Hikers in Parker Gulch near Elkhorn met with a gruesome sight early this week when they stumbled on a dead horse just off the trail.
"We really weren't sure exactly what the heck happened," said Sun Valley resident Jim Knight.
Knight said he and Ketchum resident Harry Griffith were hiking Tuesday morning when they noticed the animal lying a few feet away near the top of the trail.
The horse was tied to a tree and surrounded by evidence that it had struggled to free itself, but it had no obvious injuries and appeared otherwise well cared for.
"It was pretty disturbing to see an animal like that, and it's even worse to see that it had been tied," Knight said.
As no bullet holes or other obvious injuries were present, Ketchum District Ranger Kurt Nelson speculated that the horse spooked after having been left tied to the tree. If the horse was scared and jerked on the line hard enough, it could have broken its own neck, Nelson said.
"My guess is probably a hunter left their horse tied up and came back to find it not alive," he said.
Nelson said no other hikers had notified the district about the horse. Even if the horse's owner could be located, Nelson said, the district would most likely leave it to be taken care of by scavengers due to the difficulty of removing the animal from the area.
"It's pretty hard to require someone to bring an animal off and to dig some type of a pit," Nelson said. "Scavengers will take care of the horse pretty quickly."
Judging by the rate of decomposition and the lack of any scavenger activity on Tuesday, Nelson estimated that the horse had not been dead for long when Knight and Griffith found it.
Anyone with information regarding the horse or its owner is urged to contact the Ketchum Ranger District.
Katherine Wutz: firstname.lastname@example.org