Woodland Alumna Wins USDF Bronze – Meet Sammi Burke

Woodland has seen generations of riders come through its big red doors. Some keep riding as a leisure hobby, others lose touch with it as their lives change, and some take the foundation Woodland gave them to pursue great things.

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The Many Faces of The Headless Horseman

The legend of Sleepy Hollow is one of the most famous American folktales featuring a horse. The infamous Headless Horseman finds its way into most equine costume parades, and the ghoul has even been known to visit Woodland’s own Halloween party. (Can anyone remember what horse and rider pair once fulfilled the role? )

The headless horseman has cousins in other folklore and its significance and backstory can differ greatly from the American version. So get your costume on, prepare your candy, and settle in for a brief retelling of Headless Horseman myths from around the world.

United States of America

This is the tale you’re probably familiar with in relation to Washington Irving’s Legend of Sleepy Hollow, which tells the story of Ichabod Crane. Ichabod was a highly-superstitious school teacher in the town of Sleepy Hollow, which was notorious for being haunted. He was not native to Sleepy Hollow and competed with local Brom Bones for the favor of Katrina Van Tassel as a means of gaining both wealth and acceptance.

One night, he attended a feast at the Van Tassel estate with the intention to propose to Katrina once the party ended. Brom Bones spent the evening filling his head with ghost stories, specifically the legend of the Headless Horseman who haunted the hollow and emerged every Halloween seeking to replace the head he’d lost upon his death. Katrina rejected Ichabod, and he headed home, heartbroken and on edge. The story goes that Ichabod encountered the Headless Horseman during his journey home and was never seen again (though the Disney version of this story has a happy ending for everyone.)

In the original myth, the Headless Horseman is the spirit of a German soldier who was killed during the Battle of The White Plains in 1776 and left his head on the battlefield. He was buried in Sleepy Hollow and appears on Halloween night to avenge his death and reclaim his head.


Like many German folktales, the headless horseman originates from the Grimm brothers. There aren’t terrific records online of the full stories, but the legends usually paint the horseman as a far less aggressive spirit. He’s associated with the sound of a hunting horn, which either announces his presence or warns riders not to go out the next day, as they are destined to die if they do.



The most sinister version of the Headless Horseman is the Irish dulachán, which is a demon that rides a black horse and carries its head under its thigh or holds it up high to see a greater distance. Sometimes this spirit is seen as the headless driver of a carriage. When the dulachán stops it calls out a name and that person immediately dies.



In contrast, India’s headless horseman is usually regarded as a heroic, benevolent spirit. The legend is central to Rajasthan, India’s biggest state, and the spirit itself is called jhinjhār. Most stories say it was a prince that lost his head defending a village or fighting highwaymen, while others say it was a cavalry rider defending his prince. Either way, jhinjhārs are the result of a wrongful death. These spirits protect innocent people and are rumored to fight mounted and unmounted. They may be repelled with powdered indigo dye, which disrupts their chaotic energy and allows them to find peace.

Do you have a spooky horse story to share? Let us know in the comments below (if you dare, muahaha!)

Have a safe Halloween everyone.

Until next time, happy riding!


Images from fellponysociety.uk.org, techtimes.com, marshotel.com

Breed Profile: American Quarter Horse

During summer camp (or winter camp, or spring camp) the kids learn about horse breeds and colors. This is one of my favorite lectures to teach because I’m a bit of a nerd when it comes to color genetics and breed histories. The kids seem to enjoy it as well, mostly because at the end we walk through the barn and they point at every single horse we pass and ask, “what breed is that!!?”

I encourage them to figure it out on their own, and they’re usually 60/40 on their answers. The most common answer by far is Quarter Horse (or QH cross). Some of our most beloved school horses like Sugar and Puzzle belong to this breed, which is the most popular breed in the United States, so here’s the story of these wonderful, versatile horses.

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Just Jump It: Going for Gold

If you caught any of this year’s Olympic Games (specifically the Equestrian events) you know they were full of triumph, heartbreak, and exemplary shows of sportsmanship. Maryland may be a world away from Rio, but there were some notable similarities between the 2016 Olympics and the final installment of Woodland’s annual Just Jump It series. Continue reading “Just Jump It: Going for Gold”

Just Jump It, Go!

A group of volunteers zigzagged through the arena, dragging standards and carrying poles to be decorated with streamers, flags, and even a Charmander for Woodland’s second installment of the Just Jump It series. Thunder rolled ominously overhead just as they put the finishing touches on the last fences and the sky darkened. After comparing a dozen weather forecasts they decided to go ahead with the show and hope the rain held off.

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Breed Profile: Thoroughbred

The Thoroughbred is one of the world’s most popular breeds of horse. This breed has served most notably as race horses, but many horses go on to successful careers in other disciplines once their time at the track is over. Woodland has several Thoroughbreds of its own, such as Chester, Tucker, Rossi, and Baron. Did I name a favorite of yours? Well here’s (almost) the whole story of the Thoroughbred.

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Just Jump It Series: Leaping Into Summer

On July 9, as the last lessons of the day ended and the simmering summer sun dipped behind the clouds a crowd of riders and spectators gathered around the big ring. Volunteers had worked hard to transform the lesson space into a neat course of multicolored poles and standards for the first installment of Woodland’s annual Just Jump It series.

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A message from a Dad: My daughter’s horseback riding lessons


My daughter Liz has always had an interest or maybe an obsession with horses. After cleaning out the state’s toy stores of anything to do with horses, and I mean anything, including little tiny pitch forks to go along with an entire scale model horse barn, I thought after a few lessons she would grow out of this obsession.

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School Horses: Worth More than their Weight in Gold!


School Horses are very special creatures!  They have different people riding them all the time, many of them beginners, using all slightly different aids because they are just learning them.  It’s easy for a horse to get confused under such circumstances.

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