ORANGE PARK – Covered in paint, cedar shavings and ribbons, Gonzo the rabbit amazed attendees at this year’s Fifth Annual Rabbit Fashion Show where he and his owner, Bianca Smith, took home first …
ORANGE PARK – Covered in paint, cedar shavings and ribbons, Gonzo the rabbit amazed attendees at this year’s Fifth Annual Rabbit Fashion Show where he and his owner, Bianca Smith, took home first prize.
The 4-H Club, an international youth development and youth mentoring program, started the fashion show at the Clay County Agricultural Fair five years ago. The fashion show helps instill confidence in the children who participate in the event, but it also gives Clay County residents the rare opportunity to see rabbits dressed in outfits that match their owners.
“I’m an artist, and he’s also an artist,” Smith said. “What we kind of did was his picture was one of me, and his picture is one of him. We actually planned for it a few weeks before, but we actually painted all this stuff last night. It took us two hours, and we also made his hat this morning. We cut two little holes to make his ears come out.”
Smith’s props included her and Gonzo’s costumes, as well as portraits of the two of them surrounded by paintbrushes, which Gonzo would pick up with is teeth and wag around. This is her fourth year participating in the event, but not her first time winning as she also won two years ago.
“We also have a very close bond,” Smith said. “I show him at actual rabbit shows, I play with him, and just last night when I was doing all this stuff, whenever he ran out the room I just call him and he comes running right back.”
The fashion show awards cash prizes for the winners anywhere from $3 to $40 based on the age division and every child who participated the April 3 event won something.
“The judging criteria is they have to look cute,” said Stephanie Conner, 4-H agent for Clay County. “They’re looking for most creative, best team theme, and best overall. They can purchase their costumes or hand make them, so the kids that hand make them get a lot of brownie points. It’s a little bit easier for the older people to handle it, but there was a lot of energy put into making her costume.”
Smith participates in the 4-H Club called ‘Happy Hoppers’ which helps youth all there is to know about rabbits, traveling to rabbit shows and participating in events such as the rabbit fashion show.
“The kids are made to talk in front of crowds and get the experience for being in front of a crowd,” Conner said. “It builds confidence, it’s hard for teenage kids to get up and talk in front of crowds, so for the little ones to come up, even if it’s just ‘my rabbit’s name is coco’ so we build confidence in a fun hands-on setting.”
The 4-H Club focuses a great deal on public speaking and confidence building, but the program also offers anything from hunting classes all the way to photography lessons. The instructors work to find a place for any child’s interest, Conner said.
“I’ve seen a lot of cute rabbits come up to the show,” Conner said. “Register, it’s a great thing. We need to expose it better. I know 4-H has gone out there to give an opportunity for kids this year. You don’t have to be a member of 4-H to participate, so come and register.”
For the 11 kids who took part in this year’s event, Conner said, that just means that they have an entire year to plan the costume they’re going to dress their rabbits up in next year, whether it’s Snow White and a dwarf, or a pair of artists, such as Smith.
“I won’t be disappointed if I don’t win,” Smith said. “Because my mom keeps saying that to me. Just in case I don’t win don’t be all ‘eh’, because rabbits are awesome.”