Special Awards at Rabbit Shows – Helpful for Writers and Breed ID Contest Youth

Understanding Those Tricky Specials

top quality holland lop show rabbits
Very nice Holland Lop Show rabbit

Not all breeds divide the rabbits within the breed exactly the same way when judging.  Some group all the colors together; others split them all up.  There are multiple combinations!   This page delves into the confusing details.  Click for more basic information on the rabbit show judging process.

You should know how it goes for your breed.  That way you will know when to put your bunny on the table.  It’s not necessary that you know how all the breeds divide their colors, unless:

  • You plan to become a judge or registrar
  • You are entering a youth contest such as breed ID or ARBA royalty
  • You plan to write at a show for that breed

In any of the three cases above, this knowledge is essential.

If you are writing, the judge will help you keep it straight.  It is okay to ask the judge to repeat things, slow down, or re-confirm what you heard.  There’s no need to panic.  Breathe – everything will be okay.

What is a “Special” award at a rabbit show?

A “Special” is any award above a class win.  Specials are Best of Breed, Best of Group, Best of Variety, and the opposite sex of each of those.

No Varieties – No Groups – “Standard” Color

There are some breeds of rabbits that only have two specials:  Best of Breed and Best Opposite Sex of Breed.  If you are nervous about learning specials, then try one of these breeds to start with first:

  • Thrianta
  • American Sable

  • Giant Angora

  • Belgian Hare

  • Blanc de Hotot

  • Californian

  • Champagne D’Argent

  • American Chinchilla

  • Gianta Chinchilla

  • Standard Chinchilla

  • Cinnamon

  • Creme D’Argent

  • Dwarf Hotot

  • Florida White

  • Lilac

  • Rhinelander

  • Silver Fox (watch out for blues in a few years)

For these breeds, the judge will evaluate senior bucks, senior does, junior bucks, junior does, and then pick Best of Breed and Best Opposite Sex of Breed.  That’s is.  As long as the judge has picked two rabbits of opposite sex, there’s nothing else to worry about.

So you have fifteen breeds you can write for without even worrying about.

Shown by Individual Variety

There’s also a group of breeds that show by variety.  A variety is like a color, though some varieties are actually mini-groups.  Black is a variety.  But sometimes silver marten is called a variety, too, although all four varieties (chocolate, lilac, black, and blue) are all rolled into one.

Varieties are different than groups.  When you show by groups, you show all kinds of varieties together.  Sometimes they are related and sometimes not.  When you show by varieties, only rabbits of the same variety compete again each other at the class level.  That is blues compete with blues, reds complete with reds, seals complete with seals, and brokens compete with brokens (using broken as a variety is another one of those mini groups because technically different varieties are shown together, but that’s how it is being used in a number of breeds – no wonder folks get confused!).

These breeds show each color separately.  For example in Americans, blues are judged separate from the whites.

Steel gray flemish giant rabbit
Flemish Giants, like this steel gray, are shown by varieties.
  • American
  • Beveren

  • Britannia Petite

  • Checkered Giant

  • Dutch

  • English Spot

  • Flemish Giant

  • Giant Angora – Although only one variety is currently accepted.
  • Havana

  • Himalayan

  • Mini Rex

  • Mini Satin
  • New Zealand

  • Palomino

  • Polish

  • Rex

  • Satin

  • Silver

  • Silver Marten

  • Tan

Usually the control sheets will be stacked in the correct order to call them to the table.  If not, look at the Standard. 

For each variety, the judge will place senior bucks, senior does, junior bucks, and junior does.  Then he or she will generally pause and pick the Best and Best Opposite of Variety.  In the awards section of the control sheet, the award is recorded.   Then those control sheets (and/or comment cards) are retained for the Best of Breed contest at the end.

So let’s take Silver Martens as an example.  They are shown in black, blue, chocolate, and sable.  The will first judge the four classes of black and then choose the black Best of Variety and Best Opposite Sex of Variety.  Then the blues will come to the table.  Again the judge will stop and choose the BOV and BOSV.  This is repeated for the chocolate and sable.  At the end, there are four Best of Variety animals competing for Best of Breed. 

The judge may not select a BOSV animal for Best of Breed.  The Best Opposite Sex may be chosen from any Best of Variety or Best Opposite Sex of Variety rabbits, as long as it is the opposite sex of the Best of breed rabbit.


It is possible that in a breed with few varieties, the judge will pick all specials at the end.  That will depend on the judge’s preference and the holding coops available.  Just follow the judge’s lead.

 Grouping Colors Together

 Now we move on to groups.  Some breeds, especially those that allow a large number of colors, classify similar colors into groups at a show.


holland lop rabbit bear broken tort show
Holland Lops, like this broken, are shown in two groups


Broken Pattern and Solid Pattern Groups

  • American Fuzzy Lop
  • Holland Lop
  • English Lop
  • French Lop
  • Mini Lop


White and Colored Groups

  • English Angora
  • French Angora
  • Satin Angora


Specialized Groups

  • Harlequin
  • Jersey Wooly

Notice that these breeds are either wool breeds, lop breeds, or harlequins.  Lops are shown by either solids or brokens.  Harlequins come in Japanese or Magpie.  Wool breeds except American Fuzzy Lops, are shown in groups such as Agouti, Self, Shaded, Ticked, Tan, and AOV (any other variety).

All of the solids or all of the tans or whatever the group name is will compete together at the class level.  So if you call Holland Lops to the table, you may see all kinds of varieties at once.  A solid senior buck may be black, tort, blue, chinchilla, orange, and so forth. If you call agouti Jersey Woolies, a junior doe class may include chestnut, chinchilla, opal, or squirrel.

The judge will place all four classes for the first group.  Then generally, the judge will select the Best of Group and Best Opposite Sex of Group.  Let me stop here and say that most of the time, the judge will say “Best of Variety.”  It’s what she or he has been saying all day with the other breeds.  Most judges will change to “Group” if reminded.  Some judges believe that it is variety and will argue the point. 

At one point a few years ago, I was getting such conflicting information that I finally wrote to ARBA about it.  I was writing about Hollands, but got the reply that all lops are shown by group.  I’ve noticed that the word “group” or “varieties” is listed at the top of each breed page in the Standard of Perfection.

If you write down BOV instead of BOG, the show secretary will catch it, if she or he knows which it should  be.  If not, the show program will catch it, if it’s been programmed correctly.  There are programs out there that print legs incorrectly.  However, ARBA will accept a BOV leg in a BOG breed.  So knowing the difference is a matter of being correct, but not a matter of causing a problem.

(It’s nice to know which is which if you are in charge of printing awards or publishing national information.)

The end of the breed is just like varieties, except the judge is selecting only from among the Best of Groups for the Best of Breed.  Then any rabbit, Best of Group or Best Opposite Sex of Group can be selected as Best Opposite Sex of Breed, as long as it is the opposite sex of the Best of Breed Rabbit.

Shown by Varieties AND Groups

Now we get to the Netherland Dwarfs – the breed probably most responsible for writer reluctance.  It’s so confusing, right?  It’s the only one with varieties AND groups:

  • Netherland Dwarf

It’s really just a two-step combo of what you already know.  It’s not that hard, once you think about it.


Do not try to write for Netherland Dwarfs, unless you raise them, without using the Standard of Perfection or other accurate list of which varieties fall into which groups.


Himalayan netherland dwarf show rabbit AOV
This is a blue himