’t very impressive much in need of a bath and hoof trim. There was a sad, inquisitive look in her eyes, and I wanted to somehow reassure her she was now in friendly territory. She unloaded easily and once turned out into the corral, explored her new surroundings foraging through weeds and stems still protruding through the limestone gravel base. The young man agreed to return the following evening to see if I’d been able to come up with her now reduced asking price, but it was several days later before he’d return. His grandfather’s funeral was soon to follow.

Waiting on Spencer’s return, I gave Royal a bath, gently combing out tangles, before cutting the unyielding mats from her mane. The next day I had an impromptu crossing of paths with the farrier milling about town, who’d once trimmed my previous mare’s hooves. He’d agreed to come out and take care of this new charge’s hooves within a day. (His assessment of their condition encouraged me. He confirmed “she has a chance”.) Even as I was thinking about contacting a woman in Florida who manages Thoroughbred Rescue & Reclaim near Ocala, Deb Adams sent me a Facebook message asking where I was and what I was up to these days. We hadn’t communicated in months, so I felt like it was God’s way of making sure I got the right information to help a needy mare back to health. I had printed out a UK study found on the internet with instructions about how to refeed a starving horse, but hearing Deb’s input was the reassurance needed so I wouldn’t make any big mistakes and cause more damage to a malnourished horse I wanted to help.

Several days later when Spencer showed up, he and I both knew he’d found the right place to bring “the first horse he’d ever bought”. I’d found the money to pay him at least an amount that would make his purchase and transporting of “Royal Pause” to White Oak Farm as profitable as selling her at a local auction-house to “killers”. I’d already arranged for a trusted vet to come out and do a health check and give her annual shots, two weeks from the day of her arrival. At least she would be cleared for someone else to take and I could responsibly rehome the mare after some weight was put back on her, if I couldn’t keep her, I’d reasoned. I was intent on being a responsible steward of a project I couldn’t turn away.

Soon thereafter, two friends expressed a need for help at their table during the Thoroughbred Make-Over event at the Kentucky Horse Park. In exchange for a few hours attending their booth, I was offered entrance to a seminar of my choosing. It so happened the first program that Saturday morning was on Thoroughbred Aftercare with panelists from various Retirement and Retraining Non-Profits, whose mission was to save, retrain, and rehome horses after their racing careers had ended. As experienced “rescuers” , they were a wealth of information about a concern close to my own heart. Unfortunately, because of Royal Pause’s age and unknown background, she was one of the greatest “at risk” candidates for falling through the cracks and being disposed of in a way that didn’t sit right with me. Copious notes and several phone calls over the next few days confirmed that there were few places able or willing to take a 15 year old mare into their limited capacity facilities.

Never the less, in consideration of events to follow, I believe Royal Pause was sent to White Oak Farm for another reason. Only God could have known the beloved filly out of the mare I’d given up—the one I’d been privileged to name “Via Nova”— the one I’d made a point of visiting several times since she’d been foaled—would be sold at Fasig-Tipton for a mere $1,000 more than I had credit to offer in bidding. The day her Hip number came up in the ring was October 20th which happened to be my beloved grandmother’s birthday. Though she was not a betting woman, I’d hoped she was watching from heaven with a little influence of her own hovering over the high pitch and fast pace of the auction ring that day. (At this point I have to acknowledge my own mother’s probable anxiety as she reads about this “gamble” I was willing to take. The truth is I was on “automatic”, calm and focused, but not knowing until after seeing Via Nova in the pre-auction tent that I would quickly take the last-minute steps to qualify as a purchaser. I wasn’t there to take home ten horses, like so many seemed to be doing seamlessly. I was there on behalf of one filly, Via Nova. Another woman and I had been fervently praying about her future owners and trainers. At the time, Lori and I had enough faith to “take back” ground and believe Via Nova might just be in a trailer headed back to White Oak Farm before the end of the day. As much as I wanted to buy her back and protect her from potential abuse or injury, the test had become about whether or not I trusted God enough to let her go to whomever could most responsibly develop her potential as the racing champion she was bred and born to become. Wild and crazy faith wells up when you want something with a passion….when you feel the stirrings of something great in the presence of another being. (At this point I want to thank Bob Clark and Susan Rose for finding an excuse to come and sit next to me in the auction arena. They knew it wouldn’t be an easy day for me, but they had no idea at the time I was bidding on Via Nova, until the heat of the moment, when the spotter at one point looked to them as possbile bidders sitting beside me in the front row. Now it’s a little humorous. I thank them for their kind words soothing a downcast spirit that would have taken over if they hadn’t been there to refocus my expectations and look forward with a degree of hope as I was outbid. Finding out who had bought a horse I’d prayed over since before she was in her mom’s belly, and learning that the main trainer for her new owners was known for his success with fillies, was also reassuring. Hearing the words, “You showed her some love—-that’s more than alot of these horses ever get”, from Susan, was some consolation.

