In 1993, when my boys were 5 and 8 years old, they each decided they wanted a rabbit. We were lucky enough to buy two from a breeder who had just visited Sweden for a rabbit-hopping event. The breeder also introduced our local rabbit breeding club to hopping, and we quickly joined the group.
Our rabbits, Karla and Ninka, were good hoppers, and both ended up in the best class at 50 centimeters (20 inches). My boys started training the rabbits at a local nature center where we were allowed to keep our supplies, such as the carpets and obstacles. My youngest boy, Anders, was too small to participate in the training, so our oldest son, Rasmus took over. Soon I bought my own rabbit and started training, but he was never as good as Karla and Ninka!
Some of our rabbits lived to the age of 3 and others to the age of 10. Currently, I have six rabbits and Rasmus has two.
Rabbit Training Basics
Depending on your individual rabbit, the hopping training could take two or three years before a rabbit is good enough to compete in the elite class. Training doesn’t always come easy, and it doesn't always work out. Put the rabbit’s interests first and foremost — if it doesn’t like hopping, don’t force it. Some rabbits, however, seem destined for competitive hopping.
Before you even start hopping, train your rabbit to walk in a harness and leash for a few weeks. Not until your rabbit is comfortable in the leash should you move on to the next level. This training can start when the rabbit is as young as 4 months old. I just got a new rabbit, Saxo, three weeks ago, and I trained him in two evenings with two 10-minute sessions. I placed him in the easy class — consisting of eight jumps that are 25 centimeters (10 inches) high — of our club’s Christmas event. He finished his first run with one fault and the second run with zero faults,. The entire course took him 18 seconds. In short, he’s a natural.
We train our rabbits outdoors from spring to fall, but during winter we use a big barn at a nature center.
I am now the president of our local club, The Rabbit Breeding Club of Horsens and Surrounding, which is the biggest hopping club in Denmark. I am also a member of the Rabbit Hopping Committee under the Danish Rabbit Breeding Organization, where we talk about the rules and change them when necessary. In Denmark, we have about 300 hoppers spread out among 10 rabbit hopping clubs. At our last Danish Championship (hosted by our club arranged it here in Horsens), we had more than 300 participants.
Ready, Set, Jump...
To train a rabbit for hopping, you need a harness and leash, at least five to six obstacles and a lot of patience! Your obstacles do not need to be elaborate. We use a foot-length of wood with a blunt end measuring about 20 by 20 centimeters (8 by 8 inches, two posts measuring 50 centimeters (20 inches) each and some staples to put into the posts (to hold the bars). You also need some bars for the rabbit to hop over. We use electrician pipes. You can elaborate on this design once the rabbit becomes comfortable with hopping.
You won’t be able to force your rabbit to jump. It needs to hop through the course on its own. In Denmark, the rabbit is allowed two tries on the course. For beginners, there are eight jumps. Elite rabbits do 12 jumps at 50 centimeters (20 inches) in height.
During judging, we first consider the number of faults or mistakes a rabbit made. The rabbit with the fewest faults wins. If two rabbits tied, however, we’ll look at their times. The faster rabbit wins.
To qualify as a judge, you must train under a sanctioned judge for 10 events. You also need to pass a written test. The rules are a bit involved, but the most important rule is to be good to the rabbit and take it out of a competition if it doesn’t like it.
The Danes’ enthusiasm for the sport continues to grow, and other countries are catching on, too. In the United States, Linda Hoover started up rabbit hopping in 2002. I visited her to help translate the rules. (Our rules for rabbit hopping are translated from Swedish. It was fairly easy for us to understand, however, because we could visit Sweden to see how they hopped their rabbits.)
My son and I host a rabbit hopping website, and you are welcome to visit it for suggestions. You can find a copy of our rabbit hopping rules, as well as a large group of rabbit hopping enthusiasts at the Yahoo rabbit hopping group, search for one here.
Competitive Rabbit Hopping
We have so much fun training our rabbits and going to events. We meet rabbit hopping friends there, we shout with joy when somebody wins, we buy rabbit kits from each other, and we travel many kilometers across the country to take part in these competitions.
I recommend rabbit hopping from the bottom of my heart. It’s a great way to bond with your rabbit, too.