How to Judge the Mini Lop
Correctly Balanced Mini Lops
The Mini Lop is by far the biggest success story to come out of Mainland Europe in the last 30 years as far as a ‘new breed’ to the UK is concerned and when you look how the breed has migrated around the world to different countries and captivated them, like it has us here, we can all understand why. Not only for its character, but also for its breed characteristics and in each country there is very solid ideal in what makes the perfect show animal and about how it presents itself. Meaning that as each new country has taken this breed into its ‘inner circle’ of recognised breed’s they have adapted it stylistically to follow a look which they prefer. I mention this because I feel it is relevant to this breed as our standard in the UK doesn’t give an example of the ‘style’ we should be aiming for. I have often heard judges mulling over the question of exactly how a Mini Lop should be sat and which of the numerous poses we see is correct. Have we in the UK missed the opportunity to put the ‘British’ stamp on the breed, or have we given it the best chance of success by not completely tying it in a knot with an heavily weighted description about stature, full of ‘terminology’ that most would find difficult to translate?
You might be asking yourselves why I am talking about the history of the breed and what is done elsewhere in the world why I am not getting straight on with the remit of the article itself. But this all has bearing on where I am going with this. I feel the answer to the question I just asked is a little bit of both. Possibly a happy medium could have been touched upon where a basic description of a Mini Lop when posed was given. But as we don’t have this, we will see from time to time, and we do see a number of different typed Mini Lops winning up and down the country. Slightly confusing to the new breeder as they often ask me about the differences in the shapes and styles the see winning, however to the established breeder and also judges this is accepted as individualism and personal interpretation of our scale of reckoning.
Mini Lops Elsewhere
In the USA the Holland Lop as it is known has a very wordy description in its SOP (standard of perfection) even going as far as telling you where the feet should be placed in relation to the eye, how far the ear is allowed to hang down in relation to the jaw line etc. Whereas in Holland there are a number of diagrams which accompany the standard, which visually show the desired length of the body by drawing circles over a simple diagram of an ‘ideal’ – (in theory) Mini Lop. It also shows how the feet should be positioned, where the ears are to hang from etc. I am sure when you see the images you will understand quite clearly what they expect from their animals. And when you look at the animals which win the shows over there, you see this uniformity in most, if not all of the principal winners. Although in the USA the standard is quite specific, the variation in quality of their principal winners is similar to here – still very much influenced (even with such a detailed standard like they have) by the personal preference of the judge on the day.
The Mini Lop in the UK, although being a member of the ‘Lop’ section it is commonly known as a ‘type’ breed. This means that first and foremost the construction of it is where we place most emphasis! The colouring and dressing (i.e. the coat) of the Mini Lop is not thought to be as important as how it is built, but I would advise anyone judging them to be wary of this rationale. I feel that every point allocated of the 100 overall points is as important as the next. Even though only 35 points are given to the distribution and quality of colour (15) and the coat (20), these points mean as much in the end as the 60 given to overall type (30 for Head, Ear, Eye & Crown and 30 for Body Type) with the smallest allocation for condition (5) but in some cases those 5 points are the main decision makers of your 1st or 2nd placed rabbit, so must never be thought of as the least important, for they can have the biggest impact in a class.
