(Condensed from the DR article by Jacinta Taulbee, Logan, Ohio, ARBA #862)
“MAJESTIC BEAUTY OF THE AGES” is the motto known for the Himalayan rabbit. This is what we know of this remarkable little rabbit of the ages. Its name is a misnomer as it does not belong to the Himalayan Mountains as one might think and the erroneous impression probably gave the rabbit its name. Its original home is thought to be China, where Himalayans are still to be found in large numbers. It is said that the Himalayans were held in high esteem and used in religious ceremonies. What we do know however is that a description of the Himalayan rabbit was first published in 1857 in Europe and that by the end of the 19th century Himalayans were being raised for show in Great Britain. Its first introduction to England was by the Zoological Gardens, where it was first known as the Black Nosed Rabbit from China. It is often termed abroad as the Russian Rabbit and has also been called the Egyptian Smut. It is indeed an international rabbit.
It is thought that the first Himalayans were brought over from England during the sudden increase in popularity of domestic rabbits during the Belgian Hare boom of the 1898-1901. Himalayan’s have since been shown at local shows from this point on. A very interesting point to be made is that they were often raised for their Ermine soft white pelts, which were marketed to furriers.
TYPE is what has sustained this little guy of the ages. It has a type all of its own and cannot be compared with any other breed. Type comprises 41 points of its standard with the body dominating 31 of these points with the head and ears equally sharing the remaining 10 points. The body is long, narrow, and cylindrical. The topline should be very straight with no rise or arch of its spine. The sidelines should carry straight from the shoulders through the hips with no taper. Because of its cylindrical shape the rabbit should be long and narrow and snaky in appearance as to show off its unique type. They are never to be faulted or penalized for having rough hindquarters. Pin bones will be seen and felt. The extremely long and narrow body type will not allow a rounded hindquarter. With the ideal weight being 3 1/2 pounds within the senior weight of 2 1/2 to 4 1/2.
FAULT ones which are short, close coupled, indication of an arch or taper, heavy hips, large bone, potty, fat, or large specimens.
FUR is worth 10 points it is to be a flyback coat short, fine, and silky. Fault a coat that is harsh. On a personal note having raised this breed for over 33 years I have seen a real difference over the years in the texture of fur probably due to the introduction of the other three varieties within the breed. Remember this breed was once raised for its fur. Look for this type fur, it still shows up in certain lines.
MARKINGS also carry 41 points. This little rabbit has given so much in the development of new breeds and varieties. Contrary to the many comments often heard around a showroom such as, they are just a weird small Californian or what else did they use besides a Himalayan marked Netherland Dwarf to get this breed. Again this breed is one of the oldest known breeds around the world. Besides the unique type this breed also has point markings on the head, ears, front legs and feet, hind feet and legs, and tail. The Californian and any other breed that have developed a variety that carries point marking have borrowed the genetics from the Himalayan rabbit. The nose smut marking should resemble an oval egg and carried up well between the eyes with the large end extended down under the lower jaw extending well into the whisker bed. Faulting for ragged, brassiness, or not being clean cut. Ears are to be completely colored. Faulting for stray white hairs, mealy around the base or ragged. Front and hind feet and legs should have color extending as far as possible with color not to go above the elbow on the front or up into the thigh on the rear legs. Back legs should resemble boots. Again fault for stray white hairs, frosty color, barring or brassiness. The tail which only carries 3 points should be completely colored. Faulting for being frosty, stray white hairs or being mealy. Very, very rarely do you ever find a tail martinized.
COLOR where to begin on these descriptions. Maybe a bit of background into each of the varieties and when they were recognized into the Himalayan standard would help to understand each varieties strength and weakness. The Black variety is the one true variety for this breed. It is to be a rich, velvety black being the darker the better according to today’s SOP. In very old standards we see the color referred to as a deep sepia black. Not sure when the exact wording was changed but was probably done so to conform to the rest of the breeds which carry a black variety. The Blue variety did not appear to garnish interest in the United States till around 1960. Not certain how the blue variety developed in Great Britain, but they began to appear in the 1940’s at shows.
