Guide to Rabbit Hopping and Agility Contests
Do you know that rabbits have a sport? You may have heard of rabbit hopping or rabbit agility, and they are not only real events, they are becoming very popular! Sweden introduced rabbit hopping in the early 1970s. The concept was modeled after miniature horse jumping. Then, the first national rabbit hopping championship was held in 1987 in Sweden. Throughout Europe there has been a growth in the recognition of these events. Currently, there are rabbit hopping clubs in Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Germany, and England. Rabbit hopping came to the United States in 2001. Then in 2012, the American Hopping Association for Rabbits and Cavies was chartered by the American Rabbit Breeders Association. Rabbit hopping is also becoming popular in Japan and Australia. Rabbit agility was developed in Canada and includes many aspects of rabbit hopping, as well as other obstacles that are patterned after dog agility.
What is Rabbit Hopping?
Rabbit hopping is a performance sport where rabbits are directed to run through a course of jumps ranging from 4 – 20 inches high. The jumps are similar to the jumps used for horse jumps, but on a much smaller level. All jumps are made with displaceable rails so that if a rabbit does not make it over the jump the rails will fall away. The goal is to go through the course with the least number of faults. There is also a long jump and a high jump which can be very challenging for a bunny.
What is Rabbit Agility?
Rabbit agility combines the jumps used in hopping with hurdles, along with a variety of contact and non-contact jumps. The obstacles are frequently modeled after those encountered in dog agility contests. Many of the obstacles have contact zones, and the rabbit must be taught how each obstacle works. Some examples of the things a rabbit might encounter in the course are: tunnels, tire jumps, A-frames, bridges, and see-saws or teeter-totters.
How Do You Select the Right Hopping or Agility Rabbit?
With the recognition of 49 distinct rabbit breeds by the American Rabbit Breeders Association (ARBA), there are plenty of different rabbits to choose from! Keep in mind your rabbit’s body type, weight, and temperament. The best choice for a hopping or agility bunny is one that is friendly, willing to please, and energetic. A moody or sensitive rabbit may be more difficult to train. Below is a list of some of the more popular breeds being used by trainers and handlers in these sports:
- American Sable - Britannia Petite - Polish - Checkered Giant
- Standard Chinchilla - Dutch - Dwarf Hotot - Havana
- Florida White - Harlequin - Holland Lop - English Spot
- Netherland Dwarf - Mini Satin - Silver Fox - Mini Rex
- Rex - Tan - Rhinelander - Checkered Giant - Thrianta
Training Your Rabbit for Hopping and Agility
A rabbit that is 4 to 6 months old is easiest to train, but some rabbits will learn at any age if you establish a regular training schedule. You should never start training an overweight rabbit because this might cause physical injury. You will need to remember that rabbits are easily startled, and therefore easily distracted. By exposing your rabbit to different noises, surfaces and surroundings you are teaching your rabbit to pay attention to the obstacles and not to the distractions. Your rabbit needs to learn to relax when you put him or her on the course.
The first step in training your rabbit for hopping or agility is ground work. Put the harness and leash on the rabbit and get your rabbit use to walking around in an open area out in front of you with the leash fully extended. When the rabbit stops in front of you, bend over and touch the rabbit near the tail or tickle it in the rib area. The rabbit will eventually start to move forward when it sees you approaching it from behind. Wearing white shoes may help the rabbit to see your feet. It is very important to never touch the rabbit with your feet. Also keep in mind that it is not natural for a rabbit to run in a straight line. When trying to get away from predators, rabbits tend to run in a zig zag pattern. This is where ground work comes in. When the rabbit starts to run to the left you need to step on your left foot where the rabbit will see your feet or you may bend over and place your hand beside the rabbit. This helps to retrain their natural instincts, so the rabbit will move in the opposite direction. Practice time should be limited to 15 or 20 minutes once a day for the first week. Slowly work up to a schedule that suits your needs, up to 20 minute sessions twice a day.
Learning to Hop
You should acquire a set up of a series of wooden rails, PVC or boards painted white in front of you. They should be placed horizontally approximately 6” apart in a straight line. You can walk your rabbit while in the harness and leash over the rails or boards. It helps to walk directly behind your rabbit so you can help guide it by touching it with your hands to keep it on course. Then, pick up your rabbit at the end of the course and bring it back to start again. Repeat the process. Do not let the rabbit turn around and go back over the course during training. This way, you are teaching the rabbit to look at the objects in front of it and to stay focused on something set in front of its path. Practice this method daily for one week twice a day until it hops through the rails at a quick pace. This is an important process in preparing for more advanced maneuvering.
Training Your Rabbit to Go Over Jumps
After you have been working on ground work and beginning hopping, and your rabbit understands that it needs to move forward, it is time to begin working with a little added height. Begin by setting up a short jump with the rail no more than 2 inches off of the surface. Once the rabbit is able to complete this, add 2 more elevated rails, each 2 inches off the surface so the rabbit will learn that they need to go through a series of jumps. To teach your rabbit to go over the jump you may need to place one hand underneath the front legs of the rabbit and the other hand under the rabbit’s bottom. Lift the rabbit forward and over the jump bar gently letting it land on the other side. You will have to repeat this several times until the rabbit understands that it can hop over the bars on its own. Talk to your bunny in training using cue words such as “over”, or “jump” so they will understand you want them to jump each time. Gradually add height to your jumps, not more than 2 inches per training session. Always start sessions off with a low jump to warm-up, and always end sessions on a positive note. If the rabbit is having trouble with the 6 inch height you are trying to get them to jump, before ending the session reduce the height to 4 inches and let them complete the jump successfully. When the bunny has learned how to hop up to 8 jumps at 2 inch, 4 inch and 6 inch intervals in a straight line, you can then set up a few higher jumps. You should never exceed 2 inches at a time when you raise the bar to the next height.
