Rider Success Podcast - Episode #2 Show Notes
In Episode 2 of the Rider Success Podcast I speak to Equine Nutritionist, Katie Williams, from the UK’s favourite horse feed company Dengie. Katie is the Technical and Product Development Manager for Dengie. And in this first episode of our equine nutrition series, we're going to be looking at laminitis. Laminitis is a concern for all horse owners and knowing how to recognize the signs and symptoms of laminitis is vitally important. We're going to be discussing the management and care of laminitic horses and ponies, as well as ways to ensure that you keep your horse healthy and avoid laminitis.
So, let's get started. And welcome, Katie.
Today we're going to be talking about laminitis, and at this time of year it’s something that we're all very conscious of and making sure that our horses stay well and avoid laminitis. We will be talking about how laminitis effects our horses and what we can do to avoid as well as manage the condition.
Tell us a little bit about yourself and what you do at Dengie…
I've been at the Dengie for 16 years now, time flies when you're having fun, and I have to say it's a brilliant job because I get to do so many different things. As the job title suggests, there are two sorts of main areas of the role. One is coming up with new ideas for products, taking them right from conception, doing all the feeding trials, making sure they comply with all the legal requirements that animal feed has to adhere to. And then the second half of the job is providing technical support for internal members of staff as well as giving talks, and writing articles for the wider public.
Fantastic and I understand you've done a lot of research into feed and nutrition and that's something that you’re very passionate about.
Yes, over the years I've done a Masters degree. I'm currently studying part-time for a PhD in Veterinary Medicine Research at the University of Glasgow. I'm particularly looking at post-operative nutrition. So, for the very poorliest horses that unfortunately have to undergo surgery or anesthesia for sort of diagnostic procedures. So that's about a five to six-year project part-time. But yeah, it's great because it keeps me up to speed with all the latest research and accessing papers and things, and at Dengie we are very much into education, developing products based on science. So, we do a lot of research with other institutions, tending to be smaller projects, sort of Masters degree level. And over the years we've sort of looked at the benefits of alfalfa for horses in different forms, so things like hoof quality, as a source of energy and how that impacts on behavior as well so yeah, a really diverse role, which is great because I get to oversee all of that as well as the other stuff that I do.
That’s amazing. Lots of lots of really interesting work there. So today, we're going to be talking about laminitis. Something that the people I'm sure have heard of… if not experienced, and probably associate it with a little fat pony perhaps getting laminitis. Could you give us a little more information about what laminitis is to help people to get a really clear understanding…
Sure. Yeah. I think over the years we've sort of improving our understanding of what laminitis is. But even after you probably 50 years of research now, we still don't fully understand the whole process. So, a lot of it is about risk management in our approach. But essentially, what we see in the horse is a disruption of blood supply to the hoof and the tissues within the hoof capsule, to the laminae and the laminae are the little finger-like projections that link the hoof capsule to the bone, and they join together and support the pedal bone in the hoof and it's when they become either inflamed or damaged to the point where they separate out, it allow the pedal bone to sort of rotate down and in an extreme case, it can come through the soul of the foot. One of the terms used to describe that is Foundering. So those sorts of severity issues are really what we're trying to avoid. So, early detection, and providing that support for the pedal bone is crucial in the long-term prognosis of potentially having a horse or pony that you can return to work. So, those are the clinical signs that we would see from the outside. On the inside, what's actually happening is still not completely understood. But there are various sorts of contributing factors and you can think of it a little bit like a cascade of events. They all come together, and you create that perfect storm where you see, ultimately those clinical signs. So, in the guts, we havethe overload of sugar or starch reaching that hind gut, where normally fibre is digested and that bacterial population that live there do that process very slowly.
When we make that environment much more acidic, which happens when we overload the gut with that sugar and starch, then all the good beneficial bacteria sort of die off, they can release toxins. And that disrupts the permeability of the gut, it makes it leakier in effect, so those toxins and other things in the gut can leak through into the bloodstream. And that sets off the cascade of problems that ultimately end up in the hoof and the damage to the laminae. So, the dietary factors that also contribute to that, we have the acute overload - so an event where by a horse eats too much grass in a day, or escapes into the feed room and gobbles up lots of cereal-based feeds. That's an overload situation, a very acute problem on the chronic long-term issues then diet impacts the risk of laminitis through obesity. So, we know that obese horses and ponies are much greater risk of getting laminitis through simply being overweight. So, diet has an acute potential for laminitis as well as a chronic potential. And it's all of those factors as a nutritionist we're trying to manage and reduce that risk by managing those areas.
