Words Matter

I may be an engineer by education and an analyst by trade, but I am of the firm belief that the language we use has a distinct effect not only on the way other people perceive us, but on the way we perceive the world.

Example 1: What we call our horses and ourselves. I mentioned that AT has officially forbidden me from calling Frankie a llama. I am only ever allowed to call him Fancy WonderPony and other such posh names. The reasoning there is that if we use language implying that he’s not fancy, then we subconsciously set our expectations lower. No one expects a llama to perfect their half-passes. But we would certainly expect that a Fancy WonderPony has the ability- in fact, a Fancy WonderPony will inevitably be good at that and our job is simply to unlock those skills. In a similar sense, we are no longer allowed to call our fav 12yo barn rat Shrimp, Little One, The Tick, or other such affectionate nicknames we’ve been using for years. AT wants her to think of herself as a strong capable junior rider, and part of that is using that kind of language to refer to herself. It may seem like a fairly minor thing, but the names we use to refer to each other and our animals subtly color our perceptions of them. Calling Francis “Studly McGrandPrix” for a few days won’t turn him into a 1.45m horse, but it certainly sets a more encouraging tone to our pursuit of improvement.

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He is a fancy shmancy horse that can hold his own with the best of them. Because he is the best of them ❤ PC- K. Borden

Example 2: How we give instruction. My trainer is very deliberate about using positive instructions. I don’t mean positive as in happy-happy-joy-joy (though I often find her very positive in that way too!), but as in framing things in an active way. Instead of “don’t stiff him in the mouth,” she will say “reach forward with your hands.” Instead of “don’t lean forward,” she will say “open your hip angle.” The focus is on the action to perform, not the habit to correct. Studies have shown that negation actually can make it harder for us to understand the sentence– when someone tells you not to do XYZ, your brain automatically hears “do XYZ” and you have to process past that. Especially in a sport where timing matters so much, using the clearest possible language helps us comprehend and act more efficiently. Not to mention that for visual learners (like myself), the positive description of the action is much more helpful in identifying what I should be doing with my body.

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This is right around where she says something like “half halt and release.” PC- Tracy

Example 3: Dealing with nerves. I think it’s healthy to express when you’re not totally zen. I don’t think you should just shove it all deep down until one day you die. But I do think saying “OMG I’M SO FRICKIN SCARED” isn’t super helpful because then you’re just reinforcing how frightened you are. Acknowledging the anxious energy: yes, good, allows you to continue moving forward. There have been several times that I have gone to my trainer and straight up asked for a pep talk to help me channel my nerves into something productive. Telling everyone how nervous you are: creates a feedback loop without giving it an outlet into something productive. By verbalizing it in a more positive way, you can often talk yourself into a more positive mindset- “I have a lot of energy focused on creating a good experience through the combo” certainly makes me feel a lot better than “holy crap that oxer out of the combo looks huge I think I’m gonna die.” [Side note- show nerves are one thing, intense anxiety is a whole other animal. I’m talking about the former here]

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It also helps a lot to have a trainer who knows you well, and a horse that you would trust to take you through fire. PC- K. Borden

So three very different scenarios, but all areas that I’ve been thinking about a lot lately where the words we use have a lot of power over the way we perceive ourselves and our horses, the way we train, and the way we compete.

What are some examples you have of the way language affects your equestrian pursuits? 

PS- I realized that me posting links to my trainer’s blog is dumb, when y’all can just access it yourself on Facebook. Go ahead and follow Clairvaux LLC for blog posts, cute ponies for sale, show updates from our team, and other awesomeness!

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Inaugural Outdoor Course

If your trainer ever says, “I have something really fun for you!” just run in the other direction. Save yourself. Learn from my mistakes.

The other day trainer said that she had a fun favor to ask of me and Devyn (my favorite not-so-little-anymore 12yo barn rat): did we want to design and set this season’s inaugural course in the outdoor ring? You all know that I’m an aficionado of course design, so of course I immediately said yes! Of course! That’s gonna be a blast!

