The HSUS award is presented annually to a horseman or horsewoman who has committed himself or herself to improving the welfare of horses in the US.
The conference focused on new efforts to enforce the Horse Protection Act, and protect Tennessee Walking Horses from the abuses of soring.
Pickens, the wife of Texas oil tycoon T. Boone Pickens, has bought the 14,000-acre Spruce Ranch in Nevada, with grazing rights on a further 540,000 acres of public land. She hopes to ultimately turn the ranch into a sanctuary for the 34,000 wild horses held in captivity, which have been gathered in federal musters run under the Bureau of Land Management's wild horse and burro programme.
"There are many people in America who have the compassion, money, or talent to put toward solving a problem of this magnitude, but few possess all three traits, and few can get work accomplished for horses like Madeleine Pickens," said Wayne Pacelle, HSUS president and CEO. "She is one of those rare individuals who puts her passion, time and money where her heart is."
The HSUS award was created to recognise a horseman or horsewoman who has shown an outstanding commitment to improving the welfare of America's horses. Pat Parelli, teacher of the Parelli Natural Horsemanship method, was presented the award in 2009. US senator Ed Whitfield received the award in 2008 for his leadership in the effort to pass H.R. 503/S. 727, legislation to ban the slaughter of American horses for human consumption abroad.
Pickens, who delivered the keynote address at the Sound Horse Conference, was humble in her acceptance of the award, and pledged her ongoing commitment to the protection of all of America's horses.