Sometimes your bunny just doesn’t have the get up and go.
That’s what a few rabbit-hopping contestants found out Sunday afternoon at the N.C. State Fair.
It was hot and sticky inside the rabbit barn, with noisy people shuffling by. Some of the rabbits stared down the tiny versions of steeplechase-style jumps and declined to participate, despite gentle nudges from their trainers to their hind parts.
Bob, a beautiful brown Mini Lop, wasn’t in the mood for much hopping. “It’s really stressful,” said Katie Haynes, 17, of Youngsville, who did her best to coax Bob through the course. “On the rabbits and on the humans.”
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Caramel, on the other hand, whisked through the course in seconds, ultimately winning a first-place ribbon for his owner, Amber Chamblee, 12, of Zebulon. At 5 pounds, with a luxurious brown-and-white coat, Caramel has been jumping since he was 6 months old.
“He loves it,” Chamblee said. She has her own course at home, where her family has five rabbits.
The rabbit-hopping competition Sunday was more than an adorable diversion. It’s a sport that has strict rules about breeds, jumping equipment and safety for the animals. The rabbits are guided with leashes with special harnesses.
“It’s very new in the state,” said Kristen Bruce Allen, a previous rabbit superintendent at the State Fair barn. “It’s been going on in Europe and Canada for a long time.”
The State Fair event is sanctioned by the American Rabbit Breeders Association. The national group held its convention in Indianapolis earlier this month, an event that drew owners and 20,000 rabbits from around the country. Show rabbits are serious business. They are registered and pedigreed, tattooed on their left ears.
Allen said animal safety is the top concern at hopping competitions. If a rabbit doesn’t want to jump, its owner will eventually pick it up and the next contestant is up. “Some rabbits like it,” Allen said. “Some don’t.”
Raising and training rabbits is a way for kids to get experience in urban farming, Allen said.
Kayley Lackey, 11, had a successful run with her rabbit, Boots, who won first place in the easy course competition. He zipped over most of the hurdles, only hesitating before the last one. He momentarily got flustered, and turned to go in the opposite direction, but eventually made it over the final jump to applause.
“What you do, is you have to practice with your rabbit,” Lackey said. “The more you practice with your rabbit, the better he gets.”