Lionhead Rabbit Breed Now Recognized By ARBA

The American Rabbit Breeders Association recognized the Lionhead breed during its 90th annual convention this week.

Lionhead rabbit in show cage
© Marylou Zarbock
The Lionhead rabbit is know for the mane of fur encircling its head. 
This Lionhead was at a show previous to recognition of the breed.

The Lionhead rabbit breed is now recognized in two varieties by the American Rabbit Breeders Association. Recognition took place at the annual ARBA convention held in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, October 19 to 23, 2013. The Lionhead is now the 48th rabbit breed recognized by ARBA.

The date of the recognition occurred on October 22, and the varieties recognized are the ruby-eyed white and tortoise. These varieties will be eligible to compete for ARBA Grand Champions and Best In Show awards beginning on February 1, 2014.

This recognition was a day that was more than a decade in the making, and the news brought cheers and applause from those watching the presentation at the convention.

Theresa Mueller and Cheryl Rafoth of Washington are the two rabbit breeders who have been working together for the past four years to get Lionheads recognized. Mueller said she’s learned to expect the unexpected while going through the long process of gaining ARBA recognition for a breed.

“I cannot say it was expected, but I can say we could not have been more prepared than we were,” Mueller said. “We arrived in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, from Seattle, Washington with 36 rabbits from which to put up 12 that would be inspected by the ARBA Standards Committee — an entire year of hard work to prove to the committee that Lionheads were ready to be recognized!”

And when the announcement came of success?

“There are truly no words to describe that feeling,” Mueller said. “This has been a very long road, and it was paved by two breeders before me that put just as much blood, sweat and tears into it.  Knowing the hopes of the entire community of Lionhead breeders depended on whether we were successful at our own personal breeding program over the past four years is truly a heavy load!  Knowing they all had faith we would get it done was even more pressure. So the fact we were able to deliver on that faith is truly beyond words.”

Mueller said that she and Rafoth could not have achieved this success without their friendship. “When one of us was feeling too overwhelmed by the process or disappointed in what we were producing, the other was there to keep the process going,” Mueller said. “This was a testament to what the power of friendship can do!”

Mueller foresees a bright future for the Lionhead.

“I believe their popularity will skyrocket with recognition of the breed by the American Rabbit Breeders Association,” she said. “I get goose bumps thinking about a Lionhead actually being able to compete for Best In Show awards at the ARBA Convention in Texas in 2014.  I look forward to the first time a Lionhead wins Best In Show!”

According to the North American Lionhead Rabbit Club, which was formed in September 2001, the breed first arrived in the United States in the early 2000s when rabbit breeder JoAnne Statler of Minnesota imported five from Europe. Various rabbit breeders across the country have worked on developing the Lionhead, and ARBA has granted several Certificates of Development.

Arden Wetzel and Gail Gibbons were the first breeders to present Lionheads at the ARBA convention for recognition, but they did not have success. It takes three successful presentations in five years for ARBA to recognize a breed. Mueller is the official sponsor for the Lionhead and previously presented the breed at the 2010, 2011 and 2012 conventions with mixed success. Mueller is also the current president of the North American Lionhead Rabbit Club. Rafoth is the vice president.

The Lionhead is being developed in 13 other varieties, and rabbit breeders will have to go through the same presentation process to gain recognition for each variety.

According to its standard, the Lionhead has a maximum weight of 3 ¾ pounds as an adult and a short, compact, well-rounded body. The most visible characteristic is the mane of wooly fur around the neck. The standard calls for the mane to be at least 2 inches in length and form a full circle around the head. The complete standard can be read at the NALRC website.

The last time ARBA recognized any new rabbit breeds was in 2006, when the Mini Satin and Thrianta were recognized.

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