Football boss to take on NZ equestrian sports role

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Julian Bowden takes over as ESNZ chief executive in June.
Julian Bowden takes over as ESNZ chief executive in June.

Mainland Football chief executive Julian Bowden has been appointed as the new chief executive for Equestrian Sports New Zealand and will take up the role in early June.

Christchurch-based Bowden replaces Dana Kirkpatrick, who stepped down from the role in March.

Bowden has been with Mainland Football, the regional governing body for football in Canterbury, Nelson, Marlborough and the West Coast, for six years, responsible for two regional offices, 52 clubs and more than 15,000 members.

But Bowden also has an equestrian background, and represented New Zealand at the Inter-Pacific Games in Hong Kong at the age of 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,” Bowden said. “When selected for the New Zealand Olympic qualifying team in my early 20s, I stepped away from equestrian competition.”

Bowden 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.

Bowden says his forte is bringing people and organisations together and finding ways for organisations to work smarter and better.

“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 several initiatives from football that could fit the bill.

Bowden says 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 into the sport he loved so much as a youngster, and hopes 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.”

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