An unusual "sport" is becoming more and more popular around the world these days. It is called "Rabbit Show Jumping," and kids of all ages are getting in on the fun. Rabbit show jumping started in Sweden in the 1970s when members of a small rabbit club started holding hopping contests for their pets.
At first, the rules were based on horse show jumping, which is an Olympic event. Soon the rules were changed to make them better for bunnies.
Now, each rabbit is led around a course by its owner, using a special leash and harness. In a straight course, the rabbits hop over several jumps made of stacked bars that fall off if the rabbits jump too low. In another event, sometimes called "rabbit agility", the rabbits don’t only jump. They must also make it across or through several "obstacles", such as ramps, bridges, tunnels, and teeter totters. Each rabbit has two minutes to make it through the course,. The goal is for the rabbit to make it through without knocking over any bars or failing on any obstacles. The rabbit with the fewest mistakes wins. If there is a tie, it goes to the faster rabbit. Over time, rabbit jumping became very popular in Sweden.
In 1987, Sweden held its first national contest. Soon, Sweden began working with other countries to help them learn the sport.
Now there are rabbit jumping competitions all over Europe, as well as in Canada, the United States, Australia, and New Zealand. It helps that rabbits are small, cute, cuddly, and smart. Rabbits are popular as pets, especially with people who don’t have room for a larger pet.
And show jumping gives the pets and owners something to do together. Many owners believe the activity is good for the rabbits, since they’re exercising their bodies and minds by running, hopping and thinking. Student clubs like 4-H are also encouraging show jumping. The students learn as they train the rabbits, and the contests are much more interesting than contests based simply on the way the rabbits look. Show jumping is popular with audiences because it’s an unusual contest with cute bunnies. For many people, it’s something they’ve never seen before.
The contests are especially popular with children. The rabbits are usually trained with food rewards and a few gentle pushes in the right direction to help them learn what to do.
But often rabbits don’t need lots of training, since running and jumping are things they like to do anyway. But not every rabbit was born to compete. If a rabbit doesn’t want to hop, it’s never forced to run a course. As one rabbit trainer told the ABC news in Australia, "A lot of people say, ‘How do you know they enjoy it?’ — It’s purely, they hop if they want to."