A lot of people get their first mini and decide "maybe I want to show it." Showing can be fun, but it can also be political, complicated, confusing, intimidating, and just plain scary. However, it is also HIGHLY rewarding as it is a great motivator to work with your horse, build a show record, and possibly WIN! You also meet tons of new friends who also have a passion for the miniature horse.
EVERYONE is a "newbie" at some point... you will have a lot of questions about everything. That is natural. It is important to ask your questions and be open minded about the advice you are given. Everyone has different takes on showing, so you will have to decide what works for you. I am a newbie to showing, but am a little further along my path, and I'd like to share some of what I have learned. Showing is something that you really have to EXPERIENCE to LEARN. There is no replacement for actually going into the ring time and time again. I am an amateur handler who shows on the AMHR circuit, so that is the path I will explain here. The AMHA circuit is similar but has many subtle differences.
The best advice I have to someone wanting to show their horse is to go to one or more shows WITHOUT your horse, as a spectator. You can see what goes on in the ring as well as the horses being presented around the facility and what is winning. You can decide what classes look interesting to show in. But you will not have the pressure of having your horse there and having to show. There is a bit of "spectator etiquette" that I would like to bring up. Please remember that a show is a rather stressful time for people showing there. Most miniature horse people are VERY nice people and LOVE to talk about their horses, but they might be very busy getting ready for their show classes. If they are sitting around, that will be the best time to chat with them. Most people don't mean to be rude, but might come off that way if approached at an inappropriate time. Do try to chat with as many people as you can, and be complimentary about everybody's horses. People have worked very hard up to the show date, and it's always nice to be courteous.
The second best step to take would be to attend a show, as a groom for someone experienced. Help them groom horses before their classes, and be the ever-helpful "horse holder" while they change their clothes or grab something out of the horse trailer. Again, you will get some hands-on experience but won't have the stress of showing. You might even get some ringside training by them for your reward! Most people I know would be thrilled to have an extra set of hands helping them out at a show.
So how does an AMHR show run??? First you will want to make sure that you, the owner of your horse, is an AMHR member. This is a fee of about $65 which includes a subscription to a snazzy magazine called "The Journal". Second you will want to find out what your local AMHR club is. A club puts together all the shows for the year, and can get you a schedule of when and where. You may need to become a member of that club to show with them, and you will have opportunities for year-end awards and clinics and other enrichment opportunities.
When you find a show that is on a good day for you, you can ask the club for a "premium" which is the list of classes and the entry form. Fill out your entry form completely and send in the appropriate fees.
When you show, the only "record" your horse gets is a series of "points" earned for placing. AMHR keeps two different sets of points... one for annual (All-Star) and one for lifetime (Hall of Fame) points. If you want to remember that your horse placed "Sixth Place" in "Youth Halter Mares" you will need to keep that record yourself. Details like that are not kept with AMHR, except placings at the National Show I think. You can find details for points in the AMHR Rule Book. Your local AMHR club might also keep an additional set of points for local year-end awards; check with your club for details on that, if offered. You must be a current member of AMHR each year that you show your horse for it's points to be tabulated. If it shows and you are not a member, the points will not be documented.
Since you are a "newbie" you also might want to take advantage of AMHR's Amateur Program. For only $5 you can apply for an Amateur card, but you must make sure you adhere to the rules of being an amateur, meaning essentially that you do not train horses professionally. There are usually lots of amateur classes offered, particularly in halter and driving. Because the professional trainers are barred from showing in these classes, they are generally more appropriate for beginners. That's not to say there aren't some top notch horses and exhibitors in amateur classes! You must own or lease your own horse to show as an amateur as well. If you are under 18, you can also take advantage of the Youth program, which runs similarly.
So what do you do the day of the show? The very first thing you will do is "measure in". You will fill out a carbon paper form with general information on it, and give it to the show steward who will measure your horse. Your horse will stand on a specific level surface, and must stand completely square. Your horse MUST be "naked"... absolutely NO blankets, sweats, or even a tail bag on it. So be sure to undress your horse to prevent being sent to the back of the line! Be sure to get there early to give you time to measure in. Your horse must be measured to determine which height division it will show in. If you think your horse was smaller/taller than the class you actually entered it in, you will simply be moved to the right height division. Your horse must also, of course, measure in under 38". You will get three "tries" to measure your horse if you dispute a measurement. Horses under three years old need to be measured every 60 days. If you measure a horse in January for a show, you do not need to measure it for a February show, but will need to in March when the 60 days is up. A horse over three years only needs to be measured once a year. That saves a bit of hassle if you show your horse often in the year; you will probably not need to measure in for every show that way.
After you get your card measurement back, you will take it to the show manager. You will turn in the measurement card and get your "exhibitor number". This number is given per HORSE not handler. If you are showing three horses, you will get three different numbers. Be sure, as you switch off horses, that you switch your numbers as well. This is how the judge places and keeps track of the horses in the class without being biased by being given actual names. Your number is best safety pinned to your back to prevent it from flopping around. It must be visible so if you are female, tie your hair up so your back isn't obscured. The handler will wear a number in every class the horse shows in.
Keep track of the classes you are in, and keep track of what classes are in the ring. Classes will run in a certain order according to the premium, but not according to a specific time. If you are class #34 of 189 classes, you better start getting all ready by class #31. This is also where a bit of experience will help you... some classes are judged faster than others, and some have more or less horses in them, which affects how fast they go. The show manager will also post "scratched" classes, which are classes that will not happen due to no horses being entered.
The more prepared you are, and the more experienced help you have, the easier your time will be. The important thing is just to go, experience, and have fun without the pressure of winning. That will build with time.
Go show, and have fun!