Absolutely. Looking at the horse's diet and being able to prevent that through the correct nutrition obviously, is really important. And hopefully, you'll be able to give us some tips on how to make sure that we avoid this situation and that we keep that gut healthy, and we keep the nutrition optimal for the horse. So, in terms of the symptoms that a horse owner would see, what is going those kinds of first signs? how would they identify that as laminitis?
Yeah, I mean, the most obvious one usually is a reluctance to move. So, horses are going to become very foot sore, and you will hear terms used such as ‘my pony’s a bit footy today’ and experienced horse people can see when, particularly for the recurrent laminitic horse or pony, they know when they start to get a bit sore in his front feet. In a more extreme case, you will see them rocking back on their heels. There's the classic stance that they've literally just shifted their weight backward, more of their weight is going through their hindquarters, they tend to have their limbs, their back - hind limbs underneath them a bit more than would be normal. And then rocking back on their heels of their front feet to take the pressure because laminae of the around the outside and at the toe of the front hooves is where the pain is generating from so they will tip back onto their heels, so they can and try to take the pressure off the front of their hooves.
So, if you're walking out to the field, those are very obvious things that you would see perhaps if a pony’s got laminitis. Once you get up close, if you can handle them and feel this pounding digital pulse, that is talked about, that again, takes a bit of skill to find it and learn it. How to spot it, but that is something that is another sign that a potential issue going on, specifically with laminitis.
So noticing what their movement is like and I think the adage of ‘know your horse’ and know what's right for them. We had a little pony in the past that was prone to laminitis, and we managed this by knowing when he wasn't quite right, we were able to change his environment and make sure that he didn't get laminitis. So being aware of that is a really important thing. What we want to do is avoid the situation of getting laminitis, by really kind of keeping an eye out, on what the symptoms are. But I guess any animal could get laminitis? It doesn't have to be that sort of a little pony, it could be any equine that could potentially get laminitis. Am I right in saying?
Yes, very much so, any horse that is overweight, is at risk, whether it's a cob or could even be a thoroughbred that happens to be too fat. There are some that are good doers, but there are other causes. So PPID, which you might be more familiar with as Cushings syndrome, or Cushings disease, it is an endocrine, hormonal problem that predisposes a horse to laminitis and obviously, that affects horses and ponies of any age. So that's something that if you have a diagnosis of PPID in your horse to be aware of because that means they are going to be more prone to laminitis, and you have to feed them accordingly. And post-foaling, mares can retain placenta and become infected and dermatitis and things like that, which, again, can be a sort of risk factor for laminitis. And you can also have a concussion laminitis as well. So aside from all the diet-related ones, if you're working a horse hard on hard ground, and you can end up with the same result, the damage to the laminae. So, all of those effectively predispose a horse to further issues with laminitis, and you would probably want to adjust the diet to reflect that. But the endocrine problems that we're seeing with PPID, a horse doesn’t have to be overweight or fat if they've got PPID, even if they're underweight, they can still be at risk because the disruption to the normal hormonal balance in the horse just simply predisposes them to the problem. So certainly, something to be aware of in every shape and size of horse or pony.
Absolutely. If you've got those other conditions, those predisposing factors, then it's something to bear in mind and be aware of. So, in terms of management how are we going to avoid this situation and not get laminitis in the first place? How are we going to go about doing that and what's going to be the most effective thing to do?
That's really where the role of the nutritionist comes in, because if anyone is struggling with managing their horse or pony’s risk, it’s effectively about keeping them at a healthy weight. And that can be a lot easier said than done. Even with things like peer pressure on your yard, to the people, we are a culture of animal lovers. It is far more socially acceptable to have a horse slightly overweight or cuddly in inverted commas, compared with underweight. Even if being slightly underweight would be a healthier state for that animal to be in. You know, people do come under a bit of pressure on yards to have horses in good condition. Certainly, there are disciplines like showing where people are rewarded for having a horse that's on the tubbier side. Unfortunately, all of those are sort of social factors, if you like that make it quite hard to be disciplined and have a horse that's at a healthy weight or even slightly under an optimum shall we say. Weight loss - weight management are crucial. As a first starting point, I would always recommend weight taping and condition scoring your horse regularly, you need to spot the changes sooner rather than later, and then you can make the dietary adjustments early on, it then doesn't have to be quite so onerous and you can even get the risk right down by having a horse with a condition score of say two and a half on a five-point scale compared to something that's three and a half. So, you know, even a condition score one change is going to really reduce their risk.
