Introduction to the Lionhead Breed

 Over in Europe...
There has been a lot of speculation on how the Lionhead rabbit began. Bob Whitman, who was a very knowledgeable rabbit history buff and enthusiast, spent many hours researching the beginnings of this breed. He believed that the precursor of the Lionhead dated back decades earlier than first thought. Another widely held belief holds that they originated in Belgium in a litter of bunnies that was the result of the crossbreeding of the Swiss Fox and a Belgian Dwarf in which a genetic mutation produced an early version of the mane we have come to recognize on today's' Lionhead. Other crosses to a smaller wool type breed may have also been included in the crossbreeding. Some sources list the Jersey Wooly, although more accurately it would be the European Dwarf Angora (in the USA we have no Dwarf Angora so the name Jersey Wooly was added here). Later, the breed was imported into England where continued crossbreeding of small breed rabbits and additional wool breeds were done. These cross breedings made in Europe and in England created the current EUROPEAN LIONHEAD RABBIT. The one thing that we know for sure is that the result of the Lionhead, however they came about, was the first true gene mutation since the 1930's. 


Here in America...
The first Lionheads that were used as a basis for any concentrated breeding programs in the United States were imported in 2000 by the late JoAnne Statler of Minnesota. In the following years, other breeders brought additional stock into this country. Tom Coats of Maryland, Theresa Mueller and Cheryl Rafoth of Washington State, Toni Tubbs, also of Washington and the late Bob Whitman of Rare Bits & Pieces in Texas also imported Lionheads from Europe. These imports, along with hybridizations made throughout the United States have produced the American version of the Lionhead Rabbit as we know it today.


The five Lionheads that were first brought into Northern Minnesota were of very different varieties: a Silver Tipped Steel doe, a dark Siamese Sable buck(carrier of the Harlequin and Steel), a Harlequin (Black/Orange) doe, a Broken Chestnut Agouti buck and a Black sport buck (with a Dutch blaze, a carrier of the Vienna/BEW gene). In an attempt to broaden the gene pool, several Minnesota breeders began crossing the Lionheads to various other small breeds such as Netherland Dwarf, Britannia Petite, Polish, and Florida White. Holland Lops have also been used by some in the Lionhead breeding program.


The North American Lionhead Rabbit Club was born...
The North American Lionhead Rabbit Club (NALRC) was founded on September 29th, 2001 at the Minnesota State Rabbit Breeders Association State Show held in Elk River, Minnesota. Since then, we have grown to a club of over 300 members. The NALRC hosts a National Lionhead Rabbit show the first weekend in May in Columbus, Ohio each year. The club publishes an information packed quarterly Newsletter called the Mane Musings, and all new members receive a Guidebook and membership card. Each calendar year, the NALRC sponsors a Lionhead Sweepstakes contest. 


The first NALRC National Exhibition Show was held...
The first NALRC National Lionhead Exhibition Show was held in May of 2003 in Columbus Ohio. The show was judged by Eric Bengtson. The show had an overwhelming entry of 204 Lionheads. At that first show, Lionheads were shown the same way as the Netherland Dwarf breed with varieties judged first, followed by selection of best in each group.

This type of judging was used in hopes of persuading the ARBA to revisit the question of allowing the Lionhead Breed to enter the ARBA Standard Book as a breed shown in groups and not varieties. When the ARBA Standards Committee met during the 2003 ARBA Convention, a formal request made by Bob Whitman to make that change was denied.


Every year since the first show in 2003, the NALRC continued to hold an annual National Lionhead Exhibition Show on the first Saturday in May, in Columbus, OH in conjunction with the Ohio State Rabbit Breeders Association (OSRBA) annual show. Varieties on COD were judged individually, and all competed for Best of Breed. Results for each annual show can be found in our show archives. NALRC will continue to hold a national breed show in the Spring every year, but with the recognition of the breed came the ability for ARBA chartered clubs to bid to host the specialty in other areas of the country. Stay tuned to our website for details about the current upcoming National show!

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Best of Breed - 2003
Blue Junior doe
owned by Cathy Denman

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Best of Opposite Sex - 2003
Chestnut Agouti Junior buck
owned by Dawn Guth