Knysna’s masked hero of healing and hope

27th May, 2020

Photo credit: Magnetic Photography

Written by Karen Rademeyer

It’s been almost three years since the devastating Knysna fires of June 2017, the life-changing event that transformed an unknown ten-year-old farm pony into an international icon of bravery and hope (https://www.happytailsmagazine.co.za/happy-tales/cody-the-fire-pony/).

Cody has come a long way, but in order to see exactly how far, we need to go back even further than the fires.

A juvenile delinquent

Cody, or Cody the Brave as he’s now known, used to be a bit of a delinquent, even in pony terms. When we first moved to Essendale in 2014, he tried to attack my husband several times. He was an unhandled, ungelded member of a semi-feral herd we’d “inherited” with the farm. And he expressed a significant and sometimes dangerous distrust of humans, before and after his gelding.  

I spent a great deal of time observing the little herd, figuring out their personalities and earning their trust without the use of any “methods” or force. Cody was the toughest by far to win over.

To put things into perspective, “Cody” was short for “Code Badger” – so named because his personality was much like that of the notoriously aggressive honey badger.

Even though we made significant progress, he was still highly unpredictable with humans – and was pretty mean to other horses and ponies too. We had to move his dad, Spirit, into another herd to stop them from fighting. Cody even mauled two other ponies who’d done absolutely nothing to provoke him. He was the reason we could never integrate the pre-existing pony herd with our other horses. Even the little mares that kept him company had to keep him in his place.

Healing in his heart

Why share all of this less-than-stellar background information about our hero? Because it has become increasingly evident, over the course of Cody’s journey, that the most horrific adversity has in fact brought out the best in him.

And although he returned home from the wilderness with wounds and injuries that left him permanently scarred and disfigured, a great deal of healing has happened in his heart.

Cody the Brave, today, is happier and more “whole” than he was before. He now gets on with all the other horses and ponies and plays with his dad daily. In fact, little Oreo, the unsuspecting recipient of one of Cody’s pre-fire attacks, is now his best buddy.

Cody’s emotional healing, and newfound joy of finding his place in the herd, is one of the best parts to his story.

Empathy ambassador

But aside from inspiring us, Cody has also been helping people, mostly children, in other ways.

As the ambassador for The Eden Empathy Initiative (EEI) (www.edenempathy.co.za), our real-life hero speaks to the hearts and minds of young children who are sometimes without hope. At an age when children should be dreaming and believing in the endless possibilities of life, it’s truly heart-warming to see their faces light up when they hear Cody’s story of courage. 

Something we’ve found quite fascinating is that Cody responds rather badly to people feeling sorry for him. We often need to warn guests against expressing pity, as he might actually bite them!

It’s a good lesson for all of us, because feeling sorry for someone makes them feel inferior or unable to help themselves. Compassion and encouragement are far more empowering and helpful, and this is part of what Cody helps us demonstrate. 

A kind of magic

Even though I never expected Cody to participate in the equine-assisted psychotherapy that forms part of EEI’s offering, he’s surprised both my colleague, Dr Christa Boshoff, and me with his willingness to help those who’ve been through trauma.

He has an uncanny way of leaving the rest of the herd ahead of certain appointments. We find him on his own, waiting patiently near the gate. I’m quite sure he can sense when he’s most needed – and finding Cody waiting just for them helps children (and sometimes adults) feel extra special and loved.         

There’s a certain magic in the air when a child who’s been through significant trauma first meets Cody. We see it in the softening of their eyes when they look upon his scars. We hear it in their words of profound understanding when they speak to him. Cody is small, like them, and his scars are symbolic of their own.

And for a moment, the rest of the world and its problems disappear as their hearts connect in a two-way healing that can only happen in a space of true empathy. The effect is almost surreal and very powerful.

Some days it’s all about Cody, and our dear friend JJ Terblanche spoils him with a session of body stress release. Cody has taught us both so much. When the session is over, Cody goes off to roll in the dust and play with his friends, keeping the older geldings young at heart. On sunny days, he sprawls out on the grass as the rest of the herd watch over him. The sound of his deep breathing, knowing that he sleeps peacefully, is such great comfort. Our masked hero needs his rest.

Watch Cody’s recent video here https://youtu.be/cJOOWJ_K8e4