And then the 12yo got evil and decided to make a bunch of oxers and also is tiny so her mom and I were stuck moving all the SUPER HEAVY standards. Cue soreness.

We had a few constraints to work with- Trainer wanted a triple bounce of crossrails on one of the quarter lines, and it had to be something that could be set for a variety of riders. Devyn showed up with 3 options to choose from, all with measurements for the lines asking a variety of technical questions (including a slightly short vertical-vertical 2 stride to a slightly long four stride out…I told you the kid is evil. Knowledgeable, creative, and ambitious, but evil. It’s a potent combination). That plan survived first contact, but we ended up having to make tweaks to work with the types of jumps we had, the shape of the ring, and the versatility we wanted to have.

Trainer showed up as we were setting, and was able to give some helpful pointers:

  • Diagonal lines need less room on the side away from the ingate, since you naturally don’t have quite as much pace heading away and therefore don’t need as much room to turn. Better to give a little extra room for when you’re heading home so you don’t have to veer through the turn.
  • Don’t think of the ring as a rectangle. Think of the exercises you want to include, and then build those- that way you’re not locked into measurements and can adjust the exercise to any type of space you have available.
  • Don’t bunch the jumps in the middle of the ring. If you spread them out them you give yourself options to do long OR short approaches because you’ve given yourself room to move.

After much trial and error and cursing from dropping heavy jumps on my toes, here’s what we came up with:

outside course

So we have the triple bounce on the quarterline, a blue plank on the far outside, a yellow plank in the corner, a stone wall oxer on the near outside, a plain vertical single, a diagonal line (set to 4 strides) with a gate oxer and rolltop, a yellow vertical end jump, and a small crossrail jumping out of (or into) the ring. The big green shapes are little hillocks in the grass outside the ring.

I think we’ve got some fun options here! One of the exercises that I think would be fun would be jumping out of the ring, coming back to a walk over the hillocks, then trotting back in the ingate to do the end jump away from home. Then you could either do the rollback turn left to continue up the diagonal line and bending line towards home, or continue right up the single outside to the bending line towards home. We were hoping to include a skinny trot jump in there, but we just ran out of room. Maybe that yellow end jump could be the skinny? Only if someone else wants to move it though, I don’t plan on moving any rails any time soon!

I’ll get to observe the course in action this week and I’ll get to play with it myself on Friday, so I’ll have to report back with how people like it. Until then, let me know what you think! Any ideas for fun exercises we can include next time Trainer asks us to help design?

Because let’s be honest- I’ll keep saying yes every time.

Ch-ch-ch-changes

Some very exciting changes going on in my little corner of the universe!

First off- there was a bit of a re-org at work. Nothing dramatic and my job title didn’t change, but the focus of my work is shifting a bit to more organizational effectiveness and process streamlining. I. Am. Thrilled. It’s a much better fit for my experience, skills, and interests, and my new manager and I have already worked together multiple times to great success. I think this new little department of ours is going to be super helpful for the company as a whole, and it’s going to be superduperamazingfantastic for my own career growth.

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#professional

Also work related- my flex schedule was approved! One of my all-time favorite perks of my job is that they’re very willing to be flexible with my schedule (remember when I worked remotely from Ohio for 2 weeks so I could compete without using vacation time?). As long as the work gets done when it needs to be and I attend any meetings that require my presence, no one is too fussy about the specific hours and where I am. But even better than that is a formalized flex schedule! Starting next week, I’ll be in the office Mon-Thurs 7:30a-5p with a 30 min lunch break, WFH Friday morning for 4 hours, and then I have every Friday afternoon off. Entirely.

What does one do with a free Friday afternoon? One heads to the barn.

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DUHH

One of the big reasons I wanted to work on a flex schedule was to fit in a private lesson somewhere. Currently I’m really only available for a 7p lesson, or maaaaaybe 6p if I can rush out the door. You know who else is only available at 6p or 7p? Every single other person. So all lessons at those times have by necessity been group lessons. I knew that if I wanted to get an hour all to myself, I’d have to come up with a way to get to the barn at a different time. Which I now have every week!

