I met Kathy at a local networking group called Positively Female. I was instantly fascinated by her story! She introduced herself and said that she aspired to get to the Olympic level in dressage. How fascinating! She tried to tell me that she was not that interesting and I could certainly find someone else to blog about. I wholeheartedly disagree! How many 50 and fabulous women do you meet on a daily basis who are following their passion, let alone doing it on a horse? I'll let Kathy tell her own story but once her daughters left the nest, Kathy decided it was time to make her dreams come true. I hope she inspires others to do the same. That's why I called this "the Reinvention of Kathy Duffy." Enjoy.
Q: Tell me about yourself.
A: My name is Kathy Duffy. My husband, Bill and I have been happily married for 27 years. We have raised two wonderful daughters, Summer and Savannah, and we are now empty nesters. We live on a seven acre hobby farm with horses, dogs, cats and chickens in Milton, Georgia.
Q: What did you do in your first act?
A: I don't feel I can tell you about my First Act, or even Second Act, without going back and giving you some detail about my childhood. As a child, I loved to hang out with my daddy. He taught me so much in so many ways. There are two specific incidents in my childhood which formed me as an adult today, and both are thanks to him.
The first was when I was about three years old, Daddy came home from work with a gift for my sister. He gave her a book on Astronomy. As a child you can imagine I was a little jealous he didn’t give me a gift and I asked him why. He told me he had brought me a gift but I would have to get it out of the pocket of the coat he was wearing. I stuck my hand inside the pocket and pulled out a tiny, perfect kitten. In that moment I became bonded with cats and today I am proudly one of many with the label, “Crazy Cat Lady,” and my favorite, “The Cat Whisperer."
The second life altering incident was when I was four years old. Daddy took me and my sister to one of his friend’s house. The man had a pony and a foal. I was so young I don’t remember all the details of that day but what I do remember was that I was riding home in the back seat of our station wagon with the foal. This I remember clearly because I was wearing a dress, and the pony pooped on me in the car, so I cried most of the way home. Daddy told me he won the pony in a poker game. About two weeks later, he bought a saddle and bridle, handed them to me and said, “Figure it out.” Almost fifty years later and I am still trying to figure it out. Now with these two stories in your mind I feel like I can tell you about my life.
My first act is meeting William John Duffy outside of a bank at an ATM machine. I was working at an apartment complex and he was working for RTM which was an Arby’s franchiser. Our epic love story grew into marriage, his passing the CPA exam and going to school for his Masters. Once he graduated we started a family and had two amazing daughters, Summer and Savannah. I was a stay at home mom and it was my absolute dream job. To me, there could not have been a better job than raising my daughters and taking care of Bill and our home. Many women do not feel this way and I totally understand, but for me it felt right down to my core. When our youngest daughter went to Pre-K I told Bill I was bored without the girls being there. He told me to get a hobby. Famous last words. I decided to take a few riding lessons. Then I bought myself a horse and began competing in the sport of Dressage. Well, the girls wanted to ride also so I bought them each a pony. If you have three large animals you might as well have a farm so I bought the farm, literally. At this point our daughters were competing and the cost added up so I decided to put my lessons and competing on the back burner. There was nothing for an Adult Amateur to gain, but as high school students there were opportunities for our daughters to receive college scholarships.
We taught our daughters about helping those in need and they were always willing to volunteer to help when they could. This led us to helping the Feral Cat Program of Georgia, a non-profit organization that works on trapping, spay/neutering and rehabilitating non-domesticated cats. We have fostered and helped find homes for over 100 cats.
I could not have loved my job more, it felt like everything was exactly as it should be. And then the girls grew up and we became empty nesters.
Fired. I had just been fired from the job God made me to do. Fired from the only thing I was good at, really good at, and loved. Fired! Now what? How can you be a stay at home mom when your children are grown and more importantly who am I without my children living at home?
