Leo the horse was found alive by hikers searching not far from the area where he disappeared Sept. 6 in Bear Brook State Park, but the 24-year-old horse was so weakened he died a short time later.
“It’s not the ending that we had hoped for,” said owner Michael Klein-McNeil of Hampton Falls.
Leo was walking freely and wasn’t injured or tangled up on any branches when he was found by the hiking couple Saturday.
They immediately notified Klein-McNeil’s partner, Fred, who was just a few minutes away.
“He had lost a considerable amount of weight and they found him and went to him,” Klein-McNeil said.
Leo stood for a while and then lay down.
The couple, who had been assisting with the massive search and found Leo’s stirrup off a trail near Carr Ridge on Friday night, remained by his side.
Leo appeared to be resting comfortably as Fred made his way to the area where he was found, but the horse passed away before he could get there.
Leo was held and comforted by one of the hikers as he took his last breath, his owner said.
The search began after Klein-McNeil became separated while attempting to travel up a steep ravine during a day of horseback riding on Sept. 6. He said he dismounted because it was too difficult to ride up.
While Leo made it to the top, Klein-McNeil said he was unable to find him in the area of the Sentinel Pine and Cascade trails after he arrived right behind him.
“People did not give up. They continued to rally to get Leo home to us,” Klein-McNeil said.
Many volunteers and search parties gathered at the 10,000-acre state park in Allenstown on a daily basis to try to find Leo as word of his disappearance spread.
“There was an ever presence of people out there. There were hikers, bikers, people with drones,” Klein-McNeil said, adding that he was overwhelmed by the outpouring of support from the community.
Following his death, Leo was returned to his home in Hampton Falls where he was laid to rest.
The “Finding Leo” Facebook page has been renamed “Leo’s Legacy” and will be used as an educational platform focusing on the lessons learned to improve trail and hiking safety.
“When we went out there I never knew simple things like reflective gear that possibly could have helped us find him quicker,” Klein-McNeil said.