Summer Estrella, 10, makes an appearance as the Headless Horseman of Coosaw Point on her family's property in Beaufort, South Carolina, Monday, Oct. 17, 2022. Summer conceived the idea and, working with her family, created the legend of the horseman. Tony Kukulich/ The Island News

Young imagination revives old legend


Tale of headless horseman comes to life on Coosaw Island

By Tony Kukulich

Folklorists will say that it can be nearly impossible to identify the exact moment or place where a legend was born.

Researchers can get close to a story’s origin. But often the trail they hope will lead to the point of origin splits into ten, or a hundred, or a thousand branches that ultimately make it impossible to point to a place on a map and say, “Here’s where and when that story got its start.”

Luckily for residents of Beaufort County, that’s not the case with the Legend of the Coosaw Point – a story in which a headless horseman mounted on an unearthly steed plays a central role. It is known with exacting certainty that the legend came into being in the early fall of 2022, concocted by Summer Estrella, a precocious 10-year-old girl looking to create a bit of Halloween fun for neighborhood kids on Coosaw Island.

Summer Estrella, age 10

“I am going out here on this already spooky island and trying to be the Headless Horseman,” Summer explained.

Summer has already made two appearances as the ghostly horseman with Fayla, her 30-year-old thoroughbred quarter horse playing the role of her spirited ride. There are two more appearances planned for the two remaining Saturdays before Halloween, Oct. 22 and 29.

The legend of the horseman was Summer’s backup plan for marking the Halloween season. She originally pitched the idea of having haunted tours, hayrides and a pumpkin patch on her family’s 11-acre property off of Judge Island Drive. Her parents, Macey and Alfonso Estrella, gently noted that with only a month left before Halloween, that plan was a little too ambitious. Undeterred, Summer hatched the horseman idea.

Summer’s grandmother created the backstory, drawing from Washington Irving’s “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” and working in some local history and folklore. Macey put the finishing touches on the story and published it on social media. The legend was born, and Summer set out to bring it to life.

Having taken several years of riding lessons, Summer is a natural on a horse. Still, riding at night in a costume that covers her face is a bit of a challenge.

“It’s not really that easy,” Summer said. “It’s a lot of stress, but my mom helps me out with it.”

Using walkie-talkies, Macey and Summer’s friend Lydia keep in contact with Summer at all times. And they have practiced the route she uses in daylight and at night.

“We do test runs so that she knows where her limits are and where to be at all times,” said Macey. “It’s a small, safe route, and I actually keep eyes on her the whole time. She rides out here so often that the horse can practically do it by itself. She doesn’t ride very fast. She’ll stay in one spot just long enough for the kids to get a glimpse, and then she’ll disappear behind the shrubs. She’ll pop out on the other side real slow.”

Summer Estrella, 10, makes an appearance as the Headless Horseman of Coosaw Point on her family’s property in Beaufort, South Carolina, Monday, Oct. 17, 2022. Summer conceived the idea and, working with her family, created the legend of the horseman. Tony Kukulich/The Island News

For a 10 year old, Summer has surprisingly eclectic interests. She is homeschooled with preference for math and social studies. She said she loves history. With a flair for the dramatic, Summer has acted in theater productions at the University of South Carolina Beaufort. She also plays on a tackle football team, takes gymnastics lessons and loves to bake. Summer also hosts her own YouTube channel, “The Sassy Summer Show,” where she features videos on some of her many interests. The channel has attracted more than 1,500 subscribers with some videos collecting well over 2,000 views.

“She’s a free-spirited kid,” Macey said. “She likes to pack a lunch, get on the horse and just go. She’s a wild one. She doesn’t like to be dictated to. We just let her proceed with caution.”

If all goes according to plan, this year will just be the beginning for Halloween antics at the Estrella property. Summer hopes that, in addition to the Headless Horseman appearances, she’ll see her vision of a wide variety of spooky activities come to life.

“We’re hoping to make this a Halloween tradition where every year the legend has it that the Headless Horseman can be seen out here,” Macey said.

To catch a glimpse of the Headless Horseman, travel to 9 Judge Island Rd. from 7:15 to 8 p.m. on Oct. 22 or 29. There will be hot cocoa available for visitors. There is no charge to see the horseman.

Tony Kukulich is a recent transplant to the Lowcountry. A native of Wilmington, Del., he comes to The Island News from the San Francisco Bay Area where he spent seven years as a reporter and photographer for several publications. He can be reached at tony.theislandnews@gmail.com.

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