Q: Act Two
A: One thing that is certain about me is that my glass is always half full or at least refillable. It is never half empty, but for almost two years after the girls were gone I felt like my glass was as dry as a bone. It wasn't just that I missed them, which of course I did. We did everything together to the point that many of my friends called us the Three Amigos. The house was empty, quiet and there was no laughter during the days, only when Bill came home at night. My glass also felt dry because for the past 20 plus years I gave up personal goals, dreams and finances, very willingly, so that the girls would have better lives. I had lost touch of who Kathy Duffy was and I was now just Mommy. For the first time in decades I had to think about me. I knew who I had been, but now I had to figure out who did I want to become as a person. Sounds so simple to you I'm sure but it was brutal for me to think about myself like this, put myself first over my children. Unheard of!
One morning I woke up and decided to put my big girl panties on and deal with it. I took a long, hard look at myself in the mirror, literally and figuratively. I was 50 so it was time to make a plan for the next phase of my life. It was time to look forward to the future, fill up my glass and enjoy. The number one goal for this phase of my life is to compete in the sport of Dressage to the Olympic level. Did I mention I’m over 50? Okay, so normal people work all of their lives in a sport to accomplish an Olympic level but I’ve had a late start and I am willing to put in the overtime to accomplish my goal.
My horse, Charming, is very capable of achieving this level and we are on the right path with the training I am receiving from Kim Sosebe. At the time of this writing, we are four levels away. I am aware that most people do not understand the levels in Dressage so I won't confuse you with the details. Let’s just leave it at "as long as neither Charming or I go lame, and God willing," we are getting there. Every week of riding I am feeling stronger and more confident. Charming is a willing and eager to learn dance partner. We have a strong bond because I am his first person. What I mean by that is Charming’s life started out in a breeding barn. He was bred to perform, it was a matter of finding the right person for him. Most horses need confidence, a person who makes them feel safe when they are afraid. Horses are fight or flight animals. When they think their life is in danger, they fight to stay alive or run for their lives. To a prey animal, such as horses, something as simple as a flag blowing in the wind makes a horse think there is a danger about to kill me. Therefore, a horse needs a rider that says move toward the flag and the horse relaxes because he knows his rider would not take him into a dangerous situation. When Charming and I were first introduced to one another he had been sent to Georgia for a specific buyer from United States Olympian, Clayton Fredricks. Mr. Fredricks is an Eventing rider which is an Equestrian sport that includes both Jumping and Dressage. Charming is horrified of jumping so that was not a fit. The buyer in Georgia declined to purchase Charming because he had several Sarcoids on his body. Sarcoids are masses that grow on the body which often can become cancerous. While Charming was waiting in Georgia to be sent back to his owner the barn trainer asked me if I would ride him and keep him in shape because she was pregnant. I jumped at this opportunity! The problem came when I fell completely in love with this horse. He was for sale and the price was WAY above anything I would ever be able to pay. Long story short, I decided to have a vet check done on the horse and make the best offer I could in hopes it would be enough. The day of the vet check came and I was heart broken knowing my dream horse was leaving forever. The vets arrived as well as the local trainer. Keep in mind I have been riding this horse for weeks and I had even competed on him two days before the vet check. He was in great shape. The vet asked me to trot the horse in a straight line and when I did Charming acted like he only had three legs and would fall over and die at any second. What in the world had just happened? Again, the vet asked me to turn the horse around and trot the other way and again Charming acted like he was in horrible pain. Needless to say, not only did Charming not pass the vet check but the vet recommended I not buy the horse. Her opinion was so strong that on the certificate she wrote in bold, red letters, “Do not buy this horse.” My heart sank. The certificate was sent to the owner who’s comment was something like, I don't want the horse back, just get rid of it. Basically he is of no use to me. I still had hopes for this horse so I offered less than half of the original price and it was accepted! I put Charming on the trailer and brought him home. The day after the vet check there was nothing wrong with Charming. He was his usual self. Now some people tell me that Charming threw the vet check just to belong to me. Others say he may have had a bruised foot. Believe what you will, personally, I believe with all my being that God gave me a gift by making a horse lame for a day and assuring that horse that he finally had his own person.
Thanks Daddy, for putting that pony in the station wagon. I'm still trying to figure it out.
