Above all, Madeleine Pickens, wife of oil billionaire T. Boone Pickens, is an animal lover. As a horse breeder and a philanthropist, she has always considered that people must be responsible for the care of animals.
"Animals don't have a voice, and as long as man is their protectorate, we have a responsibility to take care of them," she said. "We cannot abandon them."
After her husband gave $7 million to the Red cross to help Hurricane Katrina victims, she wanted to help the animal victims, too.
"I managed to hire an airliner, a cargo airliner and I went on my first trip down to Baton Rouge and we picked up 200 dogs," she said. "I think we got about 800 dogs and cats out to California and Colorado and got them adopted out."
So when Pickens heard that thousands of wild mustangs might be euthanized, she wouldn't sit still for it.
"Our wild mustang must be our national treasure. We must not be slaughtering it," Pickens said. "The horses have no natural predator. Their only predator is mankind, when we do the wrong thing."
Wild horses, which date back to the time of the Spanish conquistadors, roam free on federal land in 10 western states and share that land with herds of cattle. To ensure that there is enough food for both wild horses and domestic cows, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management thins the herds, keeping the mustangs to about 27,000. They round up the rest and auction them off.
Recently, the land available to the horses has been drastically reduced by 19 million acres, so the government has had to round up more and more mustangs. Now, 33,000 horses live in holding pens, each horse costing $1,500 a year to feed. By law, if they can't be auctioned or adopted, they are to be slaughtered.
"Can you imagine somebody suggesting that you euthanize 30,000 horses? It was abominable," said Pickens, who lives in Dallas and has a ranch in the Texas panhandle and a home near San Diego. "That will never happen."
Pickens to Create Wild Horse Sanctuary
Faced with the prospect of losing these animals, Pickens took action, announcing that she would adopt the 33,000 wild horses that are in captivity.
"If all these cattlemen have access to all this BLM land, what if I bought a ranch and I can get access to the BLM land and then we shared it," Pickens said of her plan. "They can have their land and we'll have ours for our horses. This way, I can create a sanctuary and we can take in all the horses that are homeless so that no one will ever be turned away."
Pickens said she is in negotiations to buy about 1 million acres for her wild mustang sanctuary in the West, a land mass slightly larger than Rhode Island. And it will be a place where anyone can go and see these wild horses running wild. She would not say where exactly.
"I think a lot of people would love the opportunity to go and see what America's really like, to see our true heritage, which is the wild horses," she said. "Once the horses are installed, families will be able to pull up in the RVs. We'll have hopefully log cabins, little hotels. Children will sit outside and have bonfires."
Pickens plans to have the sanctuary open within the next year.
"I can't wait for the day that the first horse is turned loose and you'll just see him kick his heals up and gallop away with this herd together," she said. "It's going to be so beautiful."
For more information on Madeleine Picken's project, visit her Web site: www.madeleinepickens.com