Halloween, Horses

The Ghost Horses of the Headless Horsemen

The Ghost Horses of the Headless Horsemen

Headless Horseman Silhouettte Scene (shown above)

Who are the Ghost Horses of the Headless Horsemen?

Horses and Men, that’s plural. How many Headless Horsemen are there? Well, there are Headless Horsemen haunting Ireland, Scotland, the United States and more. So, beneath every Headless Horseman there must be a horse. Who are these ghost horses and what do they want?

All the Ghost Horses and all the Headless Men
could not seem to find happiness again…

This is really the story behind all great Headless Horsemen. What about their restless horses? They seem to be very devoted to their headless riders. What breed, how big and what color are they? Read on to find the answers to these questions and more…


The Dullahan and His Horses

Ireland’s Headless Horseman is referred to as The Dullahan. There are many stories about this Headless Horseman, some of which involve different horses. The Dullahan often appeared as an omen of death. Some say he drove a carriage pulled by many black horses. Others have seen him riding a magnificent black stallion across the countryside. However, Charley Culnane, of County Cork, saw a different Ghost Horse.

One evening, while Charley was riding his own horse, he saw the head of a white horse, with short cropped ears, large open nostrils and immense eyes. This horse’s head, at first, seemed to have no connection with a body, legs or rider. The detached head proceeding through the air did not seem to have a body until it was suddenly close at his side. Charley turned to examine this horse only to find a figure, whose height that he guessed to be at least eight feet, seated on the body and legs of a white horse of a full eighteen hands and a half high. Who are these horses?

The Ghost Horses of Ireland’s Headless Horseman

This Irish Headless Horseman seems to have an entire barn full of horses. Some black, at least one stallion and this white beast that Charley Culnane, of County Cork, experienced. Charley Culnane ended up challenging this Headless Horseman to a race. The Headless Horseman enjoyed himself so much that he helped, in spirit, Charley and his mare win another horse race. Is it the case that when this Headless Horseman of Ireland is not riding about being an omen of death he rides a white horse? So, what breeds of ghost horses does he keep at his barn?

First, one should assume that this Irish Horseman would have his country’s finest horses. That makes this much easier. His carriage horses are most likely of the type Irish Draught. This would be a great looking, dependable carriage horse. While this horse is a very attractive breed and good for many riding disciplines, I do not think he would be caught dead riding one. His black stallion is never seen with much feathering to his legs. That rules out an Irish Cob. So, what’s left? His two riding horses might have been of the type Irish Sport Horse, where the horse is an average height of 16 – 17 hands, has great speed due to being a Thoroughbred cross and can be of both colors black and white. This is a fine collection of ghost horses.


Ewen of the Little Head

Who is Ewen of the Little Head? According to Scottish Folklore and Legends, Ewen of the Little Head is a ghost horseman, without his head. Ewen wanted land from his father. His desire for more land caused a feud that was resolved on the battlefield in 1538. Father and son met for a battle that ended with one of his father’s clansmen decapitating Ewen. Ewen’s horse thundered off with the headless body still in the saddle, eventually stopping some miles from the battle site. The body fell to the ground and was eventually carried to its final resting place, in Iona, by Ewen’s clansmen.

Melrose Abbey by Amanda Slater (CC BY-SA 4.0)

The horse Ewen was riding was his favorite for years before the battle. It was a small, but active, pony that was dun or mouse-colored. They were soon to return as a Headless Horseman and Ghost Horse pair. They haunt many people and whenever a member of the Chief’s family is about to die, the ghostly vision of Ewen makes an appearance. The prints of the ponies shoes are often seen and the rattling of its curb can be heard in the darkest night. So what breed is this pony?

This pony sounds like a dream. Not some big black angry monster horse. Could it be an old version of the Highland Pony? The Highland Pony resembles horses depicted millions of years ago, on cave walls, in France.

Cave Painting at Lascaux, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

They were ponies in northern Scotland and the Scottish islands after the Ice Age. Ewen’s pony seems to be a result of numerous out-crosses from this ancient origin, as is the Highland Pony. The breeding of these horses was first recorded in the 1500’s. They were a type of Percheron cross with native stock. The old Highland breeders also introduced oriental horses in the 1500’s. Any of these types could have produced a strong rugged pony that was dun in color, like the Highland Pony shown below.

United States

The Headless Hessian Horseman and His Ghost Horse

The U.S. has at least two headless horsemen. However, the most famous is the headless horseman from Washington Irving’s story, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.

This headless horseman was an existing legend that was borrowed for Irvin’s story. The man who became this Headless Horseman was a Hessian mercenary hired by the British Army to assist British soldiers during the Revolutionary War. He ended up being killed in a battle near Sleepy Hollow, New York, when his head was blown off by a cannonball. This man returned as the Headless Horseman, but who was his horse?

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow: The Original 1820 Story (Annotated)

Some say his horse is Daredevil, the horse of Brom Bones. This is a true statement if talking about Irving’s story, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. However, the original Headless Horseman tale precedes The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. No matter the legend, the horse is always shown as black with lots of mane and tail but not much feathering. There are some that believe the horse was a dressage horse, since the horseman was German.  Could it have been an Andalusian?  It was a popular horse during the Revolutionary War.  The Andalusian Stallion shown below seems to be a great match.

What’s a Headless Horseman Without a Horse?

Well, that’s an easy question to answer. He would be a Headless Man. We need to know more about these ghost horses that put up with these headless men. So many go unnamed and what credit are they given. This site has given only a small amount of recognition to a few. There are many others.

Texas has its own Headless Horseman.

Bavarian folklore has tales of Headless Horsemen who patrol the forests. In India, a character called the Dune rides about headless. The Green Knight of medieval legend was beheaded and now rides headless. These are just a few other Ghost Horses and their Headless Horsemen. If you know of others or have any additional information about these ghost horses please leave a comment and have a very Horsey Halloween!

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