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September-October 2009's POSTS

October 27, 2009

My Horse Blossom
(Why she is not "Hocky")

my horse has really nice front motion but no motion behind. She's Five gaited and always sound. she has a low, short neck. So next to the other horses it almost looks like she is plodding along. I think this comes from not being strong enough behind. Is there anything you would recommend for getting stronger behind?

Tip of the Day - If the uplifted "Swan-like" neck and the high knee action of the front end are the signature of the American Saddlebred Horse....We must give all are thanks to the "engine" (the hocks) behind!

Thank you so much for your question concerning your horse Blossom. I can tell by the lovely picture, she is well loved and well taken care of. I was impressed to see that not only are you wearing a helmet for protection, your concern is also for your mare as you have taken the proper steps to protect her legs, as well. Since I saw my first pair about 40 years ago, I never worked a horse without a pair of ankle boots behind. Whether riding, lining or jogging, they never left the stall without them and I attribute much of the good fortune I had with soundness problems, to those boots. Perhaps they are part of the reason Blossom is so sound too.

The picture, however, also points out some negative things. Although you were quite right feeling she is lacking motion behind, I am afraid strength is not the issue. In the pictures, she does appear to have a very low head carriage, but believe me, I have seen shorter necks.

What I do see in the pictures is a mare that is definitely trotting "downhill". That is with her head lowered and sort of pulling her rear end along. As mentioned in the Tip of the Day, the rear end is the engine that pushes the horse forward and into frame. In other words the weight must be shifted from the forehand to the rear end so that the hocks may fulfill their purpose....to drive the horse forward like an engine. To accomplish this, the head (point of Balance) must be lifted to distribute the weight to the rear. Can you do this with Blossom? I am not sure but think it might be worth a try and this is the time of the year to reconnoiter.

Firstly, it appears she is wearing an extremely long shanked curb bit. This type of bit will serve no purpose in lifting Blossom's head but is guaranteed to keep it low. I would ask myself if she uses her ears more happily when not wearing this bit such as when working in a snaffle? Along those lines, I would hope her dental work is current.

The next step would be a good bit of long lining or jogging with a side check bridle. You must teach her to become comfortable working with her head raised. ( do not worry about tucking her nose or setting her head at this juncture!) You cannot do this all at once but as she becomes comfortable, raise her a little more until she starts to look as if she is trotting "Uphill". This will not be accomplished in a couple of weeks or a couple of months but will take most of the winter. When she is wearing her head up, it would be time to try an overcheck bridle and for riding in a two reined snaffle with a running martingale. Riding her with her head up, not by holding it up but by allowing her to put it up. Keep her mouth supple and you will find when she is ready for a curb bit bridle, she will need little curb and the process will be an easy one for you and for Blossom. It is true, you probably will not be ready to win the World Championship, but I am certain, if you are religious in this training, you will be more than pleased with your mare and she will be more than pleased with you.

Once again, thank you so much for your question. I look forward to reading of your progress in the Guest Book. Good Luck and Good Riding!

LF Lavery

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October 20, 2009

Every Day it Seems... Is Halloween!!
(Dealing with a spooky pony or horse)

I just bought a pony last week. He seemed quiet. Good with handling feet, lungeing, bridling, saddle. He is a little afraid of some things such as clothes flapping on the line and strange objects such as fly masks lying on the ground. I've been sacking him out and he's ok with that and getting him used to plastic bags etc. However he seems to have these invisible demons who scare the hell out of him without warning. Then he's tense and can't be calmed down. I think that someone who owned him before has beaten him for spooking at things. But he's so unreasonable when it comes to these invisible tigers. How do I teach him to be not afraid. The real objects I can deal with but these invisble ones have me stumped. I have owned horses for many years and have shown at fairs and club shows. I work for a standardbred guy right now and I am also a farrier. Please let know of any ideas you have that would halp this pony Thanks

Tip of the Day - Whoever came up with the phrase, "Little but Mighty", must have had a pony! Much the same as, "Hell has no Fury like a bad pony!!"

