The Santana Center was established in November of 2004 by Kathy Castro, named after Santana Satin & Gold, her stunning palomino American Saddlebred gelding. When Kathy and her daughter first stumbled upon him in someone’s backyard, Santana was 9 years old, filthy and untrained. They instantly fell in love with him, and brought him home where he was broke to ride, loved and pampered.
Slowly but surely, Kathy regained Santana’s trust and they developed an incredible partnership. Although Kathy had years of experience with horses, Santana truly captivated her heart and taught her even more the significance of trustworthy and appropriate interactions between horses and humans. The bond between the two of them was truly incredible. As a team, they inspired many a horse lover and even those with no horse experience.
Years later, Santana was critically injured while out playing in the field. Despite much effort to save him, he sadly had to be euthanized with Kathy by his side.
Santana’s memory lives on through the development of The Santana Center, echoing the message of the true bond that can exist between horse and human if just given the opportunity. Many horses that we rescue come from bad owners or situations, yet are still capable of giving their hearts to that one special person. The Santana Centers mission is to bring to light the issue of unwanted horses, and help these horses find their forever homes.
If we are truly lucky, we find that horse that changes us deeply. Santana taught me about trust and compassion. He was in my life for a brief 6 years, but he left me with a lifetime of learning. Don’t turn your back on that dirty, unwanted, hyperactive horse with the scraggly coat. They have so much to teach you. His memory will forever live on with the Santana Center. I am honored to share his messages with those who want to hear them.
Nicole “Nikki” Dorenzo
Nikki is Kathy’s daughter, and began riding at the age of 8 when Kathy took her on her first trail ride. Following the trail ride, Kathy found her a little quarter horse to lease, and so began Nikki’s lifelong passion of horses! She fell in love with Santana the moment she first saw him, dirty and disheveled in someone’s backyard. She moved out to San Diego in 2004, and has worked with hunter/jumpers, lesson programs, and most recently worked as a buyer in the purchasing department of Mary’s Tack and Feed, a high end equine retail store in Del Mar. She recently moved with her family to Northern California and is a stay at home mom while she finishes her degree at UC Davis in Animal Science Management. Nikki is active in the California horse community, as well as contributing much time and effort to the Santana Center.
Marissa is a military spouse and mom to three young kids. She grew up in upstate New York and went to college at Springfield College in Massachusetts to obtain her degree in Physical Therapy. She then moved to Colorado where she met her husband, John. She has since spent over a decade moving around the country and raising her children. Marissa found the Santana Center at a time in her life when she was needing to find a purpose and needing to dedicate more time to her own happiness. Originally, she thought she could offer a couple of hours a week to volunteer. But before she knew it, she had fallen in love and now finds herself there almost every day. Kathy and Nikki have always made her feel welcomed at the rescue and have always been open and willing to teach her anything she wants to know about horses and their care. She has now even adopted her own horse from the Santana Center and is loving the journey of training her from the ground up under the expert guidance of Nikki and Kathy. She looks forward to assisting the rescue as their volunteer coordinator and helping others fall in love with equine rescue the way she has.
Member of the Board
I began riding at age 8 and have had horses most of my life. I have competed in many disciplines, but jumpers and 3 day eventing were my favorites. In high school I worked as an exercise rider at DRC as well as volunteering with a handicapped riding program. I went to Michigan State University and completed a degree in Equine Management where I landed a great opportunity at a successful breeding farm and was able to continue my love of eventing with some top riders and trainers. After that, I managed a farm where I trained and gave lessons for a couple of years. Currently I’m a stay at home mom who has begun the journey back to horses with my own kids.
Member of the Board
My mother may not like it, but she’s the one to blame for horses always being a constant in me life since I was born. Growing up in the hunter/jumper world, my mother had two horses herself and she was the one who threw me into lessons at five years old. Eager for more horse time in middle school, I started looking around to see what farms could make that happen. Lo and behold, a woman who my father worked with in fisheries had a rescue just a mile down the road. That’s how I found the Santana Center and Kathy, and the rest is history. Ever since then, volunteering with the Santana Center has been an important part of my life. And of course, it only made sense to adopt a mini horse named Wally in 2019 from the Santana Center. Though we may be in different states now, I’m excited to continue on with the rescue and helping to make a difference. When I’m not working as a nurse, I spend most of my time training my bird dog for field trials, where I get to spend hours in the saddle on my trust TWH Little Guy.
Advisor to the Board
I never wanted to do anything but horseback ride. So, at the tender age of 6, my mom put me in my first class, and thus started my life-long love of horses. As we all know, horseback riding is an expensive sport, so to get my horse fix in high school, I volunteered at a local rescue in Virginia as a fearless exerciser. While in college, I was on the equestrian team as a hunter/jumper. After college, I volunteered at Dreamcatchers, an equine therapy facility for disabled children and wounded warriors with my future husband. After marrying my best friend, getting my Master’s degree, and having two amazing kiddos, I now stay at home and FINALLY got my very first horse this past year! While looking for a second horse, I started talking to Nikki and fell in love with this organization and its mission! I am so excited to be able to help these amazing women find many more wonderful and deserving horses homes.