Don’t get me wrong- my group lessons have been great. I love learning from watching other riders go, and hearing my trainer explain things in different ways to different learners has been enormously helpful. But I’m also now at the point where I’m hoping to get Frankie feeling great at 1.20m+, and there are few other riders at the barn with that ambition (at least in the near term). I think some individual attention will really help push us to the next level and get us focusing on tackling the skill sets we need to master. Our last spate of private lessons was totally transformative for us and I’m excited to keep transforming!

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Last time we did private lessons, it started out like this. I fully anticipate that I will be cursing this decision and become incredibly sore, but it’s gonna be awesome I swear.

This timing works out perfectly with Frankie’s maintenance- by the time next Friday rolls around, he will be ready to get back into full work after his series of SI and hock injections. He’ll be full of bouncy juice, has been adjusted by the chiro, has better saddle fit, is rocking his carrot stretches, and I just got him a shiny new BoT pad (in navy, duhhh). Because why not do everything we can while we’re at it, right? I have a feeling he’s going to be feeling fantastic, and I’m going to have to grab a lot more mane!

I also got his new 3-ring in and have been using a borrowed figure-8 to great success. I think we’ve really found a great balance of giving him something soft enough to move forward onto, while still giving me a clear enough line of communication to get his attention.

We had a lesson in it last night and I fell in love with my horse all over again. He was hunting down the jumps, had fire in his step but was tuned into me the whole time, and was straight up FUN. He’ll get a few more days off after his hock injections today and I seriously can’t wait. If he’s already going around so amazingly beforehand, I can only imagine how incredible he’ll be once everything is totally 100%.

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He seriously felt like this last night, he was springy as all getout

I also got to sit down with my trainer to talk about our show season coming up, and how best to prepare. Right now the tentative plan is to have AT hop on 2x a week leading up to Blue Rock in May, and then have her take him in a few 1.20m classes to see how he likes it. I’ll stick in the 1.10m Highs for now. We’ll plan on attending Upperville in early June (my favorite show of the year!) where I’ll do the 1.10m/1.15m Highs and she may take him in a 1.20m schooling round, and then late June at Lake Placid I’ll just take him in the 1.15m Highs. If all is going well at that point and we’re all comfortable with the moveup, I’ll take over the ride in the 1.20m Low AOs in August or September. It’s all very tentative and subject to change at any minute, but I’m very happy with this plan. We’re in no rush, so I’d rather Frankie build a lot of confidence and know-how at that height before his amateur mother steps in. As always, we’ll be paying very very close attention to see how he likes that job to make sure we’re not pushing him too much. Even if it doesn’t materialize the way we’re planning, the fact that my trainer has faith in us and Frankie’s abilities means the world to me.

It also turns out that I’m no longer busy during Team Finals (we’re only doing Lake Placid for one week instead of two) and I have enough points to qualify….so I may be looking at the finances to see if we could go from Lake Placid down to Tryon first week of July. I don’t have to decide for a while and it may end up being too much for the Frankfurter, but cool to have the option!

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EVERY SHOW JUST TAKE MY MONEY HERE YOU GO

Things are feeling really good right now. Exciting career changes, exciting progression in our training, and an exciting summer coming up. It’s all a little crazy but it’s the best kind of crazy.

Oh yeah, and I’m planning a wedding. Coolcoolcoolcoolcoolcool.

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Product Review: Roeckl Madrid Gloves

You all know that I’m a little bit obsessed with breeches, but you may not know that I’m also pretty obsessive over my gloves. I think I might just have a riding clothes obsession in general. Or an obsessive personality. But that’s neither here nor there, because we’re talking about gloves.

See, I’m really picky. They need to be grippy in all weather. They need to be small enough to be snug through the palm, but still long enough to fit my spider fingers. They must have touch-screen compatible fingers so I can add to my Insta story while I ride #essential. And they must be breathable, because I am a sweaty person.

