with gallery & video: Show-jumping bunnies hop to it at Washtenaw County 4-H rabbit agility workshop
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Princess, Speedy, Bug, Spots and Rex were just a few of the rabbits at the Chelsea Community Fair Grounds Saturday morning climbing a bunny-sized A-frame, jumping low bars and hopping through a tunnel.
The rabbits and their handlers were practicing rabbit show jumping, also known as rabbit agility, a fun class that was first offered at the 4-H Youth Show last summer that will be a competitive class this year.
“Like a goat trail class, or dog agility, it’s a fun class for rabbits. It’s something else the kids can do with their animals,” said Cathie Mason, a 4-H leader and rabbit superintendent at the 4-H youth show.
Mason organized Saturday’s annual workshop for youth who wanted to learn more about rabbits, cavies, chickens and goats. They spent the morning learning better management and showmanship skills from experts in small animal husbandry.
She said agility is another way to get children more involved with their rabbits.
Hannah Whitley, 14, of Brighton, came with two of her rabbits for the showmanship workshop and put harnesses on her large rabbits, Princess and Thunder, to see if they’d like it.
“I tried it last year,” she said. “And got third. Princess walks on a leash a lot so maybe she’ll like it.” Allison Bellairs, 17, and her sister, Samantha, 15, members of All Around 4-H club, started the local rabbit agility craze on their family fiber farm in Munith about four years ago. She said she and her sister put a little jump between them and encouraged the rabbits to jump back and forth over it.
“It started as a joke,” she said. “Our other sister, Natalie, told Sam she should do rabbit agility.”
And the family interest was ignited.
Allison Bellairs chose a Dutch rabbit, Speedy, as her first agility prospect, and began working with him once a week. Her mom, Sheri Bellairs, encouraged the activity and had rabbit-sized agility equipment constructed. The family put together rules for the 4-H fun competition, which combines speed and jumping ability.
The fastest rabbit through a course of about 6 obstacles with the least number of faults, wins. There are deductions for knocking down poles and a rabbit is only allowed three tries at an obstacle.
“You can’t pull the rabbit,” she said, adding that the most active rabbits make the best agility competitors.
All breeds can do it, she said, “If a rabbit likes it, all it takes is practice,” she said.
While most exhibitors have harnesses on their bunnies, Speedy runs naked. “He doesn’t like a harness,” she said, and encourages the bunny with commands like “Up” and “Down” when approaching on while on the A-frame. She says, “Jump” when the rabbit approaches a fence, and “Thru” when faced with an open tunnel.
She said that the family hopes to add a water jump, teeter-totter and tunnel with fabric at the end, called a chute, to their compliment of agility equipment this summer. But, people don't need anything that fancy, she said, they can practice at home with their rabbit and pieces of wood or other items found around the house.
Still in its infancy in the United States, rabbit show jumping is gaining a youth following in Washtenaw County through the efforts of local 4-H rabbit enthusiasts and 18 participants and their rabbits tried out the new class last year.
Taylor Beemer said she has three rabbits but she didn’t think her bunnies would like agility. “It’s really cool to watch, though, to see how they do the course.”
According to information from the U.S. Rabbit Agility Association, “Rabbit show jumping (sometimes known as rabbit dressage or rabbit hopping) is a competition in which trained domestic rabbits leap over appropriately sized obstacles.”
It began in the late 1970s in Sweden, where it is known as Kaninhopping, and there are more than 50 rabbit show jumping clubs throughout Scandinavia.
The association website states that Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Norway and the United Kingdom hold local and nationally sanctioned events.
The event depends on the type of rabbit, with separate competitions for small rabbits and larger rabbits.
Grace Willis decided to see if her rabbit, Rex, would like the sport. After the first couple of tries, the rabbit figured it out and enthusiastically hopped through the open tunnel, jumped the two jumps and went up and down the A-frame.
“I’m not sure who had more fun, the rabbit or Grace,” her mother, Deede Willis, said.
Rhiannon Sturtevant also decided to give it a try with her mini rex rabbit named Moonshine and was pleasantly surprised at how quickly the bunny took to the sport.
“This is the first time for her,” Sturtevant said. “She has promising features for agility.”
For more information, there are several rabbit agility groups, the U.S. Rabbit Agility Association, Rabbit hopping-USA, and the American Association of Sporting Events for Rabbits that host competitions where ribbons and prizes are awarded to the winners.