Nancy and Wink Groover don’t have a formal place for trophies and ribbons. If they did, it would be crammed. In the past three years, most of them have been won by Texas Salsa –all blue.

Nancy and Salsa won their third Amateur-Owner Walking Mares and Geldings World Championship on a warm Sunday night in August. It was the 21st time the red mare had walked off with top honors. Salsa simply is doing what she was bred to do.

Nancy and Wink bought her sire, Hard Texas Cash, as a yearling when they moved from Shelbyville, Tenn., to Longview, Texas in 1994. Although Tex was supposed to be Wink’s horse, he only got to show the stallion once, to a blue at the Texas State Fair.

“The next year I asked Wink to let me try him. That was the end of that,” Nancy said. The team chose to bypass the Celebration that first year.

“The next year he really got big and strong,” Nancy said. “The only time he was defeated was at the Fun Show. That year, he won the 4-year-old stallion qualifier and the Amateur-Owner Grand Championship.” vThey wound up the season at Baton Rouge and then shipped the stallion to stand at Ricky Womack’s barn in Murfreesboro, Tenn. The next challenge: to find the right mare. They found a black Pushover daughter, Jalapeno Popper.

“The name fits her to a T,” Nancy said, adding the coming 2-year-old still was wearing a Western saddle at Christmas. “We brought her home and I’d look out to see her running off down the field with Wink. She got broke, but we never showed her.”

Instead, they bred her; Salsa was the first foal. “We had a black stallion and mare, and here was this red baby. The vet looked at her and said ‘why not call her Texas Salsa,’” Nancy said. The name stuck and subsequent events have proven she is well named.

In the fall of 2001, the Groovers brought her to David Landrum’s. “Joe Cotten has done all the work with her. He’s done a real good job; she responds to him very well,” Nancy said of the mare she terms “easy to get along with if you know how.”

She does concede that Salsa has her ways. “She is like one of those women – if you don’t cross her, she’s real easy to get along with. If you do, she lets you know that isn’t the way she wants to be treated. She has a very strong personality.”

Yet she knows her name – and Nancy’s voice. “She can have her back to me. I’ll call her and she will turn around immediately. That’s pretty cool. We do get along famously.”

Not that Nancy is superstitious … but she has a pre-show tradition that neither she, Wink, David or Joe want to break. “I always give Salsa her own show bath before I show her,” she said. “I take her blonding shampoo, conditioner. I just get right in and do it.” vNancy and the mare they called Pepper at home made their debut in the Owner/Amateur Two-Year-Old Mares and Geldings Specialty class at Jackson, Miss. Then they showed at Columbia, Bethesda, Belfast – all blues. Trainer Joe Cotten stepped into the irons the first Saturday night of the Celebration to walk off with the Two-Year-Old Mare title, the first of her four world championships.

“He has not wanted to show her since,” Nancy said. “He says if she gets beat, he does not want to be the one on her. Being undefeated was something we never would have dreamed of when she started out at two.”

Salsa responds to Nancy’s talking to her in the show ring. “Sometime when we reverse, I’ll say ‘OK, now is the time to do your thing.’ I know after we won at the Celebration and were standing down there ready to make a victory pass, I circled around the top turn and said “OK, now is the time to do your thing. She took on a whole new bloom about her – raised up and did even more.”

There really is a lot more to the popular Texas gal than horses. She married Wink Groover when he had a well-established Tennessee business in June 1985.

“Everyone thought it might last a year. They didn’t know I’m as hardheaded as he is,” Nancy said. “We lived in the little farm house on Bell Buckle Road and it was great! We were together every day. I spent time doing something at the barn practically every day, although I didn’t get to do much riding up there.” Wink had heart surgery in 1992 and a heart attack the following year. v “We hung with it another year but were ready to do something else – to get out of the grind of running a big barn. Winky came and took over in 1994,” she said.

“Wink decided we might as well move near my family in Texas. But we didn’t move back to Waco. When we married, my dad made Wink promise he wouldn’t bring me back,” Nancy said with a laugh. Wink brought her part way, to East Texas, about three hours from where she grew up. Until April 2002, Wink ran a public barn. v“It seemed like time to quit,” Nancy recalled, adding they have a house and barn on 12 acres. “He rides about five or six now.”

“I like babies,” she said. She especially likes Tex babies, but explained, “We did decide we wouldn’t have a big broodmare band. If we wanted a Tex horse we would go to people who bred to him. I would own them all if we could, but that’s impossible.”

They do have three mares at home and “a couple” in Tennessee including Jalapeno Popper and two Tex daughters. The Tex mares have weanling fillies, one by I’m Dumas Walker and one by Jose Jose, at their sides.

Texas Hondo, the next of the Jalapeno Popper/Tex colts, is at Landrum Stables. Wink showed him to reserve at the fall Decatur, Ala., show. A red weanling colt with a stripe on his face roams the Texas pasture. Born the week after Nancy’s dad died, they named him John B. Tex. “We’re excited about him – but it will be another year,” Nancy said.

Yes, the Groovers lives have changed – but that’s not bad. Both still ride and Wink is a popular judge. Now they have time to enjoy traveling. “We’ve been to Aspen, a place I’d never visited. And Wink likes to go out west, so we spent a week out there. Then I met a cousin from California in New York for a girls’ week.”

Yet their first love remains one another – and the horses. What will next year bring? Nancy and Salsa could show under 15.2; perhaps she will be up on Hondo.

As for their trophies and ribbons: Nancy has a cubby hole in her kitchen stuffed with ribbons, primarily Salsa’s. “I’m not very good at putting them up, she said. “I’m not one of that kind of organized people.”

The Groover home may not be suitable for a trophy and ribbon room. Instead of ribbons, Nancy surrounds herself with pictures of Salsa, Tex, Wink and others important in her life. She can never forget.