By: Ron Smelt (A.H.R.A. Hall of Fame member)
I started with showing and breeding Himalayans in 1976. At that time only Black Himalayans were obtainable in my area. Some of the active show people were David Holland, Dorothy Bayliss and Leonard Weir and Diane Ford, who was in the process of getting out of the breed.
I liked the Himalayan a lot and I inherited the breed from Diane Ford. It was the perfect sized rabbit for me with the space I was able to give it. I liked the unique type and what I call a sophisticated look to the breed.
I realized right away that England showed the Himalayan in four varieties. Black, Blue, Chocolate, and Lilac. Here in the US only in Black and Blue. I thought would it not be pleasant to have all four colors showing against each other in the US. I felt that with the four colors it would create interest and as a result competition. During this time I also was told by the late Don Lovejoy, that the Himalayan was a dying breed. I did not want to except this and to my mind felt that my goal was to try and create interest in this breed and so the mission was set for me to do my part and find a way. I realized that this quest to have the Chocolate and Lilac Himalayans become excepted would be a long one. I felt that I needed the support of others who were interested in the idea of having four colors in the standard. Several people, I talked to felt that the only good Himalayan was a black Himalayan. A few persons supported me in my quest. Some only liked the Chocolates and did not care for the idea of Lilac Himalayans. The first few years were difficult ones.
In the late 70's I corresponded with a Himalayan breeder Mr. Fred Nellis who lived in England. He told me how they got the Chocolate gene introduced into the Himalayans was with the use of the English Spot. English Spots from time to time produced Solid colored animals. An English Spot breeder by the name of Linda Bell of California called me up one day and said she had a chocolate doe for me. This was bred to a small black 3 1/2 lb. buck from Dorothy and George Bayliss. This cross produced all solid black offspring. They were bred together and the first Chocolate marked appeared. These then were bred to other black Himalayans and then mated to each other and the rabbits were beginning to look like Himalayans. Some of these early chocolates were rather large and lacked the refined look. Through line breeding, a smaller, finer boned chocolate Himalayan developed. (In 1992 Chocolates Passed first ARBA Showing, Columbus, OH)
The Chocolate Himalayan was then bred to the Blue Himalayan and from in-breeding, the first Lilac Himalayan appeared. These lilacs were dark lilacs, you can tell the difference when you put them next to a blue. When presenting them to the Standards Committee, they did not like the color, it was too dark and too close to the blue. So what to do????? I had reached a brick wall. I had locked in the dark Lilac color into my himmies.
At the same time Judy Ball, a Mini Rex breeder, was also trying to get the Lilac Mini Rex accepted by the ARBA Standards Committee. The Standards Committee liked her color Mini Rex Lilacs. An idea went into my head to introduce this color liked by the Standards Committee into the Lilac Himalayans. I knew that I would be introducing a Non-Himalayan gene as well as Mini Rex fur into the Himalayans, and in line breeding and in-breeding, this Rex gene would materialize somewhere down the road. I made a difficult decision I was afraid that my present dark Lilac Himalayans would not pass the Standards Committee since I was told the lighten them, and so I did. The first cross was my purchased Mini Rex Lilac Buck (from Judy Ball) bred to a Lilac Himalayan Doe. All the babies were Lilac, and to my surprise two of them were Himalayan marked, the rest solid. I lucked out again with the two Himalayan-marked Lilacs were buck and doe. They both turned out to be rather coarse and so lacked refinement. They produced me lighter Himalayans, the color I was looking for. The Lilacs became the 4th Himalayan color to be recognized.
With selective breeding and culling refinement in the Lilac Himalayan returned, with an added bonus of better fur quality. Now the problem of the Non-Himmie gene and the rex gene will be floating around in some of these himmies, but I feel we can cull this out since there were only a few of these Lilacs passed on to other breeders.
These past fifteen years of trying to have Chocolate Himalayans and Lilac Himalayans accepted into the ARBA Standards Committee have been fun with some heart-ache and lots of challenges and I am so glad to have been able to do it.