Obituary: Dugald Low-Mitchell, farmer and horsebreeder.

Born: 8 February, 1922, in Dundee. Died: 14 November, 2013 in Kirkcaldy, aged 91.
Dugald Low-Mitchell. Picture:ContributedDugald Low-Mitchell. Picture:Contributed
Dugald Low-Mitchell. Picture:Contributed

Dugald Low-Mitchell was a natural innovator whose desire to do something different changed the face of sport horse breeding in Scotland.

Already a prize-winning Peebleshire dairy farmer, he was nursing a badly injured hand and a hankering for Australia when, out of the blue, he was made an offer for the farm and sold up everything – with no real plan for the future.

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The decision ultimately led to a move to Balcormo in Fife where he and his wife Jacky, a show jumper, developed a hunt livery yard and hugely successful stud, produced a top British show jumping stallion and helped to found the breeders’ organisation, the Scottish Sport Horse.

Among a range of Low-Mitchell firsts were the importation of warmblood stallions to Scotland, the country’s first embryo transfer in horses and the introduction of a Junior Home Pony International, events now among British junior show jumping highlights. He can also most likely claim a first at his funeral, when the minister was persuaded to ride on horseback to the grave.

Born in Dundee, the son of William and Ethel Low-Mitchell, he was educated at Lathallan Primary and Merchiston Castle School. His first business venture was breeding pigs at the family’s property in Broughty Ferry.

Still a teenager when the Second World War broke out, he served with the Royal Artillery from 1940 to 1945, landing on the Normandy beaches on D-Day plus one, 7 June, 1944. He was billeted at a farm on the frontline near Calvados, where he and his fellow soldiers attempted to repair some of the damage from the battles that had raged around their host’s land. A photograph taken that summer shows him utilising his farming expertise to inspect the farmer’s flax crop as British tanks stand in the background waiting to go into action. A 2nd lieutenant, he fought his way through France, Germany and Holland until the war ended.

Back home, he returned to work with his family, who had by then moved to a dairy and pig farm, at Clochtow between Forfar and Aberlemno. During his time there he was also involved in hunting and the breeding of Clydesdale horses.

He later acquired his own property in the Borders at Dovecote Farm, Romanno Bridge where he farmed dairy, sheep and poultry. Hugely successful with Jersey cows, he was heavily involved in judging and sat on the council of the Jersey Cattle Society.

But his change of direction came in the mid-1960s when he was considering a move to Australia. His wife Jacky, whom he had married in Monifeith in 1954, wasn’t particularly keen on the idea and as he was pondering their options while recovering from a hand injury – the result of an accident with some baling equipment – he was made an offer for the farm. He took it and then announced to his wife that he had sold the place – land and livestock.

That was in August and they had to be out in November: it was time to do something new. Quite what had not yet been decided and the couple and their two young daughters moved to a cottage on Hatton Farm, Fife where his mother-in-law lived.

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Low-Mitchell got involved in the local hunt and decided to stay in the area. While out riding one day he rode into Balcormo Farm and asked if the farmer would sell. Although he initially agreed, the deal fell through and it wasn’t until much later that 
he got the chance to buy the property.

In 1970 the family moved in, with their three horses and two ponies, built some stables and began taking in hunt liveries at £7 a week. He was passionate about hunting and was the whipper-in to the Fife Foxhounds for many seasons.

Jacky had competed at top-level show jumping. Together they were well qualified in the equestrian world and Balcormo Stud was established when they bought two stallions – a thoroughbred and an Arab/Connemara whose sire was one of the stallions credited with producing the British riding pony.

They began breeding their own horses and taking in visiting mares. They also built an indoor school and started running unaffiliated shows.

Then on a trip to Holland in 1979, Low-Mitchell became the first to import warmblood stallions to Scotland when he bought the three-year-old Dutch Warmblood colt Secundus which went on to become the top British show-jumping stallion in 1996, 1999 and 2000.

While running his dairy farm he had artificially inseminated his cattle and he now realised that this was the future for the British sport horse breeding industry. He headed to Kentucky to learn about the procedure from a top equine vet.

Then in 1987 he added another Dutch Warmblood , Dramiro to the roster. Balcormo then began using artificial insemination and soon afterwards Low-Mitchell worked with a leading equine reproduction vet to collect and freeze semen from many Scottish-based stallions.

He also worked with Dr Jean Renton of the Glasgow School of Veterinary Medicine to undertake the first embryo transfer in horses in Scotland.

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Meanwhile, the Low-Mitchells were leading lights in the modern show centre movement. He started the three-day show jumping events held in Scotland in 1973 and, in 1982, ran the first Junior Home Pony International event. He also started the Scottish three-year-old Loose Jumping Championships and was a founder member of the Scottish Dutch Warmblood Association, now known as Scottish Sports Horse, of which he remained honorary president.

Throughout this time Balcormo was leading the way in the equestrian field, the stud business was growing, more stables were built and a horse-walker installed. Low-Mitchell ran the whole operation from his portable cabin laboratory dubbed “the sex shop”.

Among the many awards the Low-Mitchells earned were: the British Breeders’ Award Merial Meritoire for outstanding service to British breeding; The Scottish Breeders’ Award from the Scottish Equestrian Association and The Sir William Young Award, presented to the couple last year by the Royal Highland Agricultural Society for their Outstanding Contribution to Animal Breeding in Scotland.

Low-Mitchell, who was founder of the Fife Foxhounds Supporters Club, was buried at home on the farm, in the presence of the huntsman and hounds, his daughters and the minister having arrived at the graveside on horseback. He is survived by his wife Jacky, their children Jennifer and Sandra and grandchildren Mitchell and Emma.

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