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Buying a horse.

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There are great bargains to be had at the Victoria Livestock Market — if you know what you're doing.

Here are a few tips:

Ask around. The regulars at the Victoria auction are happy to tell you what they think of a particular animal or dealer. Be aware, however, that someone with a financial interest in a horse may not be completely forthright. The best thing to do is bring your own trainer or a friend who has horse sense.

Pay attention. If a horse needs special attention or is too jumpy for children, reputable sellers will say so. Don't ignore them.

Plan for the costs. It's possible to buy a decent horse for a few hundred bucks — often, people need to sell a fine animal quickly because a child tired of it or they have no space for it. But unless you live on a farm, you'll pay anywhere from $200 to $500 per month for its room and board. Add vet bills, shoeing and tack, and expect an investment of several thousand.

Go for a test drive. Ride the horse you're interested in, or watch someone else ride. There's no other way to tell if a horse will be a good buy.

Be wary of your gut feeling. It may be a beautiful horse, but that doesn't mean it's the right horse. Patrick McKann once sold an Arabian mare to a couple who wanted it for their daughter. He told them it wasn't a good horse for a child, but they bought it because it was "so cute." McKann heard the mare's soon coming back to the market. S

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