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Competing in 4-H Rabbit Showmanship

Updated on March 6, 2015
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Introduction to Showmanship

Rabbit Showmanship is a class where you show a judge how much you know about rabbits, and how well you handle them. Any rabbit can be used for showmanship, it does not have to be pedigreed, or even a purebred.

Showmanship starts long before the show. Spend time handling your rabbit so it becomes tame and will be calm at the show. Groom your rabbit regularly and feed it a good quality diet.

What to Wear

Normally, you wear black pants and a white, long sleeved shirt with a collar for showmanship. Your individual show’s requirements may be different, so check with an organizer ahead of time. Wear a belt with a plain belt buckle, and be sure to tuck in your shirt! If you have long hair, tie it back neatly. Take off all jewellery and don’t wear bright nail polish. No nail polish is ideal. Remember that you are showing yourself, your rabbit is just a prop. Your appearance is the first thing the judge is going to see, so make it good.

Show Time

On show day, when you are called, you will carry your rabbit to the table and set it down in front of the judge. Make sure your rabbit’s head is tucked under your arm so it feels secure while it is being carried. Don’t drop your rabbit onto the table. Place your rabbit on the table with its head toward the judge. Pose it according to its breed. Refer to a Standard of Perfection if you aren’t sure how your rabbit should be posed. If your rabbit is likely to move around, keep one hand over its eyes. Never lean on the table.

Health Check

At this point, the judge may ask you questions about your rabbit, or may ask you to begin the health check. The general procedure for a health check is as follows.

Check rabbits eyes for blindness by moving your finger towards the rabbit’s eye until it blinks. Don’t practice this manoeuvre too much or the rabbit may get used to it and not blink on the show table. Also, check the eye for abnormal discharge.

Check ears for mites or scabs and show the judge the rabbit’s tattoo if it has one.

Check fur by running your hand backwards over it. If the rabbit’s fur is in good condition, it will ‘flyback’ which means it falls back into place as soon as you move your hand away, unlike a cat or dog’s fur which will stay standing after it’s brushed backwards. When you check the fur, you are also looking for any signs of mange or injuries.

Check the rabbits tail for straightness by holding the end of it and moving it from side to side.

Now it is time to turn your rabbit over. Grasp it firmly by the skin behind its ears and use one hand on its rump to flip it over. This is one skill you want to extensively practice at home. Since rabbits are a prey animal, being flipped over is a very vulnerable position. Practice turning your rabbit over smoothly and firmly so it feels secure and doesn’t get scared. If your rabbit struggles, don’t fight with it, just set it down and start over calmly.

Once the rabbit is on its back, start by checking the nose for discharge. Using your thumb and index finger, gently open the rabbit’s mouth and check the straightness of the teeth. Misaligned teeth are officially called a Malocclusion. It is very important that the teeth are properly aligned so the rabbit can eat properly. Rabbits with a malocclusion should not be used for breeding.

Move down the rabbit’s body and straighten each front leg by pressing on the elbow joint. This will show that each leg is straight and strong. Use your fingers to check the inside of the front legs for any signs of wetness or matting. Any discharge from the nose, or wetness inside the paws may mean the rabbit has snuffles. If any signs of snuffles are seen, the rabbit should be immediately removed from the table and isolated from all the other rabbits, then taken home as soon as possible as it may be highly contagious. Next, check the front feet for injuries, and claws that are broken, or the wrong colour for the rabbit’s variety.

Run your hand down the abdomen, checking for lumps of abscesses. Most abscesses are caused by a similar bacteria to the one that causes snuffles, so they are very undesirable. They are only contagious if they are broken, so they are not as much as a risk as a sneezing rabbit.

Straighten the rear legs by pressing on the hip joint. Then check the rear feet. All four feet of the rabbit’s feet should be thickly furred to help prevent hutch injuries. If a rabbit is kept on a wire floor, they sometimes can end up rubbing their feet so much they get sores. If this is happening, put a board or a small piece of drywall in the cage so the rabbit can sit on it.

Show the judge the rabbit’s sex, and tell them what sex your rabbit is if they ask.

Gently turn your rabbit back over and place it on the table In the proper pose for its breed.

Being able to perform a health check is very important. You should check your rabbits regularly, especially before and after shows. Never take a sick rabbit to a show. It’s also important to observe your rabbits after a show in case they have picked up a disease at the show.

If the judge hasn’t already asked you questions, they will probably do it now. Prepare for the questions ahead of time by studying any reference material that your 4-H Leader has given you. Also make sure you know your rabbit’s breed, sex, and age. It’s also a good idea to learn your rabbit’s strengths and weaknesses, and if it has any disqualifications that would prohibit it from entering in an open show.

Get familiar with basic rabbit diseases too. Know that the gestation of a rabbit is 31 days, and that a nestbox should be placed in the rabbit cage on the 28th day.

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Be prepared to answer questions about your rabbit and rabbits in general. If you don’t know the answer, say so, but remember to always be polite about it. Speak clearly and slowly when you answer questions. You may be nervous, but try not to show it. The judge is looking for someone who calmly and accurately handles their rabbit, and someone who has a great deal of knowledge about their rabbit. Some judges will ask a lot of questions, some just a few. As you show more and more, you will gain more confidence and learn more.

So the bottom line is, spend time practicing at home, prepare your appearance, and be as calm and confident as possible. If you follow these steps, rabbit showmanship should become a lot of fun.

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