We will share some information on condition scoring so people can see what that looks like. I find it useful actually to have the visual there... so, what is a condition score, say five, and what does that look like? So, we'll share that with all of our listeners as well, so they can do that with their own horses.
Click to download the Condition Scoring Chart
One of the crucial points is not to slide the scale as well, unfortunately, again, we have a culture of sort of, well my pony is not quite as fat as yours so it can't be a score five because if yours is the fastest, then… well actually yours is still a five! So yeah, just because there are fatter ponies on the yard or horses on the yard than yours. That doesn't mean to say you haven't got to take action, and we have it with our team, we have portable weigh bridges and they go out and they weigh horses and ponies and condition score them, and it's like well what do I score that one if the other one is a five and you know it's not as fat. It’s still a five!
Yeah, it's a really useful tool, and as you said if you haven't got access to a weigh bridge although I believe that like, for instance, yourself, you have your guys going out and being able to go to yards and do yard visits to weigh ponies and horse, is that right?
Yeah, absolutely. Lots of companies offer it. So, it's certainly something you can do. But if you learn the condition scoring yourself, you learn to sort of feel your horses cresty neck and the rib cage, all those sorts of top tips, you can get a feel for how fat they are. And even if you can't afford to buy a weigh the tape, and you just have a piece of string. Just putting that around your pony’s, sort of circumference, his girth and seeing if it's going up or down. You only a marker of where you're starting, then if it’s going up, and having to go down on the girth holes when you're doing the girth up, then you know that he’s putting on weight. So that's your sign, it doesn't have to be complicated, that is your sign that you need to take action sooner rather than later.
It can be really, really simple as you say, you don't have to have complicated equipment to do this. It's just really paying attention isn't it? and being vigilant as to what is happening with your horse and knowing what is right for them and where you need to be. So, with weight management, say, you've got a pony that is overweight. What is going to be some of the things that we could do to help our horse lose weight?
Yeah, I think grass controlling their sort of intake is the key for a lot of horses and ponies. When spring-summer comes around, it's very tempting to just want to sort of turn them out and not worry about them too much. Because it's pressure off. It’s such a commitment owning a horse over the winter months, it's time-consuming. You've got to be visiting them, mucking out, etc. And it's lovely to see them in the field. But grass is very abundant in sugar. And it's because there's a lot of it, usually available to your horse or pony, it’s the quickest way for them to put on weight. So, you throw various things in, grazing muzzles are shown to be very effective. My colleague Tracy Hammond did her Masters degree and found in her study that the grazing muzzle reduced intake by about 75% and actually was replicated in another study by a lady called Annette Longland, and he found pretty much the same thing. 75 to 80% reduction by using a muzzle, and some people don't like using them, and some horses are very adept at escaping from them.
It's not easy. There are things that I've had tips. So, you can sort of plait the mane and the forelock over the top of the headpieces to try and keep them in situ. If you can keep them on and you're not averse to the principle of using them, they are a very effective tool because it means you can put them out with other horses and ponies and they can roam and interact and behaviourally that generally is a desirable thing for them to be able to do. And alternatives to that are things like restricting the grazing area. So, the track systems that you may be aware of, where you create a sort of, ring around the outside of the field, that they can roam around. So again, they're getting to move, they can follow their friend up the field who's in the middle, and they just have the ability to go around the outside. Because what we don't want is an overweight horse being sedentary and sticking them in a tiny little starvation paddock in the corner of the field is not ideal. So, the track systems seem to work well for that.
