Equestrian Sports New Zealand’s new chief executive brings plenty of sports acumen coupled with commercial business experience to the national body.

Julian Bowden, who is currently chief executive of Mainland Football, will take up his new role in early June, replacing Dana Kirkpatrick who stepped down in March.

And while his life for the past six years has been very much focused on the round ball, he actually represented New Zealand at the Inter Pacific Games in Hong Kong at 18, riding alongside multi Olympian Bruce Goodin and current ESNZ Jumping board chair Mandy Illston. Over the years he competed in eventing, showjumping, showing and dressage, but was eventually forced to choose between football and equestrian.
“My other passion was football, and I juggled the two,” says the Christchurch based father of two. “When selected for the New Zealand Olympic qualifying team in my early 20s, I stepped away from equestrian competition.”

Julian has been a chief executive for 16 years, having also led commercial organisations.

“The skills I developed in earlier roles have been valuable in this (football) sector, in particular the commercial aspect around sponsorship and relationship development,” he says. “As I have gone through my business career, sports administration grabbed my interest, so when this position came up, it felt like a natural fit and is a chance to give back to a sport that gave me so much.”

His parents Kevin and Ainsley Bowden were drawn into equestrian through their son’s involvement and were instrumental in the establishment of the National Equestrian Centre at McLeans Island. Both are still involved in the sport.

Julian says one of his fortes is bringing people and organisations together and finding ways for organisations to work smarter and better. He is looking forward to getting out amongst the equestrian fraternity. “The ways things have been probably won’t be the way things will be in the future,” he says. “I want to get out and meet people and hear what they have to say. If ever there is a time to relook at the way we do things, COVID has given us that, but it has to be done collectively.”

He’s also keen to see what other equestrian industry organisations could be involved with the federation. “It is about adding value to our membership.” He’s confident he can bring over a number of initiatives from football that could fit the bill. He’s currently responsible for two regional offices, 52 clubs and more than 15,000 members so understands the challenges of meeting the expectations of membership and keeping them engaged.

Julian admits funding for sport is always a challenge, as is removing barriers for access to sport for people, but he is looking forward to getting back out amongst a sport he loved so much as a youngster and hoping to make a real difference.

ESNZ board chair Lynda Clark said Julian’s leadership experience in both the sport and commercial sector would be a valuable asset to the federation. “As well as having personal experience with equestrian, he has a real strength in bringing teams and stakeholders together and developing new ways of working as a team to deliver a better member and volunteer experience,” said Lynda.