The key to judging a type breed is held in just one word. ‘Balance’, for without balance you do not have type. The balance can be seen in the standard through the point allocation, splitting the 4 main focus areas into similar portions 30:20:30:20. The divide itself is balanced. 4 Focus areas (it is an even number to break down) and 4 similar figures, to which they can be equally divided into 2 larger focus areas of 50 points (again – balanced)
Assessing the Rabbits in front of you
So, after we have sat here and crunched numbers how do we start to allocate these to the animal in front of us? Well, it is quite simple. You make your move and pick up your first rabbit. The first focus that you have to attend to is overall impression. From your line up there may be a couple of animals that have caught your eye already. This might be because of an impressive head, or front legs that you have never seen the likes of before. But for now, forget about these and concentrate on the one in your hands. Your eyes should be automatically evaluating top colour, your hands, coat texture and density – from the moment you place your hand on the rabbit you should start assessing what you feel. I personally at this point check down the spine and through the tail for deformities and/or mutilations. You must always remember that as well as the individual breed standard, you also have to check the rabbit for those specifics which are a given in EVERY breed – those which are accounted for in General Rules for Disqualification. Once the tail is checked and I am satisfied it is entire without deformity, I then palm the coat from the very base of the rump, down by the tail - in the opposite direction to which the coat naturally lies. Without pressing too hard onto the rabbits back, but firmly enough to get the hand into the bottom of the coat to feel the full density, move your hand towards you - this movement through the coat from the rump to the nape of neck ,when completed will give you a pretty good idea of the health of the coat and also, if you are concentrating properly, the complete feel of the texture! (which you will have noticed by a tingle over the centre of the palm of your hand and to the outer curve where it disappears past the edge of your little finger.) This should then tally with what you first thought about the coat when you first put your hand on to the rabbit to pick it up. You repeat this movement from tail to nape and on the next few sweeps toward yourself you blow into the coat, all the while checking for further point’s allocations or deductions from the standard, which is all the time going around in your head. Depth of colour (added to the allocation for the top colour you assessed earlier) and then evenness /distribution. Whilst checking the coat for colour, keep your eyes peeled for further signs the rabbit may lose a point or two (or indeed gain some) – Look for signs of breaking into moult or even just being in quite a heavy moult already – and repeat this process over the back of the rabbit and also up both sides, checking well down into the haunches and also well up to the ribcage and tops of the front legs - also look for things which may mean you have to disqualify the rabbit. For example, mite infestation! This can appear in a number of ways. A Scaly, flaking white area next to the skin, sometimes with fragments making their way up the hair shaft or tiny black/brown specks in the base of the coat with the odd one moving up the hair shaft. Both these descriptions are of types of Mites and if found on the rabbit it should be automatically disqualified under the General Rules for Disqualification (parasitic infestation) . (Your hands then need sanitised and you the can proceed with judging)
As you have now finished your assessment of on top it is time to have a look underneath. This simple turning of the rabbit over often puts the fear of dread into me. Not because I am worried the rabbit will give me some trouble and struggle, but if I have found one which up to this point I am getting quite excited about, the turnover can often turn my grin into a grimace as I look down in complete shock that the owner has just completely ruined a very good specimen of the breed, at least, for that day, and depending on how badly it is stained or has been left un-groomed and in need of a manicure will decide how many more shows it is going to have to miss before it can regain its condition and cleanliness in order to be able to compete properly once again. Here’s another tip for you when turning over the rabbit you are looking at (and this doesn’t just apply to Mini Lops, but any breed) Hold the ears firmly at the base, thumb stretching right across the front at the bottom with the rest of your fingers cupping the back of the rabbits head (this is a much more stable way of hold the head and neck in position rather than the other manoeuvre where the index finger is placed between the ears with the thumb crossing the base of them. This is not as good as the first option. It is a weaker hold for you, it allows the rabbit to struggle a little more and also head movement is much more possible and damage can be easier done to the neck this way. With your other hand as you are about to turn over the rabbit, adjust your thumb so it is completely over the knee and leg of the animal and gently push back into the body. This stabilises the hind quarters and prevents the rabbit from kicking back at you, thus avoiding often quite painful scratches/tears down the inside of your forearm. They tend to kick out with both feet. When one is immobilised like this, they kick out with neither. Once you have the animal turned over it is always best to follow the same routine with each one as you go. This way, if you forget where you are up to in your nail and teeth checks you can run through your routine, knowing where your hand was hovering last and work out if you need to re do anything, or in fact, you were in the zone so deeply that auto pilot was running things for you for a while. I always I start with teeth and then move onto the front left leg to check nails (as you look down on the rabbit) then move to the back left leg, over to the back right leg and finish off with the front right leg. Another word of advice which I wish I had been told when I first started judging would be to check EVERY rabbits nails, even the Whites and the Butterflies. Although they cannot be disqualified for having white toe nails, they most certainly can be DQ’d for missing a toe or toes (and you would be surprised at how frequently I have sent rabbits back to the pen for this exact reason.) The overzealous mother can often take off a toe and unless you ‘judge’ every animal you intend on showing like a judge would before you enter them for a show (like I do) you can fall foul of this as an exhibitor and also as a judge. There will be the odd ‘helpful’ exhibitor who will knowingly put a rabbit like this in the show just to test you, and you can guarantee the day you don’t check will be the day that type of exhibitor is there. I find the easiest way to get the nails to present to you for inspection, without you having to go and dig through all the fur at each individual nail, is to press the flat of your thumb firmly in the middle of the underside of the paw. This pushes all the fur away from the backside of the nails and all become visible instantly. If the nails have been cut you may have to push a little harder. While holding onto the foot, spin your wrist round 180 degrees and this will help present the inside dewclaw. Check chests, armpits and remember to fully extend the front leg upward and blow right in at the base. On coloured exhibits you should be looking for white hairs/patches and on ALL exhibits you should also be looking for evidence of a poor groomer as in someone who has left knots or untidy fur in these areas. After checking the front end, move to the groin, and again, extend each leg fully and check right in at the base, make sure you check the back of the thighs and also make sure you check what, if we were looking on ourselves, we would consider to be our buttocks. Once this final check is done and everything is in order, gently turn the rabbit upright onto its feet and allow it a few seconds to settle back down. This is important for the rabbit to help readjust to its new head position. Just like if you had been upside down, you would be disorientated if you were suddenly reinstated to a standing position. Once it has had a shake or a lick of itself, the next stage of ‘judging’ it can commence.
