for National Geographic News
Rabbits are natural-born hoppers, but the lifetime of domesticated
rabbits in the United States is nothing to jump up and down about: many
spend 90 percent of it locked up in a cage.
Linda Hoover hopes to change that.
"I see a lot of waste and non-compassion for the species, and I would like to turn that around to a better way of thinking about rabbits in general," said the resident of a small town near Eugene, Oregon.
Hoover is president of the Rabbit Hopping Organization of America. Rabbit hopping, or rabbit jumping, is a novel sport in which rabbits hop over barriers on a course that resembles that of a horse show event scaled down for bunnies.
The activity, said Hoover, is a healthy way for rabbits to interact with their owners beyond the confines of the cage.
The roots of rabbit hopping are in Sweden, where the sport began in the 1970s. Today, active rabbit hoppers in Scandinavia, the United Kingdom, and Germany number more than 4,000, and an event can be found somewhere in Europe just about every weekend. A major competition draws as many as 200 entrants.
"Owners and rabbits take the competition very seriously," said Sam Lawrie, a rabbit hopper from the United Kingdom. "Traditionally it was a children's sport, but increasingly adults are getting involved too."
The competition involves jumps on a straight or curved course, and prizes are also awarded for the long jump and high jump. A Danish rabbit is the current world record holder for both the long jump, at 9.8 feet (3 meters), and the high jump, at 3.4 feet (one meter).
"There are no American-bred rabbits or American hoppers that can come anywhere close to those heights, as we are just beginning with the sport," said Hoover. The first open competition on U.S. soil will take place in Eugene on July 20.
Practice, Practice, Practice
While rabbits are natural-born hoppers, hopping over barriers around a course surrounded by giddy spectators takes training and a lot of practice, say the sport's proponents.
Lawrie, a seasoned participant, once trained a rabbit in less than four hours to jump 20 inches (half a meter). But most rabbits, he said, require training sessions of about 20 minutes a day for a couple of weeks to prepare for competition.
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