Rosie Powers has lived and breathed horses since she was competing on ponies as a child.
Growing up in Massachusetts and then attending Foxcroft School in Middleburg, Virginia, she got the chance to try her hand at foxhunting alongside her first love of hunters and jumpers.
The Upperville Colt and Horse Show in Upperville, Virginia, is a hometown event that Powers makes a point of attending, but this year’s show, where she plans to compete in the 3’3″ amateur-owner hunter, 18-35, division with her longtime partner Carabello, will mark her return to the show ring after taking an unexpected six-month hiatus to battle serious health issues.
In December, Powers was diagnosed with polycystic kidney disease, a genetic disease where cells don’t form properly and create cysts on the kidneys, affecting their ability to function properly.
Powers was preparing to go the Winter Equestrian Festival in Wellington, Florida, for a job but hadn’t been feeling well.
“I hadn’t really thought anything of it because we’re equestrians; we can get tired from our workload, and horses take a lot of work,” she said.
Her mother, Michelle Powers, insisted she go to the doctor, and subsequent testing diagnosed the disease.
“It was a total shock to me because we don’t have any history of it,” Rosie said. “We’re not really sure how I got it. We decided to go for peritoneal dialysis, which is every night. I’ve been on that since late January.”
While dialysis has improved her kidney function somewhat, it is not a long-term solution, she said. Powers needs a kidney transplant, and she’s been looking for a donor since her diagnosis.
“We’ve had a bunch of my cousins test, and we were hoping they were matches, but it didn’t work out,” she said. “We’ve had people testing, but it takes a while to work everyone up. So far we haven’t found a match.”
Rosie, 26, had to take about six weeks off from riding and stayed at home in Marshall, Virginia, with her family. A catheter that was inserted into her abdomen needed time to set.
She snuck in a pony ride a week early on Carabello, from her father, Richard Powers, who’d been keeping the gelding going, and then got back to work riding with trainers Kitty Barker and Cathy Geitner.
“I think the only reason I kept going is because of the horses,” she said. “I have a pony I’m getting ready to do leadline with in Upperville, and then I have ‘Snowball.’ Just being able to take care of those two every day—otherwise I’m not really sure what I’d do with myself.”
Rosie’s had Snowball, a 17-year-old warmblood (Cornet Obolensky—Ayette) since her children’s hunter days. He was campaigned in the professional division by her former trainer Lyman T. Whitehead, but once she was able to ride him herself full time, she said their partnership grew. Her father occasionally borrows Snowball to ride in the pre-adult division, but he and Michelle are far more focused on foxhunting with Piedmont and Orange County hunts in Virginia.
“He wasn’t the most rideable horse for me when I first got him,” Rosie said. “When I took over the reins and started doing the childrens hunters, I got to figure him out that way. I did a couple of derbies on him to start, and when I moved to Virginia, Kitty Barker, who’s been my trainer since 2012, noticed how nice a horse he was, and my mother wanted him to do some derbies or pro classes, but she said, ‘Save him because he’s so nice.’ Now I’m reaping the benefits of that because I still have the same horse nine years later, and he’s taken me up to an international derby.”
Living in Middleburg, Rosie’s also picked up foxhunting with her family and goes first flight on borrowed horses.
“When I had to do the jumpers at the same time as the foxhunting, I feel like I could save a mistake easier because I knew how to sit back and slip the reins if there was something going on,” she said. “It definitely made me a more confident rider because I had mainly ridden in the arena before that.”
A 2019 graduate of Berry College (Georgia), Rosie would like to turn professional at some point, but her plans are on hold until she finds a kidney donor. She’s working as a freelance journalist for the World Equestrian Center for now.
She’s feeling as fit as she can be to ride, although she says temperature control and back pain are the biggest issues.
At Upperville, she’s excited to help her parents as they do the Piedmont Foxhounds hack class, and they’re all entered in the family class.
“I’ve been sidelined from horse showing for the past six months, so I’m just hoping to have a consistent show and get him back in the ring and have some fun,” she said.