It’s hard, because stabling is where you can control their intake completely, and when we put them out into grass we are at the vagaries of the weather and the conditions the sugar levels vary through in throughout a day, never mind on a week to week basis, so it's really hard to control what they're consuming. So, in an acute situation, if you had a laminitis, you need to bring them off the grass so you can control everything that they're consuming, but in terms of trying to reduce the risk and weight management, then limiting intake but trying to give them some freedom to roam a little bit in the field is the aim and it may mean that you need to put out hay or some other sort of conserved forage. I'm not anti-using straw. There's been quite a lot of research showing up to 30% inclusion is perfectly acceptable to us, it helps to reduce the calorie intake but still provides fibre. It's low sugar, low starch, you can soak it if your horse has a respiratory issue. And it's really useful if you're in a yard where they supply the forage, and it's all, way too good for your little pony, you can dilute the forage that you're in comes in your delivery agreement by using a bit of straw. So, it's a more practical cost-effective way to try and reduce their intake. Because what we need to do is try and keep the gut full of fibre going into them without too many calories.
Absolutely, yeah, that's interesting. It’s more than just keeping your pony in the stable, because as you say, you want them to be moving because then they're burning some calories rather than just standing there and just standing and getting bored on the behavior side of it. You want your horses to be able to socialise and you want them to be happy and as much as you can, in a natural environment.
If you get a horse that unfortunately, you've done all of these things, you've tried your utmost to avoid laminitis, but if your horse actually does become laminitic, what's the best thing for owners potentially to do? they've noticed that their horse maybe has foot soreness or they have a very acute case you what's the best way to go forward with the vet and treatment?
Yeah, obviously contact the vet straight away as soon as you've got any indication and as I said right at the beginning, the sooner you act and the sooner you can sort of alleviate the pain, stop them moving the less likely they are to damage the laminae irreparably. So, I know it's hard, knowing when to call the vet but with laminitis, don't hesitate, it’s just like colic, as soon as you see any signs get the vet, because the sooner, they act, the better this or longer term. prognosis is. From a dietary perspective, it is about ensuring the diet is balanced. So, if the horse happened to be on anything, was the cereal based or have molasses or high sugar content in, you'd be taking that out straight away. And that tends to be horses in harder levels of work these days. So, if that happens, you just take them off the mix or the cubes. And you just ensuring that the diet is balanced by using either a broad-spectrum vitamin and mineral supplement or a balancer that effectively provides all the essential nutrients they need to keep them healthy and to repair and rebuild tissues. But without any calories or very low levels of calories. certainly nothing that's going to exacerbate a laminitis problem. You could mix that into a chopped fibre and, that's where Dengie tends to come in, or use a molasses free version that you can just use as a carrier really, little bit of water to dampen it down. And it needs to be the sort of basis to the ration alongside plenty of forage and it's that low-calorie forage again. So, either a hay that you're soaking to try and remove some of the sugar or potentially using some straw alongside as well.
Because as you say, our perception of what horses, should look like in terms of their weight and it seems better if they're a little bit more chubby, or they look more round, but you're also looking at what people's perceptions of how much food a horse should have as well, and what constitutes lightwork what constitutes hard work, I think a lot of people they're doing a little bit of schooling with their horse a couple of times a week and maybe going and doing a local dressage test, and they think that their horses doing hard work, we know that horses can live off of more fibre-based feeds and they don't need the molasses and the oats and, you know, really high, high energy foods. I mean, we've got this situation at the moment with COVID-19 and everybody's locked down, there are no competitions, there are no shows. We're doing an awful lot less with our horses and so I can imagine that this is even more important right now to look at the diet of our horses and what their workload is?
Definitely, I think it's also that unexpected change to a workload, that's an important factor at the moment as well. There are some people that are still, you know, were able to ride for a bit, then they couldn't and they got back on again, or started lunging or finding alternative ways to exercise, so, fibre and oil as energy sources are a great way of providing energy still for work and conditioning, but without the risks associated with cereals. So, any cereal based feed, cubes is going to have some starch content to it, it comes with cereals, that's what you get. Whereas with fibre and oil, they are very low starch and sugar but you're not compromising on energy intake. So, there's still energy there. And the majority of horses they're working well within their capabilities, so they're not really stressing or need in. So the need of a high energy diet, it just needs to be fibre and oil, slow release and that will keep them in good condition and then it doesn't matter if you can't ride, you don't even have to adjust the diet, we would recommend fibre and oil for the horse on box rest, you know, recovering from some hideous injury or disease or something.
