Tips for Successful 4‐H Rabbit Showmanship

2 comments by Joshua Paulson

Tips for Successful 4‐H Rabbit Showmanship

It’s getting to be that time of year again – the weather is warming up, the flowers are blooming, and the days are getting longer. Before you know it, it will be county fair season, and 4H members from all over the country will be creating displays, entering goods they’ve created, and showing their prize animals at local fairs. For 4H members participating in a rabbit project, this means doing a demonstration with their animals, involving appropriate handling and a basic health evaluation. Unlike conformation classes, where the overall build and body type of the rabbit is judged against an ideal standard for its breed, showmanship involves the judging of the person giving the presentation, rather than the animal involved. Rabbit 4H projects are very balanced in this way, giving the members a chance to focus on themselves and their application of knowledge and rabbit handling techniques. Although every county in every state does things slightly differently, the guidelines below are a basic outline of what is expected of children when competing in showmanship classes at the 4H level. 

Expectations for Handling Rabbits

The best practices of handling rabbits safely are expected of all 4H members when their rabbit project is at a fair or other show. These guidelines apply to any time the animal is being handled – both on and off of the show table. 

  1. 4Hers should wear long sleeves to protect their arms from getting scratched. Even in the hot weather, this is expected, and will be enforced by judges and other staff members. 
  2. Handle your rabbit with care. Rabbits are already nervous by nature and rough or careless handling can not only injure the bunny physically, but can also create added, very unwanted stress.
  3. Rabbits used for showmanship need to be handled daily and practiced with. While away from home at a show, this routine should still apply.
  4. Whenever possible, handle your rabbit during the cool part of the day. Handling rabbits when it is too hot can cause unnecessary stress and heat stroke.
  5. When picking up the rabbit NEVER lift or carry it by its ears. This is excruciatingly painful for the rabbit.  Lifting it up by the ears causes damage to the ear veins, and bruising around the rabbit’s crown.  Also, without the entire body being supported, when a rabbit kicks to free itself, it may cause bone fractures in its neck, back, or hind legs, and cause injury to nerves or tendons, or possibly kill it.   
  6. NEVER lift a rabbit by its legs. This is painful, as well as can cause similar injuries listed in number 4.
  7. A rabbit can NEVER be lifted by the scruff of its neck without the handler supporting the entire body weight. Some 4H children are taught to pick up a rabbit this way, along with holding the ears back with the neck scruff. This can easily damage the rabbit’s ears, skin, and crown, along with causing painful bruising. 
  8. Use a rug or piece of carpet on the table or area where you are handling your rabbit, so it can get a foothold when being worked with. Another great alternative is a non-slip bath mat that can also be washed in the washing machine! Smooth surfaces will cause a rabbit to slide, making it feel insecure and afraid. A scared bunny is very difficult to groom, handle, and pose. 
  9. The safest way to carry your rabbit is by tucking its head under your arm while supporting its body between your side and your same arm. The rabbit’s eyes should be covered by your elbow, and it should have plenty of space for its nose and mouth to breathe.  

Grooming for a Show

  1. When you know a show is coming up, it is important to start grooming your rabbit at least six weeks beforehand.
  2.   In the warm or humid weather, it is best to groom during the coolest parts of the day.
  3.   If you do not own a grooming table, use a table covered with a rug, carpet sample, or a non-slip bath mat as a grooming stand. The table should be tall enough that you do not have to bend over excessively while working with your rabbit. 
  4.  Wet your hands with clean water and rub them through the rabbit’s fur (from head to tail) until it is damp. The rabbit should NEVER be immersed in water. 
  5. When the fur is evenly damp, stroke the rabbit from head to tail several times to remove dead fur. You can also use a brush with very fine or soft bristles for this step.     
  6. Do not rub the fur backwards (from tail to head) - that can break the guard hairs.
  7. Keep going through steps 4 through 6 for approximately one week.
  8. Continue to groom your rabbit daily by stroking the fur from head to tail or using a very soft brush, but without dampening the fur each time. This makes the fur become smooth and shiny.
  9. Keep in mind that daily grooming improves the appearance of your bunny, increases its circulation, and tames it, which just makes the rabbit easier to handle.