Intimate Examination / Interpreting The Breed Standard
On this, the final segment of your handling of the rabbit to assess it against the standard, you should be looking for all the things which make the Mini Lop a Mini Lop. Now you get a chance to study the head in more detail, the eye (not only shape, but clarity or colour and indeed if it is the right coloured eye for the colour of rabbit – again something that is often overlooked. Please make sure that you don’t fall into this hole) and all the other focus area elements. This leaves us with Crown and Ears and then Body Type, Structure and Limb Placement. I like this this part of the process the best of all. All of the elements I have mentioned above can be viewed while the rabbit is being posed and while working with your hands on the animal they can be felt and assessed simultaneously. It is always best to practice handling your own rabbits at home with both hands, starting individually, first one and then the other and then working to sit the rabbit with both hands, all the while trying different ways in which to lift it, turn it slightly, encouraging the rabbit to raise its head one way and if this doesn’t work, adapt your tactics to favour the mood of the rabbit or a different hand. You will feel the mood of it in how stiff of loose it holds itself. The stiffer it is, the more relaxed and comfortable you need to try and make it. When faced with this on the show bench it is more often than not because its owner has handled it a specific way at home and you are not mimicking that correctly in the show hall. Let your hands feel the rabbit and rather than gripping it you should be trying to sense when it is becoming more relaxed with you. When I judge these days I can always tell if the rabbits owner is a righty or a lefty and if neither of those techniques work, it usually means they are a ‘two handed cupper’ at home and the rabbit responds better to being gently lifted and rolled , front end into back end, thus being handled directly in front of you and facing straight at you (this kind of handling often doesn’t need head adjustment as when the front end is gently rolled back onto the body, the head and neck find natural alignment with the shoulders) I find when handling the rabbit at this stage in the evaluation the most rewarding. I love to see a rabbit which is just recovering and gaining its bearings from being upside down, spring into life in my hands and start showing itself off. Commanding attention on the table, holding its head proud, the ears, being carried beautifully perpendicular, maybe moving them slightly and showing his alertness - standing 4 square, with front legs apart, holding a level top line which then drops away by order of a well-muscled, short and rounded rump, which is supported with its back feet tucked neatly under (feet under hips and pointing directly forward – running parallel with the side of the body) and then stands statuesque – as still as you like so I can walk around the table and view it in that stance from all angles, without having to disrupt his posing and move him so I can get a different view. I would much rather move a steward than the rabbit at this moment!
A little guide here for you would be, “if it is built right, it will sit right” And you almost always find these ones take hardly any sitting/posing at all. They are built in only one way – correctly, and because of this, every quality they possess is instantly visible to you.