So for your average horse that just can’t be ridden today can still receive a good quality diet from fibre and oil without any risk associated with their workload changing. Obviously if you are turning out more than you would normally because of COVID-19 because you can’t ride and they are going out. That is a potential risk of them gaining weight because they're probably getting more access to grass than they would have done and are burning less calories, so like us if we put more in than we use, then unfortunately, you gain weight. So, it is something to watch for especially if your horse or pony has had laminitis in the past, but again a good quality fibre source, a vitamin and mineral supplement or balancer, and that does the job. You know, it's a balanced diet, they've got the fibre going in, it really doesn't need to be complicated. And you're not compromising their health and wellbeing by keeping it simple.
Absolutely, no, that's really good advice. And it is a very strange time, without having our regular routines and making these changes. We don't want to make changes quickly to the horses' diet, you don't want to suddenly take them from their usual feed to something completely different. But I'm guessing that just changing that diet gradually is going to be the main thing, keeping it fibre-based and topping up with a vitamin supplement as well, to help to keep all those vitamins and minerals up… so that’s really good advice.
So, if we are unfortunate enough to have a horse with laminitis in terms of managing it when they have the condition. Is there a particular treatment option? What's the outlook for a horse with laminitis?
I think again, it comes back to how early you catch it, and the veterinary advice usually is to restrict movement, they may recommend putting sole supports on, if the risk of the pedal bone rotating through the sole is there. If you can support them and stop the horse moving, then that helps to sort of stop that irreparable damage occurring and is usually about anti-inflammatories, if the vet would advise on any medication if it's relating to PPID to try and help get the PPID under control as well. And then it's dietary management, which is the low sugar low starch rations in might well have to start sort of soaking hay to try and leech some of the sugar out of there. They might well recommend some other forms of medication to help promote weight loss. Metformin is a drug that's used in humans that has been used with varying success and different horses and ponies. And this is where it gets a bit confusing because some vets advocate it and others don't. So if you get a second opinion, it might be completely different to the first one you had. But it depends on the individual situation. And most of the time, the veterinary advice is basically pain relief, keep the horse sedentary for that period of time and adjust the diet and hopefully, if you can promote weight loss through controlling calorie intake, then the risk goes down, to be perfectly honest, and you just have to be very quick to act ahead of an episode occurring in the future.
So, I think the number one takeaway there is really if you know if you notice any signs to really get the vet out as soon as you can and act really quickly.
Yeah, definitely. That's key to the long-term prognosis and there’s a lot of horses and ponies that return to full work as they were in before the incident. But if you speak to most vets, they will always mention cases that if only someone had acted sooner and earlier, they wouldn't have had to put that horse or pony down. And that's the harsh reality if you leave it too long and it's a severe case, it is a fatal disease unfortunately so yeah, it's it doesn't pay to wait.
I think there's so much that can be done to you to avoid this situation. There are conditions which may predispose your horse or pony but as you say, all of those things that that you can do, if you do notice any signs or any symptoms, then get acting quickly to get the best in best prognosis for the future. Certainly, something we need to be aware of, and I thank you so much for giving us a really good understanding of the fact that laminitis can affect so many different types of horses, all different sorts of situations. That there are things that can be done to avoid it, and to have careful management of weight, which doesn't have to be complicated. A really good thing to take away, is that it is something that you can literally keep an eye on yourself, measure the weight and you don't have complicated equipment. Really keeping an eye on your pony’s weight is such an important factor there. In this time of year, in springtime, it is a time when laminitis tends to be a factor that comes up and shows more often. But is it something that happens all year round as well and it's not just springtime we need to be aware of?