I’ve used Roeckl gloves for many years very happily- their base Roeck-grip model has taken me in all three rings over the years comfortably and stylishly. I haven’t had to think about them. They have been a constant in my life.

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They’ve been keeping me real since the DragonMare days.

But all good things do eventually come to an end, and after busting a hole in the finger due to my own carelessness, it was time to replace them. My first thought was to get the exact same pair- why mess with a good thing?

But then I realized. I’m firmly ensconced in JumperLand now. I have a backup pair of black gloves in case I want to do the eq again, so why limit myself? There’s a whole wide world of possibilities out there, it’s time to live a little.

Enter the Roeckle Madrid gloves, which I bought from Smartpak for $59.95. Spoiler alert: worth every penny.

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You guy, I’m in love. I opted to get the pair with red accents to match my barn colors #coordinated, but I will absolutely get this style in all-black if I need something more conservative in the future (for my DQs out there, they also come in white!). Let’s walk through my checklist:

Grippy: yes. I ride in notoriously slippery reins (side note, why on earth have I not replaced these yet??), but had no problem maintaining my grip throughout the warm-up-sneezes that Frankie likes to do. No death grip on the reins necessary, these kept my hands right in place.

Fit my spider hands: yes. I opted to size down since my last pair of Roeckls ran a little large, and they are perfect. They fit like a second skin without being too tight, and are long enough to accommodate my fingers. I do have freakish fingers though, so it may be a bit too much length if you have smaller hands. The velcro close is just right.

Touch-screen compatible: fo sho. And since they fit so snugly, I don’t have to deal with bulky seams or extra fabric getting in the way when I’m tryna get my ‘gram on.

Breathable: this is where they really shine. I have never ridden in gloves this breathable- I swear I could actually feel the breeze on my hands. I will forever be a sweaty person, but I didn’t end my ride with wet gloves for once in my life. They’re reinforced where they need to be along the palm and fingers, and extremely lightweight everywhere else.

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Be honest, the

Add to that how sporty and cool they look, and I’m definitely obsessed. Time will tell how they hold up to wear and tear, but I’ve only had good experiences with Roeckl’s in the past and anticipate these will wear just as well.

Final rating: 5/5 would recommend to all, go grab a pair!

Disclaimer: a distributor reached out to me about doing a product review, but I paid full price for these gloves- the timing worked out that I needed to replace a pair right at that time! 

What I Didn’t Know I Didn’t Know

I was reading through some COTH forums the other day, and for whatever reason a topic that kept coming up to the top of the list was beginner riders wanting to go Grand Prix. I think I saw 3-4 different posts about that- either from novice riders asking for advice on how to achieve that, or more experienced riders wondering if the desire to go big-time is a phenomenon in other sports as well (the consensus is yes, lots of people like to dream big no matter the sport).

I obviously scrolled through all of them hoping to glean some useful information to make it to the big leagues. There was definitely some great advice on putting in the hard work, setting incremental achievable goals, finding a good network to work with, etc. And it was heartening to see people giving realistic but positive advice- we all start somewhere, and it’s great to have ambitious goals no matter what level you’re currently at! But I realized- if I had gotten that advice a few years ago, it would not have resonated as much. Not because I’d want to ignore it, but because I didn’t have the experience to understand and internalize it.

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You will learn, young grasshopper

So I’m going to address my post to the 2015 version of Olivia, who hadn’t competed in 10 years, had rarely (if ever) jumped over 2’6″, but knew she wanted to do big things. Here’s a few things I didn’t know I didn’t know.

