Our Story

The Santana Center is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization committed to finding, placing and keeping horses in loving homes. Based out of North Carolina, our focus is to educate the horse community about responsible horse ownership, rehabilitation of rescue horses and what we can do to stop the epidemic of unwanted horses.
Where it all began

Our Mission

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.

In loving memory of

Santana Satin & Gold

Who We Are

Kathy Castro


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.

Nikki Dorenzo

Assistant Director 

From the time that I was eight years old, and my mom sat me on a horse for the first time, I have been hooked on horses. As a kid I showed in Western Pleasure on my horse Jack, and as a teenager I dabbled in dressage and barrel racing. When I moved to California in 2004, I found myself without horses in my life which I quickly remedied by finding jobs caring for people’s horses and teaching kids to ride. I worked as a sales associate at a high-end equine retail store in Del Mar and was eventually promoted to Buyer. In 2020 my family and I decided to move to North Carolina, which is where I was able to finish my bachelor’s degree in business and therapeutic horsemanship. My goal is to soon be able to obtain my PATH certification so that we can offer therapeutic horsemanship and equine assisted learning services at the Santana Center. Healing people through horses is what I love to do, and I am grateful to have the opportunity to be a part of this special organization. 


Martie Daems

Member of the Board   

From around 6 years I got hooked on pony’s and riding, I rode up to age 22 a few times a week but was never fortunate enough to own my own horse. When my expat life started it was hard to keep up with my love for horses. 20 years later in the summer 2023 I landed in North Carolina with my husband and 3 young kids, and a neighbor asked me what I liked to do for myself… I was unable to answer for a while and then it hit hard. I want to be surrounded by horses again. I found the Santana Center and it brings me peace and connection to the best animals and people you can find, it has made North Carolina home for me, so quickly. And soon I hope to finally become a horse mom.

Lisa Bridgeman

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.

Kelsey Dellinger

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. 

Jenna Hartzell

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.