No, it is an all year round problem, sadly. And I think with climate change, if the grass is present throughout the year and we certainly this year probably only had four or five frosts in the southeast. So, the grass was still growing here all through the winter. We are sort of gradually getting warmer and that is having an impact on the availability of the grass. I think the
Whole sort of fructan or presence of fructans in grass storage forms of sugar can cause a bit of confusion. So, you've got two main issues in the spring. With about abundance, the grass is growing, there's lots of it. And there's a lot of sugar because the sunlight is there for the grass to be able to convert to sugar. Through a process called photosynthesis, you tend to often get a flush in the autumn, which is the same principle basically, you've got warm, wet conditions and the grass will grow. What tends to happen in the winter is that it's too cold, usually for the grass to grow very much. And if you get a bright, sunny, sort of cold, frosty morning, the sugar is still being produced because it's the availability of light that kick that process off. If the grass isn't growing, it's not using the sugar for its own uses. So, it starts to store it. And that's why in the winter months, you can have a sort of an accumulation of storage sugars, or the fructan in the grass and that's why you can sometimes get laminitis at that time of year. And interestingly, if you remember that long, hot summer of 2018. The grass plants were under drought conditions. So, although there was lots of sunshine, and they were making lots of sugar, they weren't growing very much. So, we saw the same sort of principles that you would see in winter. So, the grass isn't growing because the moisture is not there. But it is storing sugar. And I mean, I've been working as a nutritionist for 20 odd years now and I analyzed the forage in 2018, which was the highest form of sugar content that I've seen. It was about 35% so, and it was because the grass was accumulating the sugar in the sunshine and not growing. And unfortunately, it was being fed to a lot of native Highland sort of ponies who were slightly overweight. And as a result, they did have a bad year with laminitis. So, all of those factors need to be sort of taken into account, are if you are able to select where your food comes from, and you can liaise with the farmers, whoever's producing it for you. If you can get it cut later in the year, if you have a good doer or a laminitic, the older the grass tends to be when it's cut, the better it will be. Because it's going to be less digestible, have less calories and less likely to have as much sugar in, so if you have that luxury of being able to liaise with your supplier then do ask them to cut it as late as possible. And then soaking is the other option to try and reduce sugar content. But yeah, grass is a challenge because this is a it can change throughout the day. The sugar levels and things like that according to the weather as well.
So, in terms of like how long you would soak your hay for, you know, what's like the most recent advice so sometimes people say, you know, I take it for 10 minutes I take it for an hour, soak it for a week! You know, how long is the what's the optimal time to soak up?
Yeah, it's tough because the research obviously when you create a research trial, you're looking for the most effective soak time. And I think the research that was done, found that 16 hours at 16 degrees C for the water was the most effective for getting rid of the sugar. But obviously, that's not practical, especially in winter trying to get it anywhere near 16 degrees C for that kind of time would be pretty much impossible. And you also have to think about what state that hay is in after that length of time of being soaked because you can get the fermentation going on, it's sort of the water is reddy-brown, it's all pretty disgusting. So, there is a balance to be struck. At the moment, we tend to suggest between sort of two to four hours if you can, certainly two hours to try and get rid of some sugar. And the other thing is you're losing other water-soluble nutrients as well. So, do bear that in mind that when a product is formulated, it's fed or designed to be fed alongside average forages, and as soon as you start to soak them and you're losing other nutrition, they become less than average. So, you might need to use a little bit more balancer or supplement to compensate for that. So that's one of the reasons I would tend to advocate using straw, to be honest, because without all that hassle of having to soak hay, you can bring the sugar content down by just putting 25 to 30% straw in the mix, maybe soak it for half an hour just from a respiratory health point of view.
Good advice there definitely.
A good thing to also note is that steaming doesn't reduce your sugar content. So, if you need to steam for respiratory health, which steamers are quite popular these days, but you would still need to soak it if you're going to try and get rid of some of the sugar as well. And the advice generally is to soak first and then steam.
Right, so, is there anything, any other advice or anything else that we might have missed that you want to add on? Any top tips for either managing laminitis or helping to avoid it.
Yeah, I think being plenty of fibre, we touched on sort of quantities. So as a rule, we're talking about one and a half percent of the horse's body weight as sort of fibrous material energy. So, if it's 500 kilo horses seven and a half kilos, but trying to split that up a little and often throughout the day, if you can, because we want to keep the time the gut is empty as short as possible. So whatever forage you are going to use, little and often, as much as you can, without the horse putting on weight, and get that right, they've got plenty of fibre going in, they can be reasonably happy because they've got something to chew on. And the gut is going to be as healthy as it can be. So that's always your starting point, and then build from there really.
Wonderful. Thank you so much, some useful advice and certainly things that people can take away and that they can put into action and with their horses. So, thank you so much, Katie. I appreciate you joining us today on the podcast. And you're going to be back with us in a few weeks, where we're going to be talking more about the digestive system, ulcers and gastric health. So, thank you once again, and we should look forward to seeing you again soon. Thank you.
Looking forward to it, Thank you, Lucy.
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