Editor’s Note: This is one in the Sentinel’s “Where Are They Now?” series about Ramona graduates — where they are and what they are doing.
By Marta Zarrella
K.L. Osborne is a fifth generation Ramonan who returned home after living in several places in California, New Mexico, Texas and Missouri.
He was born on Christmas Eve in 1965 with club feet, which defined his young life. He wore a brace on his left foot to straighten it. His right foot required surgery. As a child, K.L. was told he would probably never be able to wear boots, making his dream of being a cowboy difficult.
“My mother, Ardella Brisendine, was like Granny Clampett (from the 1960s television show “The Beverly Hillbillies”),” said Osborne. “She was tough. I didn’t get any slack because I had bad feet. Neither did my brothers.”
Osborne gives his mother credit for the dedication and determination that has served him many times. Wearing boots after his surgery was painful, but not working through the pain was never an option.
Ardella is a member of the Swycaffer family, pioneers who came to Ballena Valley in the 1850s.
Osborne grew up around horses. Grandma Osborne gave him his first pony when he was in about the third grade. It was wild and feisty, as ponies can be. In true cowboy fashion, young Osborne jumped on his pony and rode. He came off and got a nasty scab on his face. It hurt a lot, but working with this pony was something that he knew he had to do.
His next horse project began in about fourth grade when a neighbor taught Osborne the art of driving horses. He learned how to drive a single (one horse), tandem (two horses, one in front of another) and team (two horses side by side).
The neighbor bought Osborne a pony and a pony cart. One day the pony spooked, flipped the cart and dragged it for several blocks. Neither Osborne nor the pony were hurt. “I’ve never broken a bone working with these horses, though I’ve been scraped up and had body parts rearranged,” he said. “Like my nose that was pretty banged up one day. The vet was on the ranch, so he stitched me up.”
Osborne’s equine education continued throughout his youth. As an eighth-grader, he worked for Casey Tibbs, world champion professional cowboy who was director of Western activities in San Diego Country Estates. Tibbs called Osborne “sleezy foot” and taught him how to “sack out” a horse. (Sacking out a horse is the process of literally using a sack to desensitize the horse to scary sights, sounds and sensations.)
Osborne was a fan of Tibbs, having watched the movie “Born to Buck,” which Tibbs both starred in and directed. Osborne and his brothers attended Tibbs’ 1980 wedding to Sandra Clark. Roy Rogers was best man, Rex Allen and Steve Ford (son of President Gerald Ford) were groomsmen and Sons of Pioneers, one of the first Western singing groups, provided entertainment.
Roy Rogers would not give the Osborne brothers his autograph, Osborne said, but the Sons of Pioneers did, making the boys extremely happy.
As soon as he graduated from Ramona High School in 1985, Osborne moved to Riverside County and began working for several horse trainers and horse traders. His best education came from working for Bob Franks.
Franks, said Osborne, was a big guy who worked hard during the day and drank hard from 6 p.m. to 3 a.m. seven days a week. He taught Osborne how to break horses as well as how to give shots, castrate a stud, and clip a nervous horse.
The ranch had 35 broodmares and three stallions in their breeding program. Each month Franks and Osborne would work 150 horses. Franks would give orders and Osborne would ride the horses.
They used old-fashioned cowboy techniques to teach the young horses. Though the techniques used then involved tying and hobbling the horse, saddling and bridling them as 2-year-olds, and riding them with only two or three days of work, Osborne’s kind, quiet nature and his skill as a rider produced many happy “green broke” horses for his employers.
Like so many young cowboys, Osborne enjoyed drinking after work, smoking and on occasion other things to relieve the stress of his work. All of that took a toll on him in his early 20s.
“I went through the motions every day,” he said. “I’d look at the mirror to brush my teeth and get ready, but I really didn’t ever look at myself.”
He was so low that one day he picked up a handgun and contemplated shooting himself. “I looked in the mirror and finally saw myself,” he said. “I saw dark circles under my eyes, my face was sunken. I was scared by my thoughts.”
He poured through the memories of his life and decided that day that he wanted to keep on making good memories. He decided then and there to stop his destructive behavior and begin loving himself. He realized that to really feel the horse, he had to stop numbing himself.
“I just decided to be happy every day,” he said. “I did daily affirmations. I didn’t learn that anywhere, I just started doing it and it works.”
Osborne has enjoyed working with horses and horse people in many locations, including raising Fox Trotters in Missouri, but he is living his dream now. He works in and around Ramona as a mobile horse trainer.
“I’m living my dream,” he said. “I have a blessed life working with great people and their horses. Every morning, I do a 20-mile bike ride, something I never thought I’d be able to do with my feet.“
But, said Osborne, where there is a will, there is a way. His reason for sharing his story is to encourage people to follow their dreams.
“There will be trials and tribulations, but if you have a dream and put time into making it happen, I’m proof that dreams can come true.”