Thank you so much for your question. As eluded to by the Tip of the Day, I have always thought that to train a "Pet" pony, one needed to be a cross between Sigmund Freud and Guenther Gable Williams!! Of course, the behavior you describe is not limited to ponies. If you and your veterinary have ruled out a problem with the pony's vision, I feel you are most probably correct in your assumption he is lacking confidence and although your "sacking out " approach does not deal with the specific issues, it is a wonderful place to start as a confidence builder. I too, feel the pony has probably received some severe punishment for this behavior thus compounding the problem. That type of punishment does even more to destroy the confidence and quickly becomes a part of what is frightening to the pony.. On the other hand, I know of no quick fix for this behavior but do know that many hours of quiet, patient work, gentle persuasion and intelligent correction is the best way to deal with these issues. Whether leading, riding or driving, take every opportunity to condition the pony to the environment around him. Let him quietly find out there is nothing to fear from these strange things. Continually getting him accustomed to these triggers by repeated exposures followed by your assurances will eventually solve the problem. When the pony is confident enough to ignore the physical "triggers" you describe, I am sure he will also find little need to "spook" at the Phantom ones.

Thank you once again for your great question. I hope this has been of some help. I look forward to reading of your progress in the Guest Book. Good Luck and Good Riding!

LF Lavery

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October 11, 2009

First Haircut!

When getting a weanling ready to show, what would be the best way to get them clipped, if you didn't have a lot of time to get them used to clippers. I hate to get in a wrestling match and scare the baby. what about tranquilizers?

Tip of the Day - Applying the clippers to the young colt may take a bit of preparation, applying them to an older, spoiled horse, may take a lot of thought and a little luck!!!

Thank you so much for your question. Clipping the weanling for the first time can be a difficult proposition. You not only want to do a good job of it, you also must be aware of the impact this will have on the colt for the future. A job done well is a win/win situation. A job rushed or done poorly may effect the colt the rest of his days. Of course, a little modern medicine can be of great help in insuring all goes well for both parties. Nothing, however, can make up for lack of preparation! If you are sincerely concerned about wrestling or scaring the baby...There is no way not to spend the qualitative time necessary to insure all goes well. I have covered this in depth on this site before so I will quote an earlier entry:

November 20, 2008

We got Clipped, Clipping
(Trimming and body clipping)

Dear Mr Lavery,

We really enjoy your web site and go there quite often. Love the stories.

In reading your answer to the question about bridling, I see you mention trimming the horse. I think my daughter has one of those that are sensitive. She says it is because he is young and never had a haircut before. My husband, Bill, helped her the other day and it did not go so good. They were trying to trim his nose and he hit my husband's hand and the clippers with his front foot, broke both. So I am sitting here with the clippers at the repair place and looking at my husband with this grotesque cast on his middle finger and wondering if this is normal behavior for a horse that is only 8 months old? Do you have any advice?


Tip of the Day - When dealing with horses on a daily basis.. it is sometimes hard to tell who is the trainer and who is the trainee!

Thank you for your nice comments and your question. My advice, tell your husband to be very careful who he shows his injury to! Of course this is not normal behavior, it is exceptional behavior as they don't usually learn to "strike" so accurately at such a young age! My first thought would be to recommend not trimming his muzzle anymore. For the safety of your daughter and husband, (does he use his hands at work) don't get the clippers fixed.!! Please forgive me for making lite of a situation that might have been even more disastrous. I will try to give you some of my ideas on trimming and clipping the young horse.

As I have stated before, at least 50% of all horses seem to be hypersensitive about their ears and/or muzzle. This could be part of the cause but more than likely, your daughter is correct about his youth and inexperience about a "haircut." I am reminded of the little boys or girls who are slapped in the chair for the first time to have their locks trimmed. Quite often it is a traumatic experience for all concerned as there is a good deal of screaming, squirming and crying going on. Sometimes even the mothers lose it! Fortunately, these children have the gift of "reason" and it all works out eventually. Your daughter's young man does not have this gift and has just gone through a similar experience. He was defending himself against something very scary. Although, I HATE TO POINT THE FINGER AT ANYONE, (sorry I couldn't help myself) the colt had not been prepared for this process.

The act of trimming a colt for the first time, should not be, "Well, today is Saturday, I think I'll give Tornado his first haircut!" Rather, the culmination of several days or weeks of preparation. At this young age, your daughter has the opportunity to teach this colt to forever be easy to trim and clip.

