Horse Rescue in Canyon Country

by Martha Michael 

In the part of Canyon Country known as Sand Canyon there’s a place some would call “Horse Heaven.” It’s a place where racehorses go to relax, retire and, in some cases, rehabilitate.

CJ Marinaccio is the founder of Win, Place, Home, Inc., which she launched after working at a racetrack in the early part of her career. She decided to go to greener pastures – Santa Clarita – and bring some horses with her. Win, Place, Home is a non-profit that takes care of horses after their life on the track, making sure they have treatment for injuries and, basically, take it easy in retirement.

“I worked at the racetrack from 2005 until 2015 and saw many horses come to the track and go from being treated like champions to being forgotten about when they were done,” Marinaccio said. “I decided to be in their lives in a different capacity. They had enough to help them on the track. They needed help getting off of it.”

The location of Win, Place, Home is Birtwick Park on Lost Canyon Road. And if you’re a reader, the name may ring a bell.

“The name comes from ‘Black Beauty,’ which was my favorite book growing up,” Marinaccio said. “I would lock myself in the bathroom pretending to brush my teeth, but instead I would be reading ‘Black Beauty’! In the book, the horse describes Birtwick like horse heaven. His friend Merrylegs says, there’s ‘no better place for a horse all ‘round the country’ than Birtwick Park.”

The horses love it there, the non-profit’s founder added, because it stands in stark contrast to the electrified scene of the track. Once the horses arrive at Birtwick Park the process begins with just giving them time to “chill.”

“When we get a horse we gently let them down from being a racehorse,” Marinaccio said. “If they come uninjured, we then give them a month or two to just be a horse, to help their mind.”

Horses with injuries begin a physical program to get the healing process started.

“If they are injured we help them through their rehabilitation until they are ready to get to work. We then help them figure out what discipline they would like to do!” Marinaccio said. “Jumping, dressage, western, trail, polo, barrel racing, etc. They will learn the basics in their chosen discipline and then will be ready to be adopted out.”

Giving horses a job to do is a key part of the process, according to Marinaccio. “When they get off the track and can settle into just being a horse, it’s amazing how much their personality shifts!” she said. “And when they are put into a second job that they WANT to do they are so willing to please.”

The founder has three employees at Birtwick Park, one who lives on the property with his family, but Marinaccio is the only one who rides the horses while they are training. When they are ready for adoption, prospective owners may ride them to see if they’re compatible.
“People are most surprised at how calm and loving these horses are,” she said.

Win, Place, Home received its first horse, Thorin, in February of 2016. He was adopted last summer as a jumping horse for a 15-year-old girl. A total of six horses have come through the Win, Place, Home program and they have successfully adopted out two of them so far.

The four living at Birtwick Park are in different stages of their training. Two are almost ready to be adopted out and two are new to the program.

“One is in the middle of an amazing success story,” Marinaccio said. “His racing name was Mighty Mo, and he won over $120,000. One day, in the middle of December, he broke his pastern bone in half, down the middle. He did not have a high chance of surviving, but the vets and owners decided to do all they could for him. He had surgery two days later and even though his chance to survive was so low, he has made it.”

Mighty Mo’s trainer called Marinaccio last month to donate him to Win, Place, Home. The owners also gave money to the non-profit to contribute to his care and raise the possibility he would survive. Mighty Mo isn’t out of the woods yet, as he will need to have the screws holding his pastern together removed soon, and all parties involved are hoping the bone will hold.
“Since he has been with us we have been doing everything we can to keep his mind active while his body is healing,” Marinaccio said. “We want to help him get every possible chance to make it. He’s lovely and so smart.”

2nd Annual Win, Place, Home Silent Auction and Gala
You have a chance to whoop it up in a barn and raise money for horses needing rehabilitation. Win, Place, Home, Inc. will hold its 2nd Annual Silent Auction and Gala at Birtwick Park Equestrian Center in Canyon Country on April 21 from 6:30-9 p.m. More than 100 guests are expected to gather with the horses in the barn for drinks, appetizers and shopping.

Rain or shine, the family-friendly event will also include a bounce house and a chance to meet two miniature unicorns.
Tickets are $20 online and $25 at the door. Guests under 21 years old are free. Last year the event raised more than $11,000 for the non-profit.

Birtwick Park Equestrian Center is located at 16257 Lost Canyon Road in Canyon Country. For more information, visit