For many people, showing is a typical part of the spring and summer seasons. Unfortunately not everyone is able to afford showing, have a horse that is capable of showing in the discipline/level they would like to show at, etc. The list can go on and on.
An alternative to showing is volunteering. Not only will you gain valuable knowledge from watching upper level riders ride (and how they place) but also keep on top of your discipline’s trends and any new rules that may be in place. Every show requires volunteers, whether it be for set-up, scoring assistance, maintence of the grounds throughout the day (ie, moving/replacing obstacles or jumps) or just general office help.
While it may not seem as glamorous as showing and receiving ribbons for your efforts, the knowledge you will gain is invaluable. Also, it is a way to give back to your local equine community, as so many others have done. Without volunteers, it would be nearly impossible to hold shows except for at very well-funded venues who can afford to employ staff versus depend on the help of other equestrians for free. You will also meet new potential friends that possibly live in your area and enjoy the same type of riding you do!
If you are intrested in learning more about volunteering and what sort of tasks need to be done, contact a few of your local competition stables or showgrounds (call at least 1-2 weeks in advance to notify them you are interested in volunteering). The horse world is very small, and no doubt your efforts will be appreciated by your local equestrian community.