A horseback ride up Wild Horse Canyon, east of Trail Creek Summit, took an unexpected turn on Tuesday morning when one of the horses died shortly after beginning the trek.
The horse, a quarter-horse paint named Buttercup, threw her rider, Marilee Smith of Bellevue, Wash., before falling off the trail and dying.
"The horse was screaming," said Kirstie Lambert, a Ketchum outfitter who organized the ride for a private party using horses supplied by another outfitter based in Mackay. "It was in convulsions."
According to Lambert and Smith, the horse had been lethargic for much of the ride. Lambert said she suspects the horse suffered either from a seizure or a heart attack before falling into a shallow ravine.
Smith was thrown from the horse when it reared, hitting her head on the rocky trail when she fell.
"They're yelling at me to move and the horse is still thrashing," Smith said.
She later required five staples to repair a head wound.
This type of incident is extremely rare, Lambert said, and was completely unexpected.
"I'd heard of stories like this, but never seen one," Lambert said. "It was a total accident."
The horse was just under 12 years old and had not shown any indications of poor health, Lambert said. She had ridden with the horse all summer and said she hadn't noticed anything strange.
Smith said she didn't blame the outfitter who owned the horse, saying it was a "freak" accident. The owner did everything he could have to help her after the accident, she said, carrying her down to the trailhead and making sure she received medical attention.
Still, she said, "there's a reason you sign those waivers."
The owner of the horse declined to comment.
Lambert said the owner was in no way at fault for what happened.
"We had great horses," she said. "It was just a freak accident."
Katherine Wutz: email@example.com