1/11/2014 7:00 AM
By Jessica Rose Spangler Reporter
HARRISBURG, Pa. — “Put your right foot forward. Put your left foot out. Do the Bunny Hop. Hop, hop, hop!”
Those lyrics to the 1952 song by Ray Anthony are hardly unheard of, but before Jan. 5, they weren’t directly associated with the Pennsylvania Farm Show in Harrisburg.
A new event added this year to the 98th Farm Show schedule was the Celebrity Rabbit Hopping Contest. As the Bunny Hop song played in the small arena, the crowd got more and more excited to see the six rabbits complete the obstacle course.
As the tiny competitors made their practice runs and those in attendance got a first look at the rabbits’ talents, laughter echoed through the halls of the Farm Show Complex.
Pennsylvania Agriculture Secretary George Greig kicked off the inaugural competition by telling spectators their attendance would go down in history as being part of the first ever Rabbit Hopping Competition at the Farm Show, something he hopes will continue into the future.
Spectators were asked to “wager” their bets on which rabbit would win by writing their names on a slip of paper and putting them in the bag representing their rabbit of choice.
“We’re not here just to offer something to pet,” said Lori Jo Whitehaus, representing the Pennsylvania State Rabbit Breeders Association. We’re at Farm Show “as a commodity source — meat and angora fiber.
“The concept of rabbit hopping has been popular in Europe and in the western parts of the U.S. for many years. It is just catching on in our area,” she said.
Rabbit hopping was added as a competition to this year’s Farm Show schedule because of the interest it generated when the American Rabbit Breeders Association held their annual convention at the Farm Show Complex in October, said Erin Smith, executive policy specialist with the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture. “After hearing about rabbit hopping, the staff at the Farm Show thought it sounded exciting and interesting and so the planning process began for the 2014 Farm Show inaugural rabbit hopping competition.”
According to Whitehaus, the world record for the highest rabbit jump is 39.2 inches and the longest jump is 9 feet, 10 inches.
She also noted that no particular rabbit breed has a hopping advantage.
“As for training, rabbits naturally hop, but some are more curious than others for hopping over large jumps. When some are very interested, then working with them daily or several times a week gets them excited to immediately hop when presented with the jumps,” Whitehaus said.
Whitehaus then explained how the competition works. The course is composed of a 60-foot straight track with jumps 6 feet apart. There are 11 jumps in total with varying heights and widths. The rabbit that runs the entire length of the course in the quickest time and knocks over the least jumps is deemed the winner.
Each rabbit must wear a shoulder harness and a leash. At the Farm Show, the celebrity role was to hold the leash and guide the rabbit, but not necessarily pull them, toward the jumps. The 4-H’er, who was also the owner and trainer of the rabbit, offered the rabbit taps of encouragement to keep it moving.
Tim Lambert, from public radio station WITF, was paired with 4-H’er Christina Coder and her rabbit, Tigerlilly.
Christine Greig, wife of Pennsylvania Agriculture Secretary George Greig, was partnered with 4-H’er Sydney Turner and her rabbit, Cooper.
Eric Finkenbinder, meteorologist with television’s ABC 27, worked with 4-H’er Alexis Steele and her rabbit, Roo. Finkenbinder is a former 4-H member from Perry County, Pa., and coincidentally, showed rabbits.
Rabbit Bentley and owner Maddie McFarland were paired with Senator Pat Vance, R-Cumberland and York counties.
Televisions station WGAL 8 meteorologist Matt Moore worked with rabbit Prince and owner Katya Ivanovski.
The sixth and final competitor was Representative Patti Kim, D-Dauphin County, who was paired with Robert Vaerewyck and his 18-pound rabbit, Nemo.
While all the rabbits drew cheers and applause from the audience, it was Prince that really got the crowd laughing. As Moore and Ivanovski were coaxing Prince toward the second-to-last jump, the rabbit decided he didn’t want to hurdle over five rungs on the jump. Instead, he used his nose to push the middle three posts out and crawled through.
By the end, it was Christine Greig, Sydney Turner and Cooper that came out on top. Unlike other Farm Show competitions, the rabbit hopping competition did not award premiums to the participants — it was a demonstration done for fun.
Turner is the 14-year-old daughter of Sally and Mark Turner of State College, Pa. Cooper is one of her 15 Black English Spot rabbits that she breeds and raises.
Sydney started training Cooper to jump when he was 3-1/2 months old; he’s 1 year old now.
“He wanted to do it. He was eager to start training,” she said. “He has lots of energy and likes to show off.”
“This was a lot of fun,” Christine Greig said. “I’m really impressed with how eager (the rabbits) were to jump. The dedication and determination these kids put into this is so admirable. That’s what it’s all about — the kids.”
The sponsors for the event were the Pennsylvania State Rabbit Breeders Association and the Friends of the Pennsylvania Farm Show Foundation Inc. They donated an angora scarf that was awarded to Greig and three packs of rabbit sticks that were given to spectators — three names that were drawn from Cooper’s bag.