  • Moving up in jump height is not as simple as “improve my eq and be brave enough.” It is only that to a certain point. After that, there are other factors. Having the right horse who can handle the height (and providing adequate care to said horse so they can comfortably do the job), creating a fitness plan for you AND the horse to be strong enough, being able to feel when you have the perfect canter to jump from, developing a consistent eye to the fences, learning how to handle the “drop” as the arc of the jump changes. Heels down and eyes up can take you far, but you need other skills too. I had no idea what those skills were, let alone how to attain them.
  • Holes in flatwork will show up in jumping. I treated my flatwork as a warmup for the jumping, and was happy to rush through it. It was only when I started taking this more seriously and working on real brokeness on the flat that our abilities over fences truly grew. Watch the dressage riders- they’re onto something.
  • You get what you pay for. Just because something is expensive doesn’t mean it’s good, and just because it’s cheap doesn’t mean it’s bad- but pretty often the more expensive piece of equipment is more expensive for a reason. It’s worth paying for quality. That being said, there’s no need to break the bank on the most expensive trendy brands. There’s a middle ground of reasonably priced, good quality gear.
  • Know what’s important to you, and cling tenaciously to that. I used to want to move up in jump height, and was willing to ride anything to make that happen. Now I know that my biggest priority is safety. I still hope to continue moving up the levels, but I will only do so on a horse that I can feel safe riding. If it turns out that I can’t handle the blood of a horse at that level, then I will not ride at that level. Simple as that. Safety trumps moving up.
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This is really only fun when it’s with a horse I trust [PC: Tracy]
  • Don’t underestimate the power of a really great trainer. I knew that I liked my lessons with my trainer and got great value out of them, but in the years since I have gotten SO MUCH more out of our relationship than one hour a week in lessons. She has worked with me to set achievable but ambitious goals, helped me lay out a plan financially to pay the bills that come along with pursuing those goals, introduced me to a network of horsewomen, talked extensively about the greater industry as a whole, lent her perspective as an R judge, and shared advice that I’ve even applied to my life outside of riding. A good trainer won’t just teach you how to ride well, they will help forge a path for whatever it is you want to do with that improved riding.
  • Be ready to obsess. Obsess about your tack, about your equipment, about your schedule, about your fitness, about your finances. Getting better takes time, and if you want it to happen faster you have to be willing to obsess. A lesson every week is great. Two is better. Two lessons plus a pro ride for your horse is even better than that. Obsess over finding the right tack, and then let it be. Until you need to change it, and then obsess over figuring out the right change. Create ever-more-elaborate financial tracking tools, because this sport ain’t cheap and improving doesn’t just take time, it takes money. Obsessively track your progress to ID the problems you didn’t know you had, and then obsess about fixing them. Obsess about your horse’s conditioning and soundness, because he’s the ticket to all of this.
  • Be ready to sacrifice. That time and money you want to invest in this sport will inevitably be taken away from other things. It is possible to have it all, but it depends on how you define “having it all.” I thought I would be that flawless girl with a thriving career, glowing social life, steadily moving up the ranks at shows, and well rested. Turns out I get to pick 2.
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As I work remotely from horse shows, I’ll let you guess which two those are

The last and biggest one: someday, you’ll know all this, and you’ll start to know what you don’t know. Stay humble, ask questions, show up. There’s no guarantee that you’ll achieve every goal you thought you had, but that knowledge will open doors and help you understand what goals you truly want to set.

Tell me: what did you not know you didn’t know? What advice would you give your younger self on pursuing your dreams?

Dolla Dolla (Vet) Billz Yo

So last week we had the vet out to give Frankie his full head-to-toe eval! Here’s what we found:

