February 05, 2010 07:00 PM

It’s been around in Scandinavia since the late ’70s, and now rabbit jumping may be coming to a garden near you.

Similar to show jumping in the equestrian world, in rabbit jumping – also known as rabbit hopping – bunnies race around a straight or a “crooked” course with the object of clearing several jumps under a certain amount of time. Or, separately, the rabbits perform long and high jumps, with rules varying by country and competition.

For years, it’s been a beloved hobby of schoolchildren in places like Sweden and Denmark, where rabbits are often kept as pets and rabbit jumping clubs host monthly competitions drawing hundreds of participants. In the mid-’90s, rabbit jumping came to the U.S. thanks to the efforts of Linda Hoover, 60, a professional pet sitter from Eugene, Ore., who stumbled upon the sport on the Internet.

With the help of a friend in Denmark, Hoover translated the “hundreds of rules” to English, and founded the Rabbit Hopping Organization of America, which she ran for a decade before shifting the group to the web.

Since then, she and Roger, her mini rex rabbit, have competed in several races.

“He loved it,” says Hoover of her pet, now 9 years old and retired. “He picked up on it right away. He just flew right through the jumps.”

While the hobby hasn’t gained a ton of traction here in the United States– “mainly because kids aren’t brought up here as much with rabbits as pets,” Hoover says–in the U.K., it’s beginning to hop.

Rabbit breeder Maureen Hoyle, 63, a retiree and grandmother of three from Huddersfield, England, founded Rabbit Jumping UK in 2008 after visiting a fellow rabbit lover in Sweden.

“I thought, ‘This could be interesting!’ ” says Hoyle, who keeps about 30 rabbits at home. “I thought I’d go home and try it.” Since then, her group’s 12 members have gathered every few months to jump their rabbits.

For would-be rabbit racers, both Hoyle and Hoover recommend hitting the web. There, prospective jumpers can find rules and instructions on how to train their bunnies, who should be old enough to begin learning the ropes at 4 months. Then, invest in a harness and a lead, and start small.

One simple exercise: “Put your rabbit a bit away from his cage, and place a jump in between,” says Hoyle, “so it has to jump to get back. Then, reward them afterwards. My little jumper used to follow me anywhere for a piece of celery!”

Any breed can jump, they say, although the smaller ones tend to do better. Still, not every bunny is a competitor.

“There are some lazy, fat rabbits out there that just won’t jump,” she says. “But most of them love it!”

For more information on how you can get your bunny started, visit this Yahoo group or check out the Web site of Rabbit Jumping UK.

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