Finley man saddle training Texas longhorn bull

FINLEY — Gil Leal is living his "someday" dream today on his small family ranch in Finley.

He has worked hard to develop the irrigated pasture and spends much of his free time saddle training an almost 700-pound animal with 34-inch tip-to-tip horns.

Gunner, a Texas longhorn bull, is a beast of an animal but likes to nuzzle Leal's hand like a friendly dog.

Leal's love and understanding of large animals developed while growing up in Mexico, where many people keep farm animals on small plots of land. He said he often dreamed when he was a teenager at Kennewick High School about someday owning his own animals on his own land.

Now he is living that dream on about an acre near the Columbia River off Haney Road. It's where he lives with his wife, Alicia, and their two children. And it's where he keeps Gunner and two horses.

When he is not working at his day job as a Hanford Patrol officer and Pasco police reserve officer, he often can be found in the field working with Gunner.

It's an unusual sight, attracting the attention of passers-by.

Leal's neighbor, Tina Griffin, 47, spotted the young man on a bull "with great big horns" earlier this summer while riding her bicycle.

"It was so cute. I couldn't believe he was riding it," she said.

"It reminds me of when I used to train, as a teenager, Arabian horses for show. The bond and relationship you develop when training an animal is the best feeling I've ever had," she said.

But longhorns aren't just any cow with horns.

Texas longhorns are a distinct breed brought to the United States by explorer Christopher Columbus, says the Texas Longhorn Marketing Alliance website.

They grow to be from 1,200 to 1,300 pounds with horns stretching 6 to 7 feet from tip to tip.

Gunner is only about 2 years old and his horns have grown 17 inches in just eight months.

The longhorn alliance says the popularity of the breed has grown over the years with breeders now in all states, Canada, Mexico and many other countries. They are known for their gentle disposition and intelligence, breeders say.

Leal, 37, set his sights on Gunner at the 2010 Benton Franklin County Fair & Rodeo in Kennewick.

Breeders Don and Sharron Wiens of Angel Hill Farm in Kennewick were showing their stock at the annual summer event. A deal was struck and Leal moved his new pet to its new Finley home.

The Wiens family has been raising registered Texas longhorns for eight years, and it is the first time anyone has bought one of their cattle for riding, Sharron Wiens said.

Since then she has done some research on how to saddle train the big animals and has started training one herself.

In other parts of the country, some breeders market their animals for riding.

"We don't see them here very often (for riding). I think it would be fun to ride one in a parade," said Sharron Wiens.

She said an animal judge from Oklahoma while at a recent show in Spokane described the animals "as an ambassador for the longhorn industry because people 'ooh and aaah' when they see them in a pasture or at the fair."

For now, Leal is content to train Gunner simply for the enjoyment. But he admits someday he might try riding the bull in Pasco's Cinco de Mayo parade.

Then he said he might try his hand at training a Brahma bull for a ride longer than eight seconds.