Alternate Character Interpretation: Is Brom Bones a vindictive bully who played a nasty trick on a harmless, lovestruck nerd, or a down-home, all-American good ol' boy who gave just desserts to a venal, manipulative coward? There is a strong modern trend to make Ichabod Crane be actually a heroic character, while Brom Bones is regarded as at best a Jerk Jock — which are both far from Irving's intention to have Bones be the hero and Ichabod a superstitious wimpy moocher Asshole Victim.
The Horseman: a Scooby-Doo Hoax by Brom Bones used to scare Ichabod away, or a real demonic figure back from the dead to haunt the forest?
Some food for thought here on both sides of the argument. Earlier in the text it is said the Horsemen is riding looking for his head. Meaning he doesn't a head. When Ichabod sees the Horsemen he believes he is carrying a head that he throws at him. Afterwards a smashed pumpkin is found- All of this seems to indicate Brom dressed as the Horsemen to scare Ichabod off.
However let's also remember something here, the Headless Horseman has no head, meaning he has no eyes. He certainly can't see too well if he was real. The pumpkin is seemingly used as a projectile, which it succeeds in getting Ichabod off his horse. This is a pretty good soldier like move, something the Horsemen was. And after all his head was taken off by a projectile himself!
Also due note when we hear about Ichabod in New York, he has picked up a lot of ambition since leaving Sleepy Hollow. All throughout the story Ichabod is very much more a laidback guy going from house to house seemingly content with his lifestyle. He even has an excuse as to why he moved which seems a bit convenient. As perhaps New York Ichabod isn't Ichabod as he once was.
For that matter, even if it was Brom, did he really just scare Crane off, or use the locals' belief in the Horseman to get away with a much darker manner of disposing of his rival?
Maybe he did not want blood on his hands.
At least one adaptation had it both ways: Bones tried to scare off Crane as a fake horseman but gets knocked out in the process, only for the real Horseman to show up!
One thing that's rather interesting - Disney actually has it rather faithfully, although playing Brom Bones's villainy up a tad more, making it seem like The Bad Guy Wins. But at the same time, try watching it with an adult perspective. Watch Doug Walker's Disneycember video on the movie to learn why.
Hilariousin Hindsight : Mr. Irving at times admits he made stuff up, a lot of trivia researchers may try to sway people otherwise but there are certainly a lot of eerie coincidences found in later years around this area that could make one of to think otherwise, but it's more likely they are nothing but hilarious coincidences.
Nightmare Fuel: The ending of the 1999 CGI film "The Night of the Headless Horseman". Our In-Universe narrator reveals he is Brom Bones, who made a Deal with the Devil to have the Headless Horseman carry off Ichabod Crane. But, after getting what he wanted, he has to pay back the debt, and so he explains now he has to become a replacement Headless Horseman. Having said this, he pulls his head off his shoulders and lays it on the table, asking his audience/the viewers to "look after it" while he goes and finds a new one. Cue a close-up of the creepy, Uncanny Valley decapitated head booming out an Evil Laugh as the final shot of the film.
Values Dissonance: A modern reader would likely find Ichabod and Brom both equally unsympathetic. A gold digger, and a bully. Throw in the hints that Katrina was just manipulating both of them, and you could very well end up with Darkness-Induced Audience Apathy.