By Sadie Fowler

She’s baaaack — back in the saddle, that is.

Sarah (Coffee) Burks has re-entered the walking horse industry after a 34 year-absence — in a big way. After her three-decade hiatus, she has purchased four horses in the past month.

“It has been wonderful getting back into the industry,” she said. “Everyone has been so amazing and welcoming.”

Burks grew up showing but it came to a halt after the passing of her father. She had a rough grow from there, explaining she wasted 20 years of her life abusing drugs and alcohol. She excluded herself from the world — including the show horse world. 

“The last show I went to was in 1983, then my father passed away in 1984,” she said. “I was a real daddy’s girl and when he passed that was the end of a lot of things for me. The last horse show I went to was in 1983.”
Burks said she went through a terrible period, losing about 20 years of her life through as a result of struggling with addiction to drugs and alcohol.

Her dark era ended when she met her second husband Albert, while working on her sobriety. They had a happy marriage for 13-plus years and she began enjoying life again. “He gave me hope when I was totally hopeless,” she said. 

Albert passed away in May. Shortly before his passing, Albert had told Sarah that, even though both of them had lost years of their lives with their addiction struggles, they had also inspired love and hope in a lot of lives. Both had been active in sobriety programs. 

“He told me, ‘Sarah, your job is not done. He told me to keep helping people,’” she said. “So, I’ve been doing that. I’ve been celebrating his life.”

Four months after his passing, Sarah vividly remembers driving in Albert’s car and hearing him speak to her, telling her she’d been doing well, but she needed to step it up a notch. This is where the Tennessee Walking Horse came back into play.

She ended up going to the PC Splash show in Shelbyville and the very next day, which was four days after she’d heard Albert urging her to step it up, she bought a horse. That was about a month ago and she now owns four. 

“One of Albert’s pet peeves with me was that I always procrastinate,” she laughed. “I guess I needed something to excite me, and that’s always been the Tennessee Walking Horse.”

Decades ago, Burks worked at the Walking Horse Report, serving as the face of the paper. She was also a familiar face in the show ring; one of her favorite amateur horses was Senator Delight R&R, trained by Steve Aymett Stables.

“He is one of the voices who will always be inside my head whenever I throw a leg over a Tennessee Walking Horse,” she said.

The first horse she bought after the PC Splash was Seahawk. That purchase was followed by reserve world champion The Jazz Player, followed by He’s Cool Blue and then her latest acquisition, world champion Ruby Lipstick.

In fact, she won her first time back in the show ring aboard the mare in Chatsworth. Her close friend, Molly Walker, was there cheering her on. Walker also played an important role in Burks’ return to the show ring.
“It seems like everything that has happened has been connected to my late husband,” she said. “My oldest friend Molly Walker from Hayden, Alabama came to his celebration of life. We’ve been friends since she was 12 and I was 13. It meant so much to have her there.” 

It was a week or so after the celebration of life that Burks and Walker had a conversation. Burk told her friend that she had regretted never having seen her world champion mare A Beeline show.

“She told me the mare would be showing at the celebration this year,” Burks said. “I told her then I would be there on the night this great mare showed — the first class on the first Thursday night for a reserve world title with Colton Trimble up,” Burks said. “She introduced me to Alan Price before the Celebration started that night.” Ultimately, Alan told Burks he wanted to be the one to get her back in the saddle. 

“I’m thrilled with the job Alan and Nick Price are doing for me with the four horses we’ve purchased and truly love being part of their barn,” she said.  “They have some phenomenal customers who have made me immediately feel at home. One — Rolfe Mullins — I knew when we were in our 20s and I was riding out of JT and Marianne Leech Stables.”