Jo Danehy

Madeleine Pickens loves horses. And with her MUSTANG MONUMENT WILD HORSE ECO-RESORT AND PRESERVE, she wants you to love them too.


A cloud of dust billows in the distance. “Look! It’s the horses!” cries Madeleine Pickens, delighted at the sight of 28 of her rescued mustangs galloping across our path, manes blowing in the breeze. Once doomed for slaughter, these rescues enjoy a transformed life of health and freedom in the 900 square miles that is the Mustang Monument Wild Horse Eco-Resort and Preserve.

A scenic three-hour drive west from Salt Lake City, Mustang Monument is off Highway 93 in northeast Nevada. (It took me four hours, because I stopped at the Great Salt Lake and the Bonneville Salt Flats.) The preserve, which opens in summer 2014, is nestled between the East Humboldt Range and Spruce Mountain, the land stretching out to the Pequop Mountains and Goshute Valley. It feels like something out of the past.

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“Let’s take a drive in the Tomcar,” Pickens says as she jumps out of our truck and into the small off-road vehicle sitting in the shade of Spruce Mountain. We weren’t really on a road to begin with — we are deep in the preserve on a dusty trail — but we are most definitely ­“off-road” in the Tomcar. With Pickens behind the wheel, we ramble across rugged hillsides. The smell of spruce fills the air as the Tomcar drives easily over the woody shrubs.

I hope to see the native mustangs of the West, which have been known to share the land with those horses that Pickens has rescued from captivity. In the Wild and Free Roaming Horses and Burro Act of 1971, Congress called the free-roaming horses “living symbols of the historic and pioneer spirit of the West” and declared that they “shall be protected from capture, branding, harassment or death.” ­Madeleine Pickens, too, wants to save mustangs from slaughter — both free-roaming ones and those she’s rescued — so she bought and transformed this preserve of lush grassland, scrubby hillsides and mountains. It now serves as a home for 600 mustangs she’s rescued since 2011. The 28 we saw were followed minutes later by 15 more.

“Where are the others?” I ask.

“Who knows?” she laughs. “That’s the idea.”

A businesswoman, philanthropist and animal-welfare activist, Pickens found success in thoroughbred breeding and racing while her passion grew for the preservation and retirement of horses. She fought to close the last slaughterhouse in the U.S., leading to the American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act of 2011. In 2008, when the U.S. government considered euthanizing or selling 30,000 wild mustangs to slaughterhouses overseas, Pickens started Saving America’s Mustangs, the organization that raised the funding for Mustang Monument.

For her, it’s a calling.