Myths and Folklore Wiki
Myths and Folklore Wiki

The Headless Horseman is a mythical figure in English and American folklore] since the Middle Ages.[1] This entity is very similar to the headless reapers or demonic fairy known as Dullahan in Irish myth.

Myths & Legends[]

The most commonly known examples of the Headless Horseman is from the American tale "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" by Washington Irving, and the English tale "Sir Gawain and the Green Knight."

The 14th century poem Gawain and the Green Knight features a headless horseman who is the titular giant knight. After he is beheaded by Gawain, the Green Knight lifts his own head up with one hand and rides from the hall, challenging Gawain to meet him again one year later.[2]

The most prominent Scots tale of the headless horseman concerns a man named Ewen decapitated in a clan battle at Glen Cainnir on the Isle of Mull. The battle denied him any chance to be a chieftain, and both he and his horse are headless in accounts of his haunting of the area.[3]

There is also The Headless Horseman by Mayne Reid, first published in monthly serialized form during 1865 and 1866 and was based off of his adventures in the US, which was later published as a book in 1866. Also known as "A Strange Tale of Texas,", Reid wrote of the local Texan folktale of their own headless horseman based on the author's adventures in the United States.[4]

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow[]

The legend of the Headless Horseman (also known as "the Headless Hessian of the Hollow") begins in Sleepy Hollow, New York, during the American Revolutionary War. Traditional folklore holds that the Horseman was a Hessian trooper who was killed during the Battle of White Plains in 1776. He was decapitated by an American cannonball,[5] and the shattered remains of his head were left on the battlefield while his comrades hastily carried his body away. Eventually they buried him in the cemetery of the Old Dutch Church of Sleepy Hollow, from which he rises as a malevolent ghost, furiously seeking his lost head. Modern versions of the story refer his rides to Halloween, around which time the battle took place.[6]


John Quidor - The Headless Horseman Pursuing Ichabod Crane - Google Art Project.jpg

The Headless Horseman is traditionally depicted as a man upon horseback who is missing his head. Depending on the legend, the Horseman is either carrying his head, or is missing his head altogether, and is searching for it.

Modern Depictions[]



  • The comic book series Chopper, written by Martin Shapiro, is a modern-day reimagining of the Headless Horseman. It features a headless outlaw biker on a motorcycle who collects the souls of sinners. 


  • The Kolchak: The Night Stalker episode "Chopper" (initially broadcast on January 31, 1975) features a headless motorcyclist who enacts revenge for the loss of his head on a rival biker gang, 20 years after his murder.
  • In the Midsomer Murders episode "The Dark Rider", a killer lures several victims to their deaths by masquerading as a headless horseman from local legend.
  • In the Legacies episode "There's Always a Loophole", the Headless Horseman appears and fights protagonist Hope Mikaelson until she impales his head with help from her boyfriend Landon Kirby.
  • In Ghost Whisperer episode "Head Over Heels", there is a ghost who broke his neck when he fell off a horse and appears as a headless horseman.
  • In the 1949 Disney cartoon "The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad" the Headless Horseman makes an appearance in an extra cartoon.
  • The 1999 Tim Burton film Sleepy Hollow is an adaption of the initial american story.



  1. "Headless Horseman". Mythical Creatures Guide.
  3. Fox, David The Headless Horseman at Federated Caledonian Societies South Africa
  4. Reid, Mayne (1866). The Headless Horseman: A Strange Tale of Texas. London: Richard Bentley.
  5. Heath, William; Abbott, William (1901). Memoirs of Major General William Heath. University of California Libraries. New York, W. Abbatt.
  6. Steiner, Henry John (24 January 2014). "A Phantom is Born? 235 Years Ago"River Journal. Tarrytown, NY: River Journal Inc. Archived from the original on 24 September 2015. Retrieved 14 October 2011.