  • Fixing the saddle fit gets a thumbs up. The spots in his back that were sore before are much improved. I think it’s also likely that the chiro helped.
  • Keep up the carrot stretches. He’s a tall guy, but more importantly he is a LONG guy. Total long brontosaurus neck. He’s not naturally flexible, so we need to help him by encouraging him to stretch. As a side note- Frankie seems to really love his stretches! I don’t even have to use a cookie or anything, I just snap a little where I want his nose, and he comes sniffing around. He gets lots of face scratches as a reward. I thought he would lose interest once I stopped using cookies to bribe him, but he’ll ignore all distractions and even his hay to do his stretches with me. Sweet boy.
  • His SI joint needed some happy juice…like, yesterday. This was a big big ouchie point for him. I’m not super surprised since he got it done last May, so we’re coming up on a year. I think we may switch to a 9mo schedule instead of the full year though, so we don’t get to the point where he’s this sore. Poor guy.
  • The lameness locator picked up just a hint of something in his right hind when he’s traveling to the left (I’m going to ask for more detailed results of this so I can share with you, I think it’s such interesting technology!). This is the same leg that has mild arthritis in his hock- we found that in his pre-purchase exam. While we knew this was likely to just be a progression of that arthritis due to work and age, we decided to go ahead and do an ultrasound to completely rule out any sort of soft tissue injury on that leg. The vet said that his suspensory looked totally fine, so we decided to inject his hocks to keep him more comfortable there. We have a few other ideas just in case this doesn’t get him feeling 100%, but we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it- the vet is pretty confident that this will do the trick.
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Handsome boy bein’ sweet

I have a lot of feelings about all of this. On the one hand, I’m so so so glad we’re doing all of this BEFORE Frankie takes a bad step. He has been cheerfully coming out of his stall and doing his job without protest, so we didn’t wait until he was demonstratively off. He’s had a quiet schedule since Ohio, so he hasn’t had to work too hard in a while. I’m also INCREDIBLY relieved that we were able to rule out soft tissue injury, and that all he needed was some more aggressive maintenance.

On the other hand, my poor boy has been sore in a couple areas- his back from my saddle not fitting properly anymore, his SI from needing support, and his hocks from the arthritis. The few stops we got in Ohio make more sense now- they were not unreasonable stops and not dirty at all, but you all know it’s very unlike Francis to stop EVER. Between the SI and the hocks, it was probably just too uncomfortable for him to really rock his weight back when I got him to a tough spot.

So there’s definitely a mixture of relief at finding this early while it’s all still very manageable and treatable, guilt at not figuring it out earlier, and more guilt at letting this happen at all. I don’t know how I expected to halt the progress of arthritis, but we’re not always logical when it comes to our horses, right?! This was definitely a useful learning experience on what he needs from me and how often he needs it.

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His face hole is also healing well, so we’ll put his noseband back on shortly. Could he have a sweeter expression??

He’s been on a long-low-stretchy routine lately while we’ve been scanning him, and will be on light work a little while longer as we do this series of injections, but luckily after that we should be cleared for full work! It looks like I’ll need to take a show off the calendar to pay for all this, but that means I’ll have a happy, healthy horse. And with all that bouncy juice running through his veins, I’m guessing I’ll have a happy healthy horse with MAD ups. #blessed

Yet again, I am so so so grateful for my trainers. Assistant Trainer was the one who thought it would be a good idea to get him scanned, she arranged the vet visits and coordinated the whole thing, and kept me in the loop throughout the whole process. Her standards of horsemanship and care are second to none, and Frankie and I are so lucky to work with such a great role model!

Shameless Plug

Things are a little crazy busy between work, riding, and wedding planning, so I’m going to be brief with my own words, and point you towards my trainer’s. I’ve already mentioned that she’s been blogging lately, so here are the links to a few of my favorites. I hope you’ll take a look! She’s always looking for feedback and is curious to hear thoughts about what she’s sharing, so don’t be shy about commenting- either on her post or on here if you’d prefer. I have been thoroughly enjoying the way she’s been laying out different concepts, and I hope you will too.

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She is also basically my life coach and can always reassure me when I’m feeling nervous or uncertain

Showing What Counts
They’re Taking Your Money
Blue Ribbons for Everyone 
You Can’t Gather Nothing
The Paradox of Riding
Plant Your Feet (this may just be my favorite one so far)
Your Own Worst Critic
Does Fear Own You
We Are All Teachers

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Impart your wisdom

While you’re on the site- we have a couple horses for sale in the barn right now, in case you’re in the market for a bay gelding (legit all the sale ponies are bay geldings!). I can confirm that they’re all super cute and healthy and good workers, so let me know if you’re in the market 😉