Knowing I had a needy horse back on the farm, who wouldn’t be the companion for the filly I’d hoped to bring “home”, eased the disappointment of being out-bid by an Olympia Starr LLC agent from Florida “pin-tailing” yearlings. I can still hope someday to see her “fly” or beautifully “finished” in a career a greater wisdom knew I wasn’t equipped to accommodate. In the mean time, I’ll be busy proving “faithful in a little”, as the measure entrusted to me for a season helps me be a good steward. ( I feel a need to pause and express great sadness over the recent euthenization of “Shared Belief”, a gifted horse being trained by Jerry Hollendorfer, affilliated with Olympia Star. It didn’t help allay concerns about Via Nova’s welfare, either, after watching the movie “Ruffian” the night before this tragic current event hit the news. Both Ruffian and Shared Belief are examples that there are no guarantees in horse racing. The most promising and brilliant can appear impressive on the public stage, only to fall short of making it to retirement or a new career, before injury or stress-induced sicknesses cause their demise and sometimes death.)

Standing in a long line at a bank on a Saturday morning, I would learn more about Royal Pause’s past. The young man who’d brought her to me was coming in as I was exiting. “Hey, Ms. Weber. This is Cole. He’s the one who sold me your mare”, as if to emphasize the fact that she was truelly mine. Cole explained he had retrieved “Royal” from a grove of trees full of briars where she’d been part of a neglected herd. Cole had heard she was raced a few times, and the woman who had to give her up had cried alot because the Chestnut mare with the stunning white blaze on her face and white socks had been her prize show horse as a jumper, barrell racer, and pole bender. He’d even heard she had won a 2008 Kentucky State Fair race of some kind.

I had just come from the library and had a print out of Royal Pause’s note-worthy pedigree. As a weanling sold at Keenland, Royal Pause had brought $26,000 which didn’t even cover the $35,000 stud fee for her father, King of Kings from Ireland. Only a year later, as a yearling, she’d been sold for $4,000. An email response to other inquiries from a friend with access to race history and breeding records, indicated she had raced seven times and won or placed, earning over $11,000 in her brief racing career. She was fourth out of seven “siblings”, and Royal had foaled one filley in 2010, who also raced briefly. And now this increasingly beautiful horse was on my small farm in an obscure place that offered modest accomodations at best. In the world’s eyes she had already served her purpose, and had almost faced disposal. I felt privileged she was now gracing my fields and life, and I wanted the woman who’d “cried a bucket of tears” over losing her to know she is now in a safe place being cared for responsibly.

It was now 40 days and counting since Royal Pause had come to White Oak Farm. A friend from Lexington, Ginny Grulke, who knows horses from her years in KY Horse Council and Back Country Horsemen leadership and through experiences with her own horses, made the trip out to White Oak Farm with a saddle, three girths, and a bridle to see how a mystery mare observed running a fence-line would respond under tack. Previously, a simple brown fleece blanket had been laid across the mare’s back, removed, and replaced several times. Carefully, Ginny laid her English saddle on the back of the unflinching mare, and incrementally tightened a girth around her full chest. It was almost amusing to watch Royal’s eyes close, as she seemed to be falling asleep and gave a big sigh, as if to say: “Ok, I’ve done this before.” Over the course of the next half hour, with a lunge line attached to a bridle and bit she uneventfully accepted, I laid across the saddle as Ginny allowed her to walk around the corral with my weight draped over her back. The next steps were mounting and sitting, testing reigning techniques to which she was responsive, and even a slight trot with the lunge line removed. Royal had obviously been ridden and seemed to be reveling in the feel of someone who knew more about her worth. Even so, the sun was going down and we didn’t want to push our experiment too far the first time. The 15 year old mare was just getting weight and health back in her frame. The rest of the evening she dozed and recovered from our shared excitement of discovery. (There was only a minor problem when it came to picking up where we left off. I no longer owned a saddle and bridle, and the need for another person to be in close proximity when she was finally ridden again was strongly advised. In the mean time, there were more urgent needs to address like better and more extensive fencing and a new delivery of hay.)

As the weather started turning colder, it became apparent a heating element and extension cords to the house would be needed to prevent water in the trough from freezing. (Carrying buckets of warm water from the house to the stall area had become difficult with symptoms of numbness in both hands and arms increasing. Using a borrowed post driver to set T-posts for temporary fencing had not helped lessen the resulting physical limitations.) Thankfully, a couple of neighbors who were quickly becoming Royal’s “fans” assisted when the posts needed to be removed and relocated for extended winter grazing. There were also admirers who regularly brought cut up apples or carrotts, and occassionally peppermints—-her favorite—and she smartly greeted each one as she began recognizing them during visits.