  1. First, He must be comfortable with the handling of his ears and muzzle. While cleaning him, gently move your hand closer to his ears until he lets you touch them. This could take several days. At the same time feed him a treat of some kind from your hand and gently touch his muzzle when he takes the treat. Slowly push on his poll and encourage him to drop his head. When he allows you to gently rub his ears and muzzle and he drops his head when you push on the poll, you are ready for the next step.
  2. Again, while grooming him, have the clippers turned off in one hand and gently rub them on his neck while brushing him with the other hand. It is important to be doing something else (grooming) while introducing the clippers as horses are the original "one Track mind "animals. They cannot conceptionalize two thoughts at one time so the brushing becomes a diversion. Show him the clippers let him smell them, touch them with his now desensitized muzzle. Touch them to his ears. Drop his head from the poll.
  3. When this has been accomplished, repeat the process with the clippers on. If you are successful with this, you are ready for that first haircut.

When dealing with a young colt and the first trimming, three things are very important, your safety, the colt's safety and trying to make this a positive experience for him. This calls for restraining the colt without scaring or harming him. The first two or three times a colt is trimmed, I always ask for help from modern medicine. A cc of Ace promazine or some Ace granules will make everyone's role much easier from the start. You will require a helper smart enough to know when to be passive and when to be forceful. I seldom twitch a young colt but might put a lip chain on. If you are right handed, start on the near side. Helper on the off side shank in right hand left near the pole ready to push down. With your left hand on the bridge of his nose, slowly, ease the clippers up to the ears with your right hand by rubbing them on the neck as you had done before. When he accepts them near his ears, raise your left hand and gently grasp not crush the ear and begin. If you have done your homework, this should go very smoothly. Remember, this does not have to be a perfect job and should not take a lot of time. Every now and then, feel the blades of the clippers to make certain they are not getting hot. Blades can get hot enough to burn a horse. To prevent this there are a myriad of clipper products on the market or you could just dip them in a little kerosene now and then.

Moving down to the muzzle, do not "attack" it from out of nowhere. Have some contact with your fingers or hand as you bring it down the jaw and cheek. Have firm contact with the blade and muzzle rather than a lite tickling contact. Your helper's right hand should now be on the bridge of the nose, shank in the left and it is imperative that you not strike the chain with the blades. Again, this does not have to be perfect, just successful. Should he strike again and you do not feel you can correct it, as a last resort, stop and get an old heavy winter blanket. Buckle the front at the wither with the rest of the blanket hanging in front of the front legs like a pair of chaps. This will buffer any striking and if you can get him to stand on the blanket, this will stop any striking. I am confident that if the preparation described is completed and not rushed, this will be a very successful experience for all concerned.

I thank you once again for you question and hope I have been of some help to you. I look forward to reading, in the Guest Book, of the first haircut. Give my "thunbs up" to your husband, Good Luck and Good Riding.

LF Lavery

We welcome your comments, in the Guest Book, on this or any other topic.

Hopefully, you will find this of some help as you embark on the new phase of your colt's life. Set all variables up for success and strive to make this experience a pleasant one for the colt. If you do, trimming in the future will be an absolute breeze. Thanks again for your question. I look forward to reading about the first hair cut in the Guest Book. Good Luck and Good Riding!


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Oct 4, 2009


My question is: "How do you fix a rubbed out top of tail.? Our filly does not have worms but plays w/buckets, etc. by rubbing her rump. Her tail hair @ base is growing all crooked & wiry. How do you fix it? Thank to anyone who knows how!

Tip of the Day - Even in this "Green" environment we live in...a horse's tail whose top looks like a solar collector... is frowned upon!!!

