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At the fair: Rabbit Barn hosts competitive rabbit hopping

Rabbits hop, of course. Now some North Carolina rabbits have a chance to do it competitively in their own state.

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Sarah Lindenfeld Hall

Rabbits hop, of course. Now some North Carolina rabbits have a chance to do it competitively in their own state.

For the first time, this year's N.C. State Fair featured a competitive rabbit hopping event. Here, the long-eared animals of various breeds were led, by leash, through a gauntlet of eight jumps. This year, five rabbits competed over the weekend. Throughout the rest of the fair, they'll be doing regular rabbit hopping demonstrations in the Rabbit Barn.

Kristen Bruce, the fair's rabbit superintendent and Forsyth County rabbit breeder, introduced rabbit hopping demonstrations last year to the fair and the Got to Be NC Festival. The sport, which started in Europe and also is popular in Canada, is gaining momentum here in the United States.

The demonstrations and competition help to combat the common misconception, Bruce said, that pet rabbits should just hang out in their cages. In fact, she said, they can be easily litter box trained and trusted to roam through a house (when the owner is home). And, for those rabbits with the right disposition, they can even be trained to compete in rabbit hopping contests.

"We really want to see them excel," she said. "It keeps them lean and fit and healthy."

Bruce saw the sport online and wanted to try it. She contacted a jump maker and met up with Paige Smith, a Kernersville, N.C., teen whose rabbit won first place in the American Rabbit Breeders Association hopping contest in 2014. Paige did most of the demonstrations at last year's fair. Soon Bruce, her children and their rabbits were involved in the sport.

Not any rabbit is right for competition, Bruce said. They need to be highly social and also enjoy agility. The rabbits aren't motivated by treats to jump over the hurdles, so they must naturally be interested in taking part. Owners can help to gently coax them along the course by softly patting them with their hand, for instance. People who kick the rabbits or use their feet in any way are immediately disqualified.

The main hurdle for owners, Bruce said, is to get the rabbit used to the harness and leash, which typically extends about four to six feet.

"Once you conquered that, it's gravy," she said.

Bruce has made other additions to the rabbit barn. For the first year, this year, cavies (better known as guinea pigs) are on display. Last year, she also started pulling rabbits out for fairgoers to pet. Rabbits rotate throughout the day for petting. Some cavies also will be pulled out.

About 200 rabbits of all shapes and sizes - ranging from about 3.5 pounds to 20 pounds - are on display.

Just know there are two rules when you walk through the Rabbit Barn: Don't stick your fingers in the cages. And don't feed the rabbits.

Bruce said she hopes visitors will walk through, learn more about the wide variety of breeds and consider taking on a rabbit or cavy (pronounced like Navy) for a pet. In fact, if you have any rabbit questions, Bruce said she'd love to answer them. You can find her at the fair through Sunday and also contact her by email at NCSFRabbitBarn@gmail.com.

The fair runs through Sunday. The Rabbit Barn is across from the Hobbies and Crafts Building.

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