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Moving forward in leaps and bounds

By Staff | Feb 8, 2016

ANNA LEWANDOWSKI, of Fort Dodge, guides her rabbit over hurdles set up during a recent practice of the Webster County 4-H Rabbit Hopping project at the Webster County Fairgrounds. Since the club is still new, its members won’t be competing for ribbons at the county fair, but group leaders said they will conduct demonstrations and do rabbit hopping runs to share information about the sport.

By DAWN BLISS

“mailto:dbliss@messengernews.net”>dbliss@messengernews.net

FORT DODGE – The Webster County 4-H Rabbit Hopping Club is moving forward by leaps and bounds, but organizers said plenty of potential still lies ahead.

“I’m just astonished,” said Charlotte Hippen, the group leader. “We have about 20 kids involved and this is its first year.

“We’re doing pretty good.”

Jubilee Cuningan, left, and her mother, Angie Cuningan, center, and Alyssa Speck, all of Dayton, ready their rabbits for a recent rabbit hopping practice at the Webster County Fairgrounds by putting on harnesses and leashes.

Rabbit hopping began as a 4-H project in the fall after junior leader Alexis Stuhrenberg, 15, of Fort Dodge, presented the sport for a leadership project at the Webster County Fair.

“She really got the ball rolling,” Hippen said.

Stuhrenberg saw a similar demonstration at the Clay County Fair in Spencer and said she thought her rabbits just might be up to the task, too.

She took the idea to her fellow members of the rabbit showing project and explained the concept to them to garner interest and support.

“I liked the idea of them jumping over obstacles,” Stuhrenberg said, “and it’s a fun way to spend more time with them.

“I really enjoy rabbits. People think they are just these blank creatures, but they have quite the personality.”

Hippen agreed, adding that personality is brought out by participating in the sport.

“Some rabbits do really, really well,” she said. “Then one day, they don’t. It just really depends on their personalities and what they’re feeling like doing that day.”

In competition, the rabbits are placed on a straight track with spaced hurdles of differing heights then timed as they hop their way down the track.

The animals wear a harness and leash, but the youth are not allowed to tug on the leash to force a jump. They can only encourage the rabbit to clear the hurdle by “tickling” its rear end, offering a treat or, if they’re willing to accept a time penalty, they can lift the rabbit over the hurdle.

“It’s kind of hard to teach people not to pull on the leashes,” Stuhrenberg said. “For the rabbits, it’s hard to get them to go, but it’s going better because some of the rabbits are figuring it out.

“They’re starting to understand what we’re asking them to do.”

After all, she said, it’s a behavior that just comes naturally to them.

Since it’s still new to the county, rabbit hopping won’t lead to winning ribbons at the fair just yet; however, Hippen said the club will do demonstrations and conduct some jumps so people can learn more about the animals and the sport.

“Once the kids are more comfortable and the rabbits have a handle on things, it’s be nice to work up to a competition,” she said.

In fact, as both the animals and the youth gain experience, Hippen said it would be nice to add more events.

Possibilities include a long jump and a high jump, or the club could even just design a harder course and add different obstacles.

Rabbit hopping has been demonstrated at the Iowa State Fair since 2013, and active rabbit hopping clubs have been established across the state, including in Story and Clay counties, as well as Clayton, Black Hawk and Jefferson counties.

Scandinavia is often credited with first developing the sport in the 1970s.

It then spread across Europe before arriving in the United States and sparking interest.

It has steadily been gaining participation in the Midwest over the past decade.

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