Thank you so much for your question. You would be amazed at how often I am asked this question. Although I have a product available through World Champion ( Lavery's Old Tyme Tail Balm) that can be of great benefit, money spent on products such as mine is a huge waste until you take some other steps first. To "fix" the problem, one must first identify the cause. You were quite right to think worms as a possible cause as it often can be. Ruling that out and other skin conditions which a vet can identify, it usually boils down to a hygiene issue coupled with a habit they have acquired because of it. To start, next time you go to a horse show where horses carry their tails up, look to that spot under the tail (dock) where it signifies the horse is from "O..hio" or "O...kalahoma." You will see built up dirt and grime there 75% of the time. This area is so often ignored one would even wonder if Captain Kirk would even go where no one had gone before! It is imperative this area be cleansed with a damp sponge or cloth every time the horse is groomed if you wish to discourage rubbing. The next area of concern is the top of the tail. It must be kept very clean, rinsed completely free of soap, and attended to each time the horse is groomed. It should be conditioned with low alcohol content products so the hair is soft and without a build up of oil or grease one can get from baby oil and other products. Circulation should be encouraged, and feathers carefully separated with your fingers or a very soft brush. (only an expert groom should ever attack a tail with a comb or a stiff brush) The rest of the tail from the end of the bone to the end of the length, is really never an issue with the rubbing unless it is braided in a haphazard fashion likely to catch on a bucket bale or some such thing. All the growth and healthy hair comes from the bone. You will need to wash and condition the length of course but your main concern for a healthy tail should be to focus on the tail bone. An earlier answer to a question similar to your's might fill in some more blanks for you....I quote:

July 14, 2009

Is there "Hair Club" for Horses?
(Keeping tail feathers while wearing a tail-set)


I asked a question before about a saddlebred mare that would not go forward...she has improved greatly and is improving every day!! She is now in a full bridle, is not afraid of the bridle anymore, and will go forward willingly as long as she trusts you. I found that she took a long time to trust anyone, and gets very nervous if you scold her at all. The more "good girls" she gets, the better she is! Thank you for your help!

I do have another question though, I am going to take her to a show later this year, and just got her a tailset. Her tail was already cut before I bought her and is very loose (I stretch it a bit before I work her). How do you tie the tail into the set? The old trainer I was with had a hard time keeping nice tails, and I think it may have been with how he tied them in. The only way I learned to tie them in was with a towel folded over the tail feathers, and a tail net tied on top. The horses all rubbed out most of their feathers, and what was left were broken and mangled. I would really appreciate your opinion on how to keep a tail in the set without damaging hair!

Tip of the Day - Maintaining American Saddlebred tail feathers is an art, not an accident!

Thank you so much for your question. Being somewhat folicly challenged myself, I can appreciate your concern over your horse's tail. Nothing more attractive than thick, long, healthy tail feathers and nothing uglier than a naked tailbone. While a switch is an easy fix for a thin or short tail, caps and artificial feathers are hard to apply correctly and usually look like just what they are. Let's see how we can avoid "Hair Club" for horses.

  • Horses rubbing their tails account for the lion's share of hair loss.
  • Hair that is brittle and not in good condition easily breaks.
  • An ill fitting crupper can cause hair loss.
  • Improperly applied crupper pads or bandages too tight or too loose can cause hair loss as can strings that are too thick.

The main trick is to keep your horse from rubbing his tail, sometimes not easy and even more difficult with a tail set. Beside grooming your horse on a daily basis, the tail must be kept clean and conditioned. A once a month shampoo is a good rule of thumb and remembering to rinse all traces of soap out is vital. Alcohol based products tend to dry the hair out and promote itching. Too much of any product tends to build up, clog pores and make the hair greasy rather than soft. I soon will be featuring the tail balm product my family has used with great success for many years. There are many fine conditioning products on the market as well. Equally important, the dock must be wiped clean daily. The tail bone is where all the hair comes from. It must never have its circulation interfered with. The padding in the crupper must be kept very clean. Using a light dusting of corn starch on the cotton or pad in the crupper will keep chaffing to a minimum. Sets should be changed every day. During fly season, an insect system is invaluable in keeping constant tail movement and breaking hair to a minimum.

A crupper that is too deep can virtually cut the hair, one that is too shallow wears the hair. The feathers should gently cascade over the sides of the "spoon" The crupper should neither be too tight or too loose simply secure. When securing the tail in the crupper, after dampening the top of the tail bone with water or a tail balm so that the hair is soft and will part easily, one usually places a very soft and padded towel, diaper or piece of cloth over the area. It should be long enough to cover the break over. The feathers are then carefully separated and strings attached to the crupper are carefully threaded through these separations and then tied on top of the pad. A variation is a crocheted "schnood" with cotton strings that lays over the pad and then the cotton strings are threaded down through the hair. Usually the rest of the tail and the crupper would then be enclosed in a tail bag. Although a bit pricey for an initial investment products made by Top Notch Tails will end up saving you money, are state of the art, simple to use, comfortable for the horse made out of hair friendly material that is washable and will last ions longer than cotton or your padded towel. Contact Jean Mead at 907-264-7463 for information.

