By BRENNA GRITEMAN
In choosing the right fuzzy subject to introduce to the sport of bunny hopping, Tammy Mazzaferro suggests: “The psycho bunny in the cage, that’s your hopper.”
A rabbit who just wants to laze about all day being petted and eating clover, for instance, is not a good candidate for running quickly down an 80-foot row of colorful mats and hopping over 10 bunny-size hurdles to the finish line. An energetic bunny with a bit of pep in its step, however, might just be a champion hopper.
Mazzaferro, secretary of the American Hopping Association, brought these and other tips and tricks to spectators at the Hancock County Fair on Sunday afternoon for a friendly demonstration.
She set up two mini courses, with no jumps taller than 8 inches, simply to introduce the sport to local 4-H’ers who might want to begin training rabbits for a future foray into bunny hopping.
“We want to encourage as many people in the county as we can to get involved with this,” Mazzaferro said.
Bev Welty, superintendent of the rabbit barn, agreed rabbit hopping was new to the fair this year, but she and other organizers are hoping it catches on.
“We’re trying to get it into Hancock County. Build some interest,” she said.
Judging by the smiles and the sea of all-ages spectators taking in the demonstration, it seems a likely addition. There also seemed no limit to the number of local children lining up after the demonstration to try their hand at hopping the rabbits down the course.
Placing a harness on the first of the day’s hoppers, Belgium, Mazzaferro explained the goal of rabbit hopping is similar to horse show jumping: the subject runs through the course without knocking down the rails, “as fast as you can.”
Belgium, who’s been “hopping” since 2013, seemed unwavered by the noise of the tractor pull in the distance. What he was distracted by, however, was a small crowd of people sitting near the finish line. Belgium ran the course like a pro, without knocking down any rails, simply to stand hesitantly before the last of the hurdles, unsure he wanted to get any closer to the audience members.
Mazzaferro explained while the rabbits are trained in loud environments for this specific purpose, they are by nature “very, very inquisitive” and “tend to get a little distracted.”
She added “every rabbit runs,” with the absolute most difficult part of training is getting them to start and stop on command.
Sergeant, a black-and-white Checkered Giant who lived up to his breed name, was by far the quickest of the rabbits to travel the length of the course, despite Mazzaferro explaining “he has just started his hopping career.” Sergeant, too, paused hesitantly before the finish line, but with just a bit of friendly prodding, hopped gracefully over the last hurdle.
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