A well-trained and groomed animal with a rich, soft coat, Paper Planes zipped neatly through the course. Over this obstacle and then the next.
She listened to her commands. She performed perfectly for the crowds at the Pennsylvania Farm Show.
So is Paper Planes a horse? A dog?
No. She’s a hippity-hoppity, cotton-tailed ball of fluff. Paper Planes, to be specific, is a 1-year-old broken black Britannia petite doe rabbit.
Her owner is Sydney Turner, 17, of Philipsburg, a home-schooled high school junior and treasurer of the Thundering Hoofbeats 4-H Club of Clearfield County. Turner has been active in 4-H since she was 5, but she jumped into the relatively new world of rabbit hopping when she was about 10.
The American Hopping Association for Rabbits and Cavies was established in 2013, given the green light by the American Rabbit Breeders Association, but the sport has its roots in Sweden in the 1970’s. Harnessed rabbits on 4-to-6-foot leashes are put through their paces going over jumps. They are scored on the amount of time it takes to go through the course and how many faults, like knocking a pole of a jump, are committed as they do.
If that sounds a lot like horse jumping, it is. Turner said there is a lot of crossover in the communities.
“There are a lot of horse people in rabbits and a lot of show jumping kids do rabbit hopping, too, because it’s less expensive, less space,” she said.
But aside from being smaller than horses and eating a lot less, the animals have to be willing to get involved in what’s going on.
“The rabbits have to be able to hop,” said Turner, who likes her breed best for the sport.
“They tend to be more active. They like to move more. They have more character, have more spunk. They’re more of a get-up-and-go type of rabbit,” she said.
At the farm show, Turner and Paper Planes were paired up with state Sen. Lisa Boscola, D-Bethlehem Township, in a celebrity rabbit hopping event, with the trio taking first place, zipping through the course in just seven seconds with no faults.
Garrett Peters, of Mifflin County 4-H, took second place with his English spot rabbit Blu and ABC 27 television personality Amy Kehm. Clinton County 4-H’s Madison Weaver and her Brittania petite Nicole were paired with farm show executive director Sharon Atland. They took third place in the field of seven hoppers.
Turner has also done rabbit hopping closer to home. She was in similar competition at the Grange and Encampment and Fair. She says the activity increases how enjoyable the pets can be.
“With rabbit hopping, you get to do more. You don’t just put it on the show table. It adds more to what you can do with rabbit,” she said. “Go to your local 4-H club and see if they offer rabbit hopping.”