‘Hop’ stuff at the farm show: Competitive rabbit hopping event

I love the Pennsylvania Farm Show. A few backyard tomato plants were as close as I ever got to “farming” in my suburban Pittsburgh neighborhood.

So I’m always amazed to see the agricultural diversity and abundance we have here in Pennsylvania.

As the largest indoor agricultural exhibition in the country, the Pennsylvania Farm Show plays host to thousands of animals, lots of great food, and both commercial and competitive exhibits every year.

If I had to pick my favorite exhibit, it would be the annual Butter Sculpture.

This year’s rendering featured three iconic Pennsylvania sports mascots: Swoop, Gritty and Steely McBeam. Who knew that sculptors could create such detailed — and huge — masterpieces from … hmmm … a thousand pounds of butter?

I didn’t make it to Harrisburg this year. But I did catch one competition on PCN that absolutely fascinated me: Celebrity Rabbit Hopping. In this event, rabbits and their owners were paired with guest handlers from an array of state agencies and organizations. Their mission: guide their fuzzy athletes over a multi-jump obstacle course, under time and with a minimum of faults.

Two things kept me riveted to the competition. One, I had no idea that there were competitive sports for rabbits. And two, because I’ve been competing in dog agility for the past 20 years, I was really interested in seeing if there were any similarities between dog sports and rabbit sports. I just had to learn more …

Rabbit jumping originated in Sweden in the early 1970s and was modeled after horse jumping competitions. Over time, the rules and formats were modified to accommodate the specific physical abilities of rabbits. Soon, the sport of rabbit hopping gained popularity, spreading to Norway and other European countries. Rabbit hopping made its way to the United States in 2001. Since then, the American Rabbit Breeders Association has chartered a performance group known as the American Hopping Association for Rabbits and Cavies.

So what exactly is Rabbit Hopping? Basically, it is a performance sport where rabbits are directed over a series of jumps ranging from 4 to 20 inches high. The rabbit wears an H- style harness and is guided over the jumps with a 4-6 foot leash. Similar to dog agility obstacles, the jumps themselves are constructed with displaceable PVC bars that will drop to the ground if the rabbit hits them with their paws as they jump. To challenge these bunny athletes even more, there may be a high jump or a long jump on the course. The goal is to complete the course with as few knocked bars as possible. Rabbits must be at least 4 months of age to begin their hopping career; most retire from the sport at age 5, although some compete until they are 8 to 10 years old.

And then there’s Rabbit Agility… It takes Rabbit Hopping to a whole new skill level. While this advanced sport wasn’t part of the Farm Show exhibition, I discovered through my research that it’s very similar to dog agility, a sport I know well. In fact, the obstacles are almost identical: displaceable jumps, an open tunnel, an A-frame, pause table, teeter totter and closed tunnel.

And that gave me an idea: When my corgis decide that they don’t feel like doing agility anymore, I think I’ll get a rabbit!

Sue Williams is a lifelong pet enthusiast. She has been actively involved in animal rescue, dog performance sports, responsible pet ownership and animal advocacy for more than 20 years. She can be contacted at altoonapets@gmail.com.


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