Different Levels of Shows
Horse shows are run by local riding clubs, statewide horse associations, and national associations. Each tends to have the same basic setup: Horse and rider accumulate points throughout the year, and at the end of the season awards are handed out at a special banquet.
The local riding clubs are lots of fun, and they are a great way to accumulate some horse friends if you keep your horse at home and don't have the advantage of the built-in peer group, as you do when you board your horse at a stable. Local shows are also good places for beginners to overcome their show jitters (for both rider and horse!)before venturing into the more competitive arenas. These shows are smaller, which means there are fewer horses and smaller classes and, therefore, you might be able to build your confidence and win some ribbons early on.
Local shows and clubs also offer the opportunity to widen your circle of horse friends by volunteering in any number of capacities, from club treasurer to ring steward, or simply to tidy up the ring and grounds after a show. Volunteering at horse shows is a great way to learn the ropes and see how things work before you begin participating as a competitor.
Regional shows are often sponsored by state components of national organizations. Almost every breed has them — the American Quarter Horse Association has an affiliated club in almost every state, with some more active than others. Morgans, Arabians, and many other breeds also have similar state groups. They often put on statewide shows, where the competition gets a little tougher — in numbers and in skill level. These types of shows might be a good next step after spending some time showing locally.
The national shows, which are often also affiliated with breed associations, are highly competitive and mostly well attended. It is really not worth the time and money to attend one of these with your horse unless you have spent the energy in thorough preparation and training, probably gaining experience in the local and regional shows first. It's a good opportunity to talk to some other competitors about their experiences showing at the national shows. And if it all sounds exciting, then by all means go for it!
Attend one or two national shows as a spectator before you decide to compete in one. That way, you can get a feel for the atmosphere and whether you can ever be comfortable competing at that level. It's not for everybody, and many riders find it more fun and fulfilling, and less stressful, to stick with the smaller-scale shows.