She lives the kind of glamorous, high-profile life that one can only imagine, married to Texas billionaire T. Boone Pickens with a heart-shaped diamond (a gift from her husband) roughly the size of Gibraltar. But Madeleine Pickens’ own heart is considerably larger, especially when it comes to protecting animals.
 
She and her husband airlifted thousands of cats and dogs orphaned by Hurricane Katrina to safety and new homes. The Rancho Santa Fe couple also delved into the horror of horse slaughter houses in this country, leading the fight to shut them down.
 
But despite these successes, Madeleine was surprised when her ambitious plan to save the wild horses of the West captured the imagination of the American public. “My story took off like wildfire,” she marvels. “I never expected it. I was stunned at the amount of press and support I’ve received on this issue. So it just shows the American people care about this.”
 
Madeleine’s plan is to buy up more than a million acres of Western ranchland to serve as a nonprofit sanctuary for about 30,000 wild mustangs now in federal holding pens. The horses, icons of the Old West, are supposed to be protected by law. The problem is they’re competing with cattle for grazing, on dwindling federal land. 
 
The Bureau of Land Management says it has been forced to trim the herd of wild horses, rounding up thousands and putting them in facilities — each costing $15,000 a year to feed — in hopes they’ll be adopted. By law, the horses can be sold for slaughter or euthanized if there are no takers. There seemed to be few other options until Madeleine unveiled her plan, or as The Washington Post put it: “a solution arrived on a white horse.”
 
While details remain under wraps, Madeleine is now in negotiations to buy land where wild horses can roam, and where people can learn about American heritage. Down the trail, she envisions a sort of eco-resort where families and other guests can stay in log cabins and teepees, and sit around campfires, listening to stories about how the West was won.
Madeleine, who bred and raced thoroughbreds with her late husband Allen Paulson, hopes to win support from the racing industry for her refuge, which could also be a home for horses once their racing days are over.
 
Madeleine has received thousands of emails and hits on her Web site offering support, and ABC News recently named her “Person of the Week.” She has come to realize why her plan has caught on with the public and media with such fervor. “This is a beautiful picture,” she says. “This is a picture of our wild mustang roaming free. It’s like a John Wayne movie.”
Now all she needs is a Hollywood ending. One can imagine the final scene: Madeleine riding off with a herd of wild horses, as the sun, of course, sinks slowly in the West. (www.madeleinepickens.com)    ANDREA NAVERSEN