In 1963 some were imported into California by Don Lovejoy from England. Some breeders had trouble locating stock and began to cross blue dwarfs and other breeds with blue varieties with the black Himalayan. Because of this there was a huge variation in the quality being shown as Himalayan. This new variety pitted many Himalayan breeders against one another as some felt this would be the end of the true Himalayan rabbit, while others were elated over the new variety and thought of ways to improve the blue variety. The first blues that were shown for exhibition was in 1979 at the ARBA Convention. Controversy continued to swirl until a vote was taken within the Himalayan club membership in around 1985 to have the blue variety NOT BE recognized by the national association. The vote failed by just one vote! The standard originally borrowed freely from the British Standard calling for the blues to be a light blue. In 1984 the color was changed from a light blue to a medium blue. Ron Smelt of California picked the mantle up of the blue variety. He was instrumental in improving the Blue Himalayan and was affectionately dubbed the name of “Mr. Blue” among the Himalayan breeders. But wait once again the blue color description was again changed in 1995 by the ARBA Standards Committee from a medium blue to the present rich, dark blue. Noting this was done under protest of some breeders. Also in the 1980’s interest to bring the Chocolate and Lilac variety begin to garner steam. The Chocolate and Lilac varieties faced just about as much opposition but most felt that concern about not destroying the original Black Himalayan was being addressed. Again Ron Smelt headed up efforts in getting these two new varieties accepted. Various chocolate breeds were used to produce chocolate market Himalayans. Sometimes chocolate Havana’s or chocolate English Spots were used. The Lilac variety was developed by using the Blue Himalayan and the Chocolate Himalayan. The Chocolate variety was accepted into the ARBA Standard in 1995 and the Lilac variety followed suite in 1997. One can see that our little Majestic Beauty of the Ages has had quite a colorful background so to speak. Even now one can see many different shades within the Blue and Lilac varieties. The differences can be seen at large Nationals and Conventions where many bloodlines can be viewed. So the varieties continue to evolve to meet what the standard calls for.
SMUT is a word that brings terror to souls of Himalayan breeders. It is defined in the SOP as (1) A dark, sooty appearing surface color, usually formed by a large number of guard hairs. Found in many rabbits that carry the genetic factor of red. (2) Pelt stain found in Pointed Pattern rabbits, (3) The nose marking found on Himalayans. What the definition does not say is the two main causes that must be in place at the same time together for smut to form. The two causes are moisture and temperature in combination with each other when conditions are right. Moisture alone will not cause smut just as temperature will not either. When the temperature is below 32 degrees the humidity in the air will stay in a frozen state and far less likely to form condensation on any material the rabbit might come into contact with. The temperature comes into play anytime it falls below that 65-degree mark. Smut can form in a matter of a couple hours. Many are surprised to find a rabbit that did not have smut when put into a carrier the night before and left in the cold car over night to emerge on the show table with smut. I always tell new breeders to remember to never place their rabbits into a cold carrier to warn the carries up first. Smut is a disqualification when it occurs on any useable portion of the pelt. Eye stain (smut) is only a fault and develops because of moisture from the eye and the cold temperatures. Young kits which get chilled can also get frosted with smut over their entire bodies. And depending on what climate you might live in many old time Himalayan breeders would remove the kits from the nest box for a very short period so they would become chilled to have the marking to come in darker. A breeder has no other choice but to wait until the old coat is molted and a new coat comes in for smut to be gone. Smut is a true nightmare for the breeders but just one more unique twist that comes with the Himalayan DNA.
POSING the Himalayan rabbit correctly is very important in being able to evaluate the type and markings to their best advantage. They should be stretched out as far as possible. The forelegs are to be even with the eye and the hock has to lay flat on the table. The body is to be as straight as possible. When evaluating this rabbit remember that type and markings both share 41 points each. The unique body carries 31 of the 41 type points and type is what truly makes this rabbit unique. One should not be blinded with extreme color intense markings if they do not fit what is described for each marking. Watch for markings on legs that do not extend as far as possible. Slender bone is called for in the SOP and a must for this rabbit. The SOP calls for a straight topline, but look for faults that are often missed. That being, specimens that exhibit a hunch in the spine usually located in the shoulder area as well as ones who have a sway or dip in the topline. When viewed from above or hands running down the sides of the rabbit one can truly view and feel those that are hippy.
UNIQUE is probably the best word to describe the Himalayan rabbit. It has a personality that is amazing. Making it one of the best rabbits for young children not to mention a perfect showmanship rabbit. Because of the Albino recessive gene, it always amazes people when they witness the head weaving known for this breed. They are just trying to focus their sight thus the head weaving. While they are a marked breed they are unlike other marked breeds in that the markings will lessen in color width, become barred, ragged, mealy, and retract in length on the legs. Give this breed a different season or climate and the markings will intensify, increase, or decrease. This is something that is very surprising to many in the rabbit world. If ever anyone is looking for a challenging but extremely rewarding breed with great personality this is your breed of rabbit. I have spent the last 34 years raising this breed. First it was my daughter’s breed but I fell in deep love with this rabbit and the challenge. This year in October marks 85 years for the American Himalayan Rabbit Association. Within the club we refer to our unique little rabbit as a ‘HIMMIE”. Not real sure how the other breeds shortened it, but those new to the club are politely told quickly that they are “Himmies” and a true breed of the ages.