Oh yes, this is a thing. Rabbit showjumping, bunny agility or Kaninhop (rabbit hopping), is an actual sport, which is practiced mostly in Scandinavian countries. I came across this adorable occupation while researching rabbit enrichment on the internet. Sadly, I have never had the chance to actually witness a competition – as far as I know, it isn’t practiced in Israel or the Netherlands. But we have friends in Sweden, so who knows, we might be able to visit them one day and watch a Kaninhop event! 😉
Apparently, rabbit agility was developed in Sweden in the 1970s and was originally modelled after horse showjumping, but later adjusted to better suit rabbits. I imagine people getting together and going: “Well, it seems that rabbits are a lot smaller than horses, so I suppose we have to downscale the size of the hurdles.” Also, there was the slight but very real problem of rabbits running off and practicing uncontrolled breeding (I know all about that!), so at competitions, the rabbits are required to be leashed at all times.
Rabbits are actually surprisingly trainable. They can be trained to use a litter box, to come when called (a lot of treats will go into that one) and – there you go – to jump up or over things. They are playful and love to run and jump. I can see how you could persuade a rabbit to jump over hurdles, run through tunnels and open cat flaps. Unfortunately, for my rabbits, it is most of the time too hot here for them to do anything but lie flat out in the shade. But when it is cool, I love to watch their antics when I let them out to run. They jump, dig, investigate cats and chickens and are generally very inquisitive and adorable. Their jumps are usually so fast that I never manage to catch them on camera – or when I do, it comes out as a blur, like in this photograph:
Not every rabbit is suited to showjumping, as they have different temperaments and abilities. I imagine the rabbit must be energetic and agile, but must also be friendly and willing to please people. Apparently, very young rabbits must wait before being trained, as the jumping can damage their bones. Training must be based on positive reinforcement, with treats and clickers being used to teach the rabbits to conquer barriers.
There are some advantages associated with rabbit agility, such as physical fitness, mental stimulation and bonding between rabbit and human. I can see how these little showjumpers will have a fun life and will never be bored!
But I can see a couple of disadvantages too, first and foremost: the transportation to events. In my experience, rabbits hate travelling and it causes them a lot of stress. I think you must have a very even-tempered rabbit to be able to drive him across the country and expect him to jump well in totally unfamiliar surroundings. Also, separation from companions will be a stress factor. Rabbits bond very closely but strangely, also forget this bond soon – after a long vet visit, sometimes previously bonded rabbits will no longer recognize each other. I have this problem every time a rabbit gets sick and needs to be separated for a while. It is very hard to re-integrate this rabbit back into his/her previous group.
But if you were to do this purely for fun, without bringing your rabbit to competitions? If you’d just set up a course in your backyard and teach your bun to jump/run it? I think that would be fantastic! That would give you all the benefits without any of the drawbacks. The rabbits and humans would all stay in shape and have fun. It might be something to consider! The children would love it no end, that’s for sure!
As an end note, here are a couple of very cute and funny videos for your entertainment!
I especially like how they are able to jump from a complete standstill, and how the floppy ears of the lop-ears flap around 🙂
I have actually tried this with our Rhode Island Red hen Roni – and it worked surprisingly well! Amazing what she is willing to do for cat kibble! 😉