I hope this has answered some of your questions. In summary, all I can say is taking care of a tail takes a lot of time and effort. The end product will be well worth it. Good Luck and Good Riding.

LF Lavery

We welcome reader comments, on this or any other training topic,in our Guest Book.

I thank you again for your question and hope this is of some help to you. I look forward to reading of your progress with this issue in the Guest Book. Good Luck and Good Riding.

LF Lavery

September 18, 2009

How "Fast" is the "Slow" Gait?
(How did we lose the Slow Gait and where did it Go?)

Hi Lonnie.

I really am curious as to what a judge is looking for in the slow gait. It doesn't seem that many judges require a distinction between the slow gait and rack.

I remember when I was a kid (a long time ago) the comment "He can slow gait in a teacup" as being an accolade for a gaited horse doing a really good slow gait. What happened to the slow gait of yesteryear?

Because of what I learned back in the 50s and 60s, I still try to keep my horse as slow as possible until asked for the rack but everyone else takes off like the race is on. It's a lot more work for my horse to go slowly and I can feel his relief when I finally turn him loose and let him fly. Am I doing the right thing making him go slowly and let everyone else pass us by?

Tip of the Day - Doing things slowly will often get you way ahead...when dealing with horses!

Thanks for your great question. The gait is called the Slow Gait...go as slow as you can!! Much like you...I have been looking in Show rings all around the country trying to find the "Lost" gait! It is very seldom found. The Slow Gait or Step and Pace, is not a slow rack! It has been correctly described as a horse that is elevated, shifting his weight from the forehand, executing a four beat gait which has the appearance of trotting in front and walking behind. Today's four beat gait seems to have a good deal of trot behind... or worse. As you also say, Radar could find most of today's horses guilty of speeding at the Slow Gait! As you may remember, the "King" of the Slow Gaiters has been and is Don Harris. In fact, I would have to say it is his signature gait and one you could always count on him to have perfected with every gaited horse he showed. Today, Don would be left in the dust, like a wrangler riding drag on a herd of Longhorn cattle, as the others in the class sped past him at their version of the Slow Gait. Sad state of affairs. Do I have a clue as to how it has gotten this way??? Of course. There are many factors.

In the 50's and 60's, you were privileged to be witness to part of the era of the private training stables, fronted by great horse trainers. Financially backed by wealthy aficionados of the American Saddlebred who paid the trainer a great salary, bought or bred the finest horses, and expected perfection not rapid progression and so were willing to wait as long as it takes to get the horse ready. Often, horses were not "brought out" until they were 5 or 6 years old. Stables such as these were the "keepers" of the breed at that time. A trainer might work 5-10 horses a day in these situations. Time was not of the essence. Methodical training and preparation was. Where as today, a trainer might have to face 20-40 horses each day and time is of the essence when trying to process that many. Additionally, pleasing one owner, with plenty of money who is not in a hurry, is certainly much different than trying to please 15 owners who expect it done yesterday and as cheaply as possible.... thank you very much. Most of today's trainers, no matter how talented, simply do not have or are not allowed the time to fixate on the perfect Slow Gait which could take as long as a year to develop as perfection.

Also, back in the 50's and 60's, we were dealing with a different breed of horse than we are today. Over the last 30-40 years, we have gotten very much away from the Shamrock influence that was our breed back then. No matter what anyone says, the American Saddlebred of today is a much more beautiful animal than those of the 50's and 60's. The necks are longer, the heads are keener, the legs are finer etc. etc. His disposition is far better suited for the Amateur rider and the large public training stable environment, Like all things, however, one must take the bad with the good...We now find ourselves with a horse who's conformation we have successfully changed for the beauty that now has an unexpected conformation change that is limiting some function. As mentioned earlier, the elevation of the head and neck and the shifting of all the weight behind is necessary to correctly execute the true Slow Gait. The effort, thus the stress this can cause on the horse's rear end is considerable making this one of the most taxing gaits for the horse. It requires a horse with a good bend in his hock, a hind leg that is not too long and a front leg that is not too short. Most horses today are just the opposite, making the very act of Slow Gaiting, physically more difficult for them. Some cope well, many do not.

