Grace Kasianides, 11, did so well in so many categories for her age group at the Pennsylvania State Rabbit Breeders Association (PaSRBA) convention earlier this month, she was awarded a royal title.
“I got the highest amount of points in (the royalty) competition. So I won the title of PaSRBA Princess for 2020,” she said.
Back home in Loudoun County 4-H, Grace develops her bunny acumen in a number of ways.
“I am in the rabbit hopping club, which trains them how to hop, and then I’m in Leaps and Squeaks, which is more of a showing club,” she said.
While Grace excelled at educational aspects, such as breed identification, showmanship and judging to earn her title, her sister’s team received first place in the beginner team relay.
“We had the fastest time with zero faults,” Eleni Kasianides, 16, said of winning with her rabbit, Hazel, and teammates Sarah Burns with her bunny, Yogi, and Alisa Hart with Cocoa Bean.
But not all rabbits are easy to train, Eleni Kasianides said.
“It really depends on every rabbit. Just like some dogs are motivated by praise and other dogs are food-motivated, rabbits are the same way. On an actual competition course,” Eleni Kasianides said, “no treats are allowed.”
The first big obstacle trainers face is to get them to “walk” in a straight line, which Eleni Kasianides said is directly against rabbits’ natural instincts.
Eleni Kasianides enjoys the sport so much, she said she imagines growing up to be “the crazy rabbit lady,” dragging her kids to shows every weekend.
There never has to be an end to training, she said, because there are always more difficult courses to try.
“It’s just a continuation of you as the handler growing and your rabbit growing and discipline and your skill increasing,” Eleni Kasianides noted.
Eleni and Grace are home-schooled and their mom, Jennifer Kasianides, is one of their 4-H rabbit hopping coaches.
Jennifer Kasianides said working with animals in 4-H assists child development.
Children gain confidence, become more comfortable with the public, learn to work with others and develop leadership skills, she said.
“I’ve seen several people join our club and be very shy and soft-spoken. And after a few years of being around the other members and being encouraged to do small presentations, they’re actually stepping up into leadership roles and they’re teaching lessons in our club,” Jennifer Kasianides said.
In Virginia, 4-H is run through Virginia Tech and with local Cooperative Extensions that Jennifer Kasianides recommends parents explore.
“For parents who are looking for an activity that’s going to enrich the lives of their children, they should really check in with their local 4-H extension office and see what programs are available in their area,” Jennifer Kasianides said.