For the entire fall and most of the spring, a loss doesn't define your season. While no one likes losing, you're usually able to find a way to bounce back and work on things to get better for the next meet.
However, that's starting to quickly change as the calendar gets closer and closer to April.
We are now almost into the postseason with conference tournaments soon getting started across the country. Very soon a loss could be the end of your season. There's not much room for error.
"In my mind you have to stay a team," SMU head coach Carol Gwin said of the key to postseason success. “They have to support one another and be there for both the good and the bad times. That's been the biggest thing that's impressed me this year is that (SMU riders) are very connected to each other and they really are a blast to travel with."
Gwin's SMU squad is currently tied with Fresno State at the top of the United Equestrian Conference. The Mustangs recently snapped a three-meet losing streak with a narrow win over conference foe South Dakota State to stay at the top of the standings.
There have been a lot of close meets for SMU, some of which have not gone its way. However, Gwin likes the makeup of her team.
"We lost two meets by one point total, a tie and a one-point (loss), and in our trip to South Carolina, the point spread didn't show up very well, but I thought we rode well," Gwin said. "I think when we get on a level playing field and ride mistake free, we could be a threat, however there are some very good teams in our conference to contend with."
SMU will face stiff competition from Fresno, UT Martin and Delaware State in the conference tournament being hosted by Delaware.
One of the key ingredients to a team making a run in the postseason is the ability to be riding your best at the end of the year. That's why Auburn is once again a dangerous opponent as we enter the conference and national championship tournaments.
The defending National Champions lost at home in early February to Georgia, but since then the Tigers have won four consecutive meets, three of which have come on the road. Auburn has reclaimed the No. 1 spot in the national rankings because of the streak.
"That's always when we want to be peaking – at the end of the year," Auburn head coach Greg Williams said. "Everything has kind of worked out perfectly. If we're going to have an uncharacteristic loss, it's nice to have it done early and get everyone's frame of mind right heading into the championship part of your season."
As defending champions, it can sometimes be easy to become complacent and expect wins to fall in your lap. However, one loss could quickly change that mindset.
"What we needed more than anything was the wake-up call we got in the spring," Williams said.
Auburn is tied with Georgia in the SEC at the end of the regular season while Texas A&M is just a game behind. South Carolina has struggled in league play this season, but the Gamecocks are coming off the impressive win over SMU that Gwin mentioned.
In the Big 12, Baylor was previously ranked as the top team, but has slipped to third as it enters the Big 12 Championship. The Bears lost two straight tiebreakers to end the regular season, and while those were tough losses, they could benefit Baylor in the coming weeks.
"I think it's actually good because it made them realize that they need to sharpen up a little bit, but it hasn't been an outstanding defeat so they're not like, 'Oh my, we can't ever recover,'" Baylor head coach Ellen White said. "I think mentally they are going to be pretty good to go."
In another tight conference race, Baylor and Oklahoma State are tied at the top of the Big 12 entering the conference championship. TCU has yet to win a conference meet this season, but the Horned Frogs are undoubtedly thinking back to last year, when they caught fire in the postseason to make a run to the NCEA National Championship.
Baylor will once again host the NCEA National Championship in its home town of Waco, Texas, but that doesn't mean the Bears get an advantage. The event is held at Extraco Events Center, which is not where Baylor normally rides at, and the Bears won't have the benefit of riding their own horses, which is the usual advantage of a home meet.
It will be an even playing field for the nation's top 12 teams, but the fun will first get started with the conference championships. There, each team will get a shot to make a huge statement against league foes. The conference tournaments will also help the teams and their riders get comfortable with the different atmosphere that comes with the postseason.
"It's just more intense," White said. "At the beginning of the year, we are still trying to feel out who fits into spots. Now the girls just get more intense because the whole team knows what it means to win points at this time."
March 24 — SEC, UEC and Big 12 conference championships
March 25 — SEC, UEC and Big 12 conference championships
April 13-15 — NCEA National Championship