In the Show Ring, although the Slow Gait is one of the 5 mandatory gaits, it is difficult to penalize someone for speed when all are going fast and difficult if not impossible to find fault with one doing it incorrectly, when no one is correct!!! All we can hope for, is that rare individual who, for what ever reason, breeding, training, conformation or just plain Show Horse attitude, can take us back to the old days by thrilling us with the flawless Slow Gait we old timers still remember!!!!

I hope this helps answer your question and has given you a bit of insight into why we are where we are. The good news, there are still some horses out there ready to thrill us!! Wishing you Good Luck and Good Riding!

LF Lavery

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September 12, 2009

Is More Less or is Less More?
(Effects of weight and length and package in shoeing)

Hey Lonnie!

I have a question that I've always been curious about but never asked anyone. I figured you might know; is it possible that a horse could have better [& more] motion without a big package? It seems to me that my horse had a harder time and worse motion with a package on, and now that he has just heavy plates on (country pleasure), he moves a lot better. I'm just wondering if that's possible?!

Tip of the Day - Anvils are best used to make horseshoes...not as a replacement for them!!

Thank you so much for your question. As I travel around the country, it seems more and more people are confused about the answer to this question. It seems many people subscribe to the proposition that if a little is good ...a lot must be even better! The end result, in most cases is a disaster! In their quest for high motion many exhibitors and trainers have allowed the weight of shoes and length of hoof to become completely out hand. How high a horse goes is not the single benchmark for champion. How a horse goes is much more important. By that I mean a horse that is going very high but has a labored, erratic, non-rhythmic flight path can often be beaten by a horse with far less motion that is going correctly. As referred to in the Tip Of The Day, we have all seen horses that seem to have anvils on their feet and we are familiar with their "heavy" way of going. Aside from appearing artificial, horses with great lengths of hoof, heavy shoes and built up feet will end up paying a price for carrying such unnatural packages around the show ring. Soundness problems are almost inevitable as the effort, leverage and torque such shoeing jobs put on bones, tendons and muscles can do good deal of damage. Saddest of all, these Einsteins think this type of shoeing can replace proper conditioning and training and can make up for a lack of natural ability. They are wrong!!!

Your question was "is it possible that a horse can have better motion without a big package?" Let me put it this way....best way to stop a horse from winging...lighten him up.....Best way to stop a horse from knocking his elbows off...lighten him up....Best way to stop a horse from forging...lighten him up...Best way to stop a horse from interfering...lighten him up etc, etc, etc!!!! Finally...best way to stop a very talented, naturally high motioned athletic horse from using his legs....put a long foot and heavy shoes on him!!!! I am in no way suggesting that all show horses should wear plates and a 4 inch hoof. Sensible corrective shoeing is indispensable for balancing the horse and his gaits as each horse is different. The key word is sensible.

I always felt that if a horse had only enough ability to go almost level and he did so with a 20 oz shoe and went the same with 6 oz shoe, what possible reason is there to carry the heavier shoe? Less is better in that case as well!

I can point out many more examples but I am certain you have gotten the picture. Having just come from the World Championships I can tell you I was really taken aback by some of the shoeing jobs I saw there and surprised that horsemen of that caliber could fall in such a trap. You question was a welcome one, to be sure. I wish you Good Luck and Good Riding!!

LF Lavery

Links To Questions & Responses
Date Subject Search Criteria
Oct 27, 2009 My Horse Blossom Why she is not "Hocky"
Oct 20, 2009 Every Day it Seems... Is Halloween!! Dealing with a spooky pony or horse
Oct 11, 2009 First Haircut! Clipping weanling
Oct 4, 2009 Featherless Rubbed out tail feathers
Sept 21, 2009 How old does a horse have to be to break it to ride it? (LOST POST) Age to break to ride
Sept 18, 2009 How "Fast" is the "Slow" Gait? How did we lose the Slow Gait and where did it Go?
Sept 12, 2009 Is More Less or is Less More? Effects of weight and length and package in shoeing

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