Remember that day when I said I literally looked in the mirror? Well, I didn't like what I saw. I looked old, haggered and covered in sun damage. A Facebook friend, Amber Desantis, had been posting before and after pictures of people with amazing results from a skincare line called Rodan and Fields. I reached out to her and started using the products. My skin changed and my friends were asking me what I had done, as in Botox or peels. All the complements I was receiving from my husband and friends gave me a boost of confidence, something which many people struggle with.
On my road to the Adult Amateur Olympics, as I like to call it, I had been looking for a very flexible part time job. We still owned the farm and I need to be able to work it everyday, be a mom, wife, ride daily and go to competitions. There really isn't much time to go to an office. However, the further I climb up the Dressage levels the more expensive it becomes. It is not fair of me to ask Bill to continue working for a few extra years so I can go ride horses, nor would I. I’m looking forward to his retirement. So, when Amber approached me about the business side of Rodan and Fields it was a God send. I already loved the products I was using and was seeing results. I looked into the company and was amazed by the success. Now I was going to help people have confidence and get paid for it. I am proud to be a part of Rodan and Fields and yes, it is paying the way to my goals.
As I am answering this question I have a cat licking my arm, another snoozing on the back of the chair and one sitting on the ottoman giving me a death glare because her food bowl is not at 100% overload capacity. All of these babies are rescues as well as the two cats in the barn. I am still volunteering for the Feral Cat Program of Georgia and I love it. I guess I root for the underdog, or undercat in this case. Ferals are misunderstood. They simply have had no contact with humans and see us as a predator. They can be domesticated with time and patience but in today's society people want instance gratification. Feral cats make amazing barn cats because they know how to hunt and keep your barn rodent free. If you are ever thinking about adopting a cat, check them out online.
And it all started because of a kitten in a pocket.
Q: What have you learned from the process of reinventing yourself?
A: More than I could have ever expected! Riding at the higher levels has taught me about perseverance, determination and love. Yes, love for the horse. These are 1200 pound animals, or more, that could so easily kill you but by working together and building a relationship horses are so willing to work and learn. Patience is a virtue that does not come easily to me but I am learning I can not force Charming into anything. I need to clearly teach and praise him for his work.
I have learned that Charming and I both have physical limitations. I imagine anyone competing or training in a sport will have ailments. So, you find new ways to work on your weaknesses and never let them become an excuse.
As far as my Rodan and Fields business goes, there have also been some unexpected surprises. Since always being a stay at home mother my daughters had never seen me in the roll of a “Boss” or even an employee. Now that one is a college graduate and the other soon will be they are seeing me as an example of a woman in the working world. My daughter, Savannah, made the comment to me one day about how proud she was of me by watching my dedication to my business. Comments like this are priceless from my children. Also, the responses from people who have started using the products is very surprising. Women who I didn't even know felt bad about their appearance come up to me and hug me and thank me for helping them. They tell me that having better skin or looking younger has boosted their confidence so much. This means the world to me and makes me proud to be part of this company.
Q: What advice do you have for other women who are considering a change?
A: Do it! Don't wait! Don't overthink it, just do it! This is your life, you deserve to be happy. Don't look back one day and think I wish I had.
Q: How have you felt with obstacles or set backs?
A: Sometime life is not in our control. I love the saying, “Give God a good laugh, plan your life.” There are days and even hours I feel like this could apply but I pick up the pieces, regroup and forge ahead. I’d like to tell you that I would be competing at the Olympic level next year but that is not realistic. If I go too quickly Charming or I could end up seriously injured. The work could become so overwhelming that Charming begins to hate his job and refuses to work or preform. These are risks I'm not willing to take so I have to wait until the time is right to add more and more and then more again. One day I WILL be a Grand Prix rider.
I loved being a stay at home mom and I liked who I was. Being lost for a while was probably a good thing. It gave me time to become another person I will like being and not rushing into a tile of some sort just to fill a hole. We all need to be true to ourselves, hopefully no one else will have to lose their self in order to find out who they are.
Q: Would you do it all again?
A: Without a doubt! Part of me wishes I started more serious training and my own business sooner but I honestly feel I am exactly where I should be.