Once you have assessed these focus areas you can then move on to construction. Now this is where I find a lot of problems arise. In order to apply the standard to the rabbit in front of you – using the wording provided, which describes the type, the size of head, or how the ears should hang, at which angle the feet should sit to the body etc, you need some knowledge of how these things all fit together. It’s like being a mechanic, although you don’t have to bolt and screw any parts together, it is already done for you. All you have to do is work out if it has been done correctly. Your manual is in your head and with your eyes and your hands you should be able to see and feel your way through the process. This should be easy! You have been told by the standard where everything goes and your hands and eyes are skilful enough to gently and astutely deduce if everything goes together correctly. But is it as easy I say it is? You cannot do this properly if you don’t have and understanding of WHY the parts fit together like they do, what function they have and what happens to one part when another part doesn’t fit correctly with the next. As soon as something goes against what we expect of it, maybe it is not big enough, or maybe it is too big. Perhaps it doesn’t fit between this bit and that bit perfectly. The ‘balance’ is then upset and from this moment onwards the type starts to crumble and we must start making mental notes as to where this is, and start calculating the deductions we are going to make whilst balancing out the value of each part we recognise as incorrect. This part of the judging process I find the most damaging to a breed if the judge does not either understand construction, or worse still, is happy to overlook construction faults (majority of which are hereditary) in favour of another element from the type which they heavily favour on a personal level. I mentioned earlier that personal preference or ‘PP’ as we shall call it from now on, often prevails by the time the principal breed winners are decided. However, it must be left out as much as possible in the breed classes. This is the time when the judge has to focus on the breed standard and get it right. By the end of straight breed class judging one would hope (providing quality animals have been entered into every class) the line-up for Best of Breed is all of a uniformity. It is at this point you can stand back and look at how consistent your judging has been (or how consistent the quality of the entry has been) and at which point your stewards and the onlookers will all be able to see how true to type you have judged. And they will look, believe you me! Any animal which may have won through its class by a lack of other typy animals being present for it to compete against will now stand out, for all the wrong reasons and can quite easily be eliminated without further assessment, leaving you to concentrate on a group of very similar rabbits which you must now start looking at and ‘nitpick’ judging, often looking for the tiniest of margins in points, in order to find your ultimate Best of Breed winner. This is where the ability to instantly recall how you pointed each rabbit when giving it the class comes in handy. Although we don’t give every exhibit its own individual score card in the UK like they do in the USA and on the Continent, as the judge, I still like to be able to point each rabbit off against the next, which in turn will create your line up of the Winner, 2nd place , 3rd place and so on. It may well be that once you get down to this stage you have to evaluate all of them together, bringing two maybe three rabbits forward to be side by side. The fact we can point them in our head and then use the comparison system in the latter stages I find much more beneficial. I have watched (and judged) large classes abroad where the first rabbit is brought to the table, assessed, pointed and returned to its pen and the process is repeated until the class is finished and it never ceases to amaze me that a large number of animals (all different looking, for one reason or another) that have equal points, yet look so different. Had they been judged and compared originally at the same time instead of having the individual assessment, their points would be either marginally higher or lower than they stand finally. When you ask the brain to work at the same pace at the same consistency over an extended period of time (which is theoretically how it has to work in order for the European and America way of judging to be completely fool proof) there is large margin for error. Individual and isolated repetitive cycles such as this way of judging are bound to cause brain fatigue, which will result in a very diverse an uneven ‘line-up’. However as we point (in our heads) and compare openly –and scan our line-up for the next rabbit to pull forward to judge, we break this cycle up, I feel this allows us to more accurately complete each class.
As you now start to conclude your final placings, you should be seeing the best rabbit emerging. As near to the 100 maximum points as possible and you really should be pleased with you winner, at least this is what we all hope for at the end of a day judging. But no matter what the size or quality of the entry, which exhibitor or breeder is there (they may not be showing under you so don’t fall into that trap WHATEVER you do as that is the biggest slippery slope to a very Bent and most likely Short judging career) Whether the onlookers agree with you, or not – YOU have at least agreed with your standards and conscience. I sometimes stand back with my mouth slightly open (I actually mean jaw hitting the floor almost) when I see a judges finals animal emerging as an onlooker. Even without having my hands on majority of the entry, once you are skilled in judging, this isn’t always needed to be able to see an obvious winner, or non-winner as the case may be. However, as I said before, the judge’s decision is final, and whether you’ve won or lost, you need to take it gracefully. Congratulate the winner, if it was not yourself, and say thank you to those who congratulate you if you have triumphed. There is nothing worse than a sore loser, or a winner who dwells on one's own success or another's misfortune with smugness or malignant pleasure. I have said it many times over the years but one must learn to lose, because we all lose much more than we win over our lifetime.
I hope you have read this and taken at least one thing away from it as a new (or even as a well-established judge – especially of the Miniature Lop breed) and that you found it helpful. My hope is that in the next few years we will see some real quality judges coming through. People who judge the rabbits – to the standard as written in your standards books and not to ones you imagine them to be or have previously been incorrectly told they are. I want to be able to take a rabbit out to a show under anyone who is a judge and get an assessment according to the guidelines – trust that person and their opinion, because currently, this isn’t always possible. The Judging Greats in the fancy are all but gone now – some of their Students live on in our Top Judges of today, but in the very disposable world we live in right now, let’s not dispose of correctness over fad, fashions or due to lack of knowledge.