I was in fits of laughter recently when I was told the story of a donkey not only refusing the leave the set of a school nativity play but also stubbornly refusing to load to go home.

By all accounts it had all the makings of a Vicar of Dibley Christmas Special. Having not witnessed the event myself, my imagination has since run riot and for once in the past nine long months of Covid-19, I found myself chuckling out loud as the plot grew funnier and funnier within my mind.

I have to confess not to have ever been a fan of the biblical beast, however nor have I been a fan of equines who just won't load for whatever reason and we have all come across them in our time.

If there is one lesson I have learned over the years, it is never to get involved with someone else's problem loader and politely decline the help if the problem loader belongs to you. It may seem a bit ungenerous but believe me the outcome is seldom a happy one – invariably it is time and patience that are the greatest assistance.

I have to confess to having done my fair share of pulling and pushing in my time, however, this almost always occurred at home and seldom within full gaze of the other exhibitors.

With the benefit of experience and increased knowledge, thankfully these days have gone and I am able to lead our foals calmly on and off the lorry or trailer without issue. There is no question that positive early experiences and confidence in the leader are lessons well learned for life.

Positive thinking, allowing plenty of time and keeping calm are key factors in that early educational process.

It would be disingenuous to say that this has always been the Waxwing mantra and I remember an occasion almost 30 years ago when I was set to take a beautiful 14.2hh yearling colt off on my own to Ayr Show. Strinesdale Matador would later in life become one of the most famous pony stallions in the stud book, however having been sent to be shown, Ayr would be his first outing.

Until that time he had shown impeccable manners both in the stable and in the training ring, so there was no reason to believe we'd have a problem loading him – but we did.

Having gone through all the usual antics of trying to get him on the lorry, eventually we had to abandon our showing plans for the day but left the ramp down for a 'try' later. Literally an hour later, leading with a bridle this time and on my own, Mattie took one look at the ramp and trotted up as if he had been doing it all his life.

So what would the equine psychologists say about that? Was it the wearing of the bridle that he wore every day when he was led out? Were we in too great a rush to get off to the show? Was there a calmer atmosphere with one person?

One can only speculate but interestingly it never happened again.

Two other instances which come to mind occurred at Kinross Show even earlier than this when, on both occasions, I was an onlooker to other exhibitors problems.

The first was the bog-standard awkward loader which had given his owner the run-around for over an hour despite the assistance of many others at various intervals. He wasn't for going on the lorry and had started to lash out at anyone coming behind him.

I'll never forget the calmness of Scotland's top showman of the day, Tommy Newbury, who ambled over to the lorry to which he attached a lunge rein to the gate on one side and another lunge rein to the one opposite. Having given the owner the instruction to stay at the head of the horse, he picked up the reins in turns and without giving the culprit the opportunity think about his next actions, he flapped the reins against its sides and the horse jumped into the lorry. So brave, so calm, so easy – remarkable.

The other occasion involved my good friends, Donald and Thea MacFarlane, who ran the Scottish Equitation Centre, near Braco. Genuine horse lovers and very much of the 'old school', they were among the pioneers of the early ridden Highland pony much in demand today.

People who knew them stayed well clear when their difficult loader at Kinross Show decided it was too early to depart for Braco. Typical of these equine enthusiasts, there was absolutely no coercion, no bullying, no threats, no brooms, no raised voices and, significantly, no acceptance of help just encouraging requests to step on to the trailer.

Unfortunately, the offender would have none of this kindness and duly stood at the base of the ramp for no less than two hours after which time Donald decided that the only thing for it was to lead it home! As it happened, he didn't actually lead it home but did lead it to a farm outside Kinross where it stayed the night before returning home the next day.

However, the 'cat's pyjamas' of all loading experiences had to be that of my next door neighbour's horse. The writing was on the wall from the day the chestnut yearling filly arrived on our yard in a trailer from Devon.

The front ramp was lowered, however an hour later the filly still refused point blank to put a hoof on Scottish soil. It was with some trepidation that an invitation was accepted to help out, however the miracle did happen by accident rather than design when the yearling calmly volunteered to come down the front ramp as soon as the back ramp had been lowered.

Without doubt this was a sign of things to come, so much so that her owner went to the expense of buying a lorry to help with the loading issue which had since developed.

The next part of the story is so hard to believe but it is true – believe me for I saw it with my own eyes. In order to resolve the problem, as the mare was now in competition mode, the services of a horse whisperer was engaged.

Unable to attend in person, the said whisperer performed a telephone consultancy whereupon she had a word in the mare's ear as she was stood outside the box by the side of the house.

After five minutes of advice and encouragement from the consultant, my neighbour took her mare to the ramp, stood with a loose rope for a few minutes whereupon the mare quietly walked up the ramp and stood peacefully as the partition was closed.

Incredible, as this was for sceptics like myself, the story continued a few days later when the mare was transported to a dressage competition, where the consultant was in attendance. Despite the fact that she and the mare had never met previously, her voice from outside the lorry was sufficient to set the mare alive with excitement as she whinneyed with excitement to her mentor.

We can all share the close bonds we have had with our horses and ponies and I would say that my own has never been closer than that which I experienced with last year's orphan foal, Gladys.

The SF's readers will remember her story which was remarkable by any standards as she survived the traumatic death of her dam at foaling, then thrived during the summer after being adopted by her surrogate mother on whom milk had been artificially induced.

A year later, there was no sign of her difficult start in life other than the fact that Gladys remained aligned to her human family rather than her equine friends which she liked, but not as much. She remained alert to our arrival at the gate and remained by our sides until we left.

Therein lay a problem. We were able to attend to her care but unable to give Gladys the attention we knew she craved.

The answer to this dilemma came by way of a call from my previous TSF editor, Alasdair Fletcher, who was looking to buy a foal for his young grandchildren who are besotted with ponies.

After much soul-searching, we decided to let our heads rule our hearts and offered the Fletcher family our precious Gladys, despite every instinct to keep her at Waxwing forever. By the end of the summer, Gladys joined her new family as well as new equine friends, a Shetland pony and Clydesdale foal, on condition that she would return home if things didn't turn out well.

The photograph says it all. Hopefully, Gladys hasn't forgotten her family in Fife but we know from all reports that she absolutely adores her new Renfrewshire family.

It would be nice to think that we will receive a similar reception at the shows from Gladys as the horse whisperer received from our neighbour's horse – but only time will tell.