Then, one early morning in December I went out to feed Royal, expecting her to be hidden behind her favorite end of the metal sided stall, but it soon became apparent there was no horse coming out to meet me in the corrall or anywhere from within the fencing. Inspecting the vacant pasture, I saw a post leaning severly outward and a line splayed next to the rain soaked ground. Grabbing the rope halter from the tack room, I ran back inside the house to grab my phone and saw a message sent before midnight from a neighbor: “Is your horse out? Just so you know, the Amish horses are fixed.” There was the clue. There had been several occassions when whinnying and rapt attention had been exchanged between Royal Pause and horses in a neighboring field across the road. I headed in that direction, hoping to see evidence of her route beyond the blacktop road as I hurried on foot, across the way and up the hill.

No one seemed to be home at the Amish house, but when I looked in the direction of the open-ended barn, I saw a white-blazed face peering out of the darkness. Hurrying towards the shadowy interior, I saw Royal with cobwebs in her mane, a gash on her face, unconcerned about her mud-caked coat, safely retained in a stall next to an equally muddy black gelding whose company she was enjoying. As I started talking to her, a young Amish girl came around the corner and explained her brother had seen Royal out in the dark making tracks through their yard in the middle of the night, so he’d put her in a safe place til morning. I was appreciative. I talked to Royal telling her I understood her loneliness, as I carefully put the halter over her scarred face. Then I coaxed my wayward mare towards home, promising some day she wouldn’t have to be alone and more spacious pastures with better fencing was “on the way”. As I lead her down the road to the four-cornered, four-way stop of Burtonville, Royal kept pausing to keep her suitor in sight. After a few heartfelt calls to one another, she reluctantly consented to being led back to her own corral where I doctored the wounds of a wanderer, and fed her within a familiar zone of safety. (She was like a lost child who’d been found and brought back home. And par for a care-taker’s thought processes, my mind began trouble-shooting how to prevent another “breakout” and prevent further injury.) Thankfully, the gash on her head was superficial, and a washing with peroxide followed by an application of coconut oil mixed with tea tree and myrh oils would have to suffice until another ointment could be purchased.

As traditional celebrations for Christmas approach, I keep considering how this unexpected gift of a horse, Royal Pause, was in a way like the coming of Jesus in the form of a dependent baby. Both were unexpected forms of comfort. Both came to obscure, uneventful places—Burtonville and Bethlehem—where simple folk, apart from festivity preparations and daily business, where attending to very basic needs. Both were born into royalty. One had been of great value, before being discarded because advancing age and a person’s drug addiction had added the burden of severe consequences to an otherwise brilliant life. The other was of little apparent value in human form, only to prove His incomparable value as age matured him and the bondage of addictions were broken by His healing love. I thought about how a once scraggily, undernourished horse was becoming beautiful as she regained health; and how a small baby grew to become a Savior who suffered beyond comprehension, on behalf of those who would need restoration. I considered how the despised and rejected can find redemption and new life with simple attention and care, and I found myself praying for this lesson to become an encouragement to others, as well. Neither the horse, Royal, nor the baby Jesus had to do anything to awe or inspire, really. It’s simply been their Presence among us that’s started a transformation. Something deep in our spirits is refined as we focus on the needy and the needed. Wounds are healed in the silence of a pause, as new life is infused into our own by the giving of care.

This morning I watched Royal as she grazed contentedly in her newly defined section of pasture with its temporary boundaries. She followed me around as I added insulators to T-posts in an effort to prevent her from wandering again. There was a simple peace and affection freely shared between us, as the dogs ran and pounced on field mice nearby. I couldn’t help but feel like this was the essence of Christmas: God with Us, radiating the peace that passes all understanding, even in off-the-beaten-track places of life.

Even though I’m still seeking and praying for a job to support a simple existence on an obscure farm in northeastern Kentucky where a horse and two dogs are my companions for now, I’m thankful for the understanding that God still comes to us in small and mysterious ways, and never leaves us the same. Whatever happens in the future, I understand now the essence of life is simply “Being Present” with those entrusted to our care. The rest—the outcome—well, that’s up to a bigger Presence who came as a baby and gave up all that we might know greater truths beyond ourselves, as we’re prompted to consider how to serve one another with a compassion and gratitude that comes only by accepting the Gift of a Royal Pause.

From all creatures, great and small at White Oak Farm, may you and those in your care have a wonderful, meaning-filled Christmas.

 

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