My horse and I recently competed in our first show. It wasn't actually much of a competition, since it was a schooling show at the end of the show season, and the turnout was small, resulting in no one else riding in my class. (They combined my class with another age group, but still placed us separately.) I was actually glad of the small turnout, however, because it meant a little less stimulation for both me and my horse -- and a better environment for us to get used to showing for the first time.
It wasn't our first time being at a show, actually. I took him to a schooling show a couple of years ago, at which he was a complete wreck. We went with a horse he was corralled with -- his "girlfriend," actually -- and he spent the entire time at the show hollering for her. He was bothered by all the horses in the practice arena before the show started, and even once the practice ring emptied somewhat, he was very anxious and high-strung.
We didn't try again after that for a long time, but earlier this summer, I finally took him to another schooling show. The local group that puts these on does one every month throughout the show season, and they are fairly inexpensive. I brought him to the show in August just to hang out and let him get used to things, and to my surprise he was pretty chill -- a dramatic difference from how he was two years ago, so I decided that next time we would actually do the show.
I knew from walking Panama around the grounds at the show in August that the bleachers alongside the show arena were going to be the biggest problem, so as soon as we got there in the morning we started working on desensitizing to them. I lunged him past the bleachers while someone stomped, jumped, and ran back on forth on them, and then we rode back and forth past them. He was clearly worried but not badly.
When I was being judged, of course, it was different -- then the bleachers were full (instead of just one person being on them), and as a result Panama spooked once. It was a small spook, though. The other thing that he was paying a lot of attention to was the soccer game going on across the field, over in the sports complex. Every time the fans would start whistling and screaming, Panama got a little concerned.
Otherwise, though, he was quite well behaved. He was relatively calm (except for that little spook and his tendency to carry his head a little higher than usual) and took almost everything in stride, even when a pony dumped her young rider and got loose during one of our classes (since they had combined my class with a younger age group). I only did walk/trot classes this time, since I think he is more likely to blow up at the canter if he is going to blow up, but I think next time I will be comfortable trying a couple of canter classes.
I am interested in showing for a couple of different reasons, but competing heavily is not one of them. I know I have a different attitude toward it than many people, my trainer and some of her other students included: I am showing primarily to have fun, but also to give my horse some valuable experience and exposure. That's also why I've been acclimating us both to showing gradually -- I want it to be a positive experience for both of us. If my horse and I can't both have fun with it, I am not interested in continuing to show!