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Rabbit showing is fairly inexpensive, fun, and relatively easy. Like any showing, there’s always some drama involved, but as long as you steer clear of it and stick to what’s important, you can absolutely enjoy rabbit showing and learn a whole lot from the experience. That being said, if you don’t know what to expect or what will be expected of you the day of, then it can be very overwhelming and intimidating.
Rabbit shows are unique in that it isn’t the animals competing as much as it is the breeders competing. In horse or dog shows, for example, every animal is important and you can be successful with only one animal. In rabbit shows, each breeder brings their current “show string” of rabbits to compare them to their competition. Rabbit shows are not based on performance, but rather almost entirely on the animal’s physical appearance. Judges use the Standard of Perfection published by the American Rabbit Breeders Association (ARBA) which sets out a written ideal of each breed.
You do NOT have to be a member of ARBA to show your rabbits at ARBA-sanctioned shows. When ARBA sanctions a show, it means that the show is an official ARBA show and your rabbit may earn “legs” or points toward a grand championship. It takes three legs, one of those being as a senior, for your rabbit to earn a grand championship. To find your local ARBA-sanctioned shows, visit: https://www.arba.net/showsSearch.php
Sometimes shows will offer specialty shows for sanctioned breeds. This means that the breed club for that breed has sanctioned the show and it’s basically a bonus show. The breed club earns points from showing a rabbit at that show. Many shows can only give BOB/BOS awards for sanctioned breeds. At ARBA-sanctioned shows, all breeds are sanctioned by ARBA. Breed sweepstakes are more for the advanced rabbit shower. They are points breeders may earn within their breed club.
State and county fairs, as well as 4-H groups, often host rabbit shows that are not ARBA-sanctioned. They work a little differently and you will not earn points or legs toward a grand championship, but they can still be a lot of fun.
Not every rabbit can or should be entered into a show. All show rabbits must be purebred, but just being a purebred doesn’t mean your rabbit is good enough quality to do well. All show rabbits must have excellent fur and flesh condition. They must be balanced in body, head, ear shape and length. Their color and pattern (variety) must be accepted and good for their breed. Every breed has its own ideal qualities and it can take a lot of practice to learn exactly what to look for. ARBA publishes the Standard of Perfection book (SOP) which may be purchased on the ARBA website for $20. Everyone interested in showing should invest in the current copy of the SOP, since it sets out the standard that your rabbit will be judged by. Fur and flesh condition are two prime considerations when selecting your rabbits. Do not enter a rabbit if it isn’t in the peak of condition, because quite frankly it won’t be able to compete. Also check for disqualifying features such as crooked teeth, spots of the wrong color fur, or off-color eyes or toenails.
Show classes are divided by breed, variety (color and pattern), sex, and age. There are 4-class rabbits which are divided into two age classifications, Junior (under 6 months) and Senior (over 6 months). And there are 6-class rabbits which are divided into Junior (under 6 months), Intermediate (between 6 and 8 months), and Senior (over 8 months). Some of these ages vary based on breed. Refer to the SOP for details on each specific breed. There are weight limits for each age class, and if your rabbit exceeds the weight limit most (but not all) breeds allow rabbits to be bumped up to a higher age class.
It’s important to understand what variety your rabbit will be shown in, which is where the SOP book can come in handy. For example, in Rex, all broken patterns of accepted colors show together as Broken. Shows are also divided by Youth and Open. Youth participants between the ages of 5 and 18 may participate in the Youth shows, and everyone may participate in Open; however, youth participants may not show the same rabbit in both Youth and Open on the same day. In our area, there are often two Open shows and one or two Youth shows on the same day.