Training sessions at least twice a week must be maintained for the rabbit to remember what they have learned. You should always listen to the rabbit’s body language. If it lies down on the course it means it is tired and needs to rest. It is important to be mindful of this, not only for your rabbit’s health, but also to keep the rabbit interested in the training, and not lose interest. It’s a good idea to make the training different each time by placing the jumps in a different location to get the rabbit used to all types of surroundings. Remember, safety is the first step to having a fun hopping experience for you and your rabbit. Always train in a safe environment away from dogs, cats or other animals that may harm your bunny. Unless you are in a totally fenced area, keep your rabbit on a leash at all times.
- Hopping and agility competitions should take place on a level, shock absorbent surface. Mats or carpeting are ideal, but dirt, sand or sawdust are also acceptable. If hopping or agility is done on grass it must be free of pesticides. The type of hopping surface that will be used must be published in the show catalog.
- All jumps should have displaceable bars that fall free if hit by the bunny from either direction.
- All jumps and obstacles must be painted with all-weather non-toxic water based paint. Jump bars should have stripes painted or taped on them to allow the rabbits to view the height and width of the obstacle. Colored vinyl or electrical tape is acceptable.
- The use of a fully fenced area is encouraged, but not required. If no fence is used, the hopping or agility arena must be in an escape free area, such as a building. The catalog must state what type of enclosure (fence or building) will be at the event and must state if the event will occur indoors or outdoors.
- The hosts of the event should have adequate cleaning and disinfecting supplies for soiled equipment.
- H style harnesses and leashes are required for all rabbit hopping or agility events. Leashes should be made of a similar webbing material as the harness and should be 4 – 6 feet in length. Retractable, chain and rope leashes are not permitted. Leashes may be optional for rabbit agility events, provided the event takes place in a secure area.
- Leashes and harnesses not meeting safety standards for bunnies will not be allowed to be used on a rabbit in the competition or warm-up area.
- A warm-up area should be provided with a maximum of 2 jumps that are a maximum of 10 inches high. This area should be supervised.
- Equipment must be cleaned as needed between competitions and events.
The following obstacles are used for rabbit agility:
- Open Tunnel: The open tunnel should be made of a lightweight, water resistant material, supported so that the rabbit will not get tangled up inside or have open holes or spaces that it can escape from. The tunnel should be open at both ends. The diameter of the tunnel should be no less than 18 inches wide, and the length should be 18 – 30 inches. There should be at least two tunnels that can be switched out and cleaned in the case of soiling by the bunny. The tunnel should be secured so that it cannot roll or move out of place.
- A-Frame: The A-frame should be sturdy enough to support your rabbit’s weight, and made of at least ½ inch plywood. Each side should be 2 feet in length and at least a foot wide. The surface of the A-frame should be made of a non-slip material that will not damage or harm the rabbit in any way. The A-frame should have a secure adjustable chain or other apparatus that will allow it to be adjusted to a height at the center of up to 2 feet.
- Tire Jump: Tire jump frames should be wide enough and tall enough to encircle and hold up a “tire” that is about 18 inches in diameter. The frame must be freestanding. The frame can be made of PVC pipe (1¼ inch is ideal) or wood. It is suggested that it be 3 feet tall and 3 feet wide. The “tire” should be made of a lightweight material such as a bicycle tire, 2 or 4 inch drainpipe, a vacuum hose, or a hula hoop. It may be painted if desired. The height should be able to be adjusted. The bottom of the tire should not be more than 6 inches off the ground.
- Bridge: The bridge should be made of 1 inch x 12 inch planks. The bridge should consist of three sections: two ramps and a crosswalk. Each ramp should be 1 – 2 feet in length with the crosswalk in the center that is 4 feet long. Each section should be able to be connected to one another and can be hinged together to make travel easier. The surface of the bridge should be made of a non-slip material that will not damage or harm the rabbit in any way. The supports of the bridge must be sturdy and secure. The height of the bridge should be 12 – 18 inches. If the bridge is adjustable, it must not be able to slip, lowering the bridge while the rabbit is crossing it.
- Pause Box or Table: The top of the pause box or table should be 2 feet wide and 2 feet long and made of at least ½ inch plywood with supports that are 6 inches high and securely attached to the top. The surface of the pause box should be made of a non-slip material that will not damage or harm the bunny in any way. Another option for the pause box would be to use a square of PVC.
- Teeter Totter: The teeter totter should be made of a 1 inch by 12 inch wooden plank that is 4 to 6 feet in length. The surface of the teeter should be of a non-slip material that will not damage or harm the rabbit in any way. The fulcrum should be a piece of 4 inch PVC pipe and secured so that it will not slip out while a rabbit is crossing it. The plank should be attached to the pipe so that it will tilt in the opposite direction easily as the rabbit crosses it.
- Closed Tunnel: The closed tunnel may be made of any hard plastic barrel or waterproof cleanable and supported material. It should be no less than 18 inches in diameter and be 1 ½ to 2 feet long. There must be a tarp attached to one end of the tunnel that can be removed for cleaning or replacement. The tarp must be made of waterproof, cleanable material 2 -3 feet long. It is to be made in such a way that the rabbit can’t get tangled in it. The rabbit should not walk on the tarp.
- Weave Poles: The weave poles are commonly made of PVC pipe, no more than ¾ inch thick, and set into a flat base or PVC base of the same thickness with legs for support. There should be 8 poles and the space between the poles should be 8 – 10 inches apart. The poles should be at least 2 feet high. The poles must be made so they will fall over if hit lightly.
Many people are finding this to be a fascinating, exciting hobby, and also finding that their bunnies enjoy it as well! Thanks for reading, and check out the external links section for more information!
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