Posing Your Rabbit

  1. While grooming, put your rabbit in the proper show position for its breed, and teach it to stay in that position. Do not offer treats as a reward though, or your rabbit will start nose butting your hand or trying to nose through your pockets on the show table!
  2. If you do not know the show position for your breed, put it in the most common pose as follows:
  3. Place it on the table. Face the rabbit to your right if you are left‐handed or to your left if you are right‐handed. (This makes it easier to pick the rabbit up.)
  4. Place the tip of the front feet so they are even with the rabbit’s eyes.
  5. Place the tip of the hind feet even with the rabbit’s hip bones.
  6. Make sure the rabbit’s tail is showing and not tucked under its body.
  7. The most important thing is for the rabbit to stay still. If it is not posed exactly right, for showmanship, this is not a big problem. 


Showmanship is a combination of: your appearance, your knowledge about rabbits, particularly your own as it relates to the ARBA breed standard, handling and showing your rabbit, and your sportsmanship and show ring conduct. Once you acquire a rabbit and it becomes used to being handled, start practicing showmanship maneuvers as often as possible to get your rabbit ready for fair or other 4H shows. It is important to work with your rabbit every day, or at least every other day. If you can, it is helpful to try and get your rabbit used to being around other people, strange noises, commotion, and other rabbits. Here are some helpful tips to help you be ready for your big day!

Showmanship Steps

  1. Carry rabbit to judging table in your arms, first removing the rabbit from cage.
  2. Properly pose your rabbit as best as you can according to its breed and body type.       
  3. Examine your rabbit in the following order.  During your examination, explain to the judge what you are looking for.            
  4. Check ears for:  ear canker, illegible or missing tattoo, size and carriage of ears, torn or missing part of ear
  5. Check eyes for: wall eye (white cornea), spots on eyes, mismatched eye color, runny or weepy eyes
  6. Check nose for: snuffles (white nasal discharge)
  7. Check teeth for: malocclusion (buck or wolf teeth), simple malocclusion (butting teeth), broken or missing tooth
  8. Check chin/neck area for: dewlap (does), abscesses
  9. Check front legs for: bent, bowed or deformed legs
  10. Check front feet and toenails for: missing toenails (5 on each front foot), including dewclaw, broken toenails (or too short to determine color), mismatched toenails, nail color not meeting breed standard
  11. Check abdomen for: mastitis or swollen teats (does), tumor, rupture, hernia, or abscesses
  12. Check hind legs for: bent, bowed, or deformed legs
  13. Check hocks for: sore hocks (bloody), severe cow hocks
  14. Check hind feet and toenails for: missing toenails (4 on each hind foot), broken toenails, toenails too short to determine color, mismatched toenails, nail color not meeting breed standard
  15. Check genitals for: vent disease, missing testicle(s) on Senior Buck, Junior Buck with only one testicle showing, split penis (bucks), rectal prolapse
  16. m. Check tail for: stub, broken tail, or wry tail

It is also important to study up on basic rabbit care, nutritional requirements, common diseases, and general body type and conformation standards. We invite you to check out other helpful articles in our blog to help you with building your knowledge base. Click on our Quality Cage Crafters Rabbit Blog link for more helpful information. Remember, 4H is about building character, learning responsibility, doing hands-on learning activities, and being a part of group of friends who share a common interest. Whether you are just starting out, or have reached the most advanced Senior levels, or somewhere in between, we wish you the best of luck showing your bunnies! 

If you have more information or need to ask a question, feel free to leave a comment below! 

Other contact information:


External Links

Rabbit National 4H Curriculum

Sample 4H Youth Rabbit Showmanship Scoring Sheet

Author: Joshua Paulson and Quality Cage Team
Josh is the owner and CEO at Quality Cage Crafters since 2015. During his time at Quality Cage Crafters he has been able to learn from tens of thousands of pet owners and pet educators. He blends his ambition for manufacturing and passion for animal care to create solutions for pet owners, breeders, animal rescues, and zoos. He has brought together a team of great animal lovers to create high quality pet care content for the Quality Cage Crafters audience.


  • tw

    I really like this website it actually helped me show this year, thanks!!!!

  • Ava Murphy

    I never realized that it’s best to groom a rabbit at least six weeks before a show, and you should not rub their fur backward because it can break their guard hairs. My husband and I wanted to own a rabbit that we can bring to different rabbit shows. It’s important for us to ensure that our rabbit will always look good at every show that we will attend, so I will make sure to find a professional rabbit groomer as early as now.

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