What if you send the players in a dungeon that was already raided? Maybe you could have traps that are already set off, or the corpses of monsters etc.
A place where an architect has built a temple/shrine to an evil god inside the walls of another building, a castle or another place of importance.
Next time you're contemplating a horse variation, but don't want to get too dramatic, how about a Zorse? An offspring of a zebra stallion and horse mare. In nature they are infertile, but in a fantasy world, not necessarily. They are also known to be extremely cantankerous.
"It soon became apparent that zorses are not the most easiest of the equine family to get along with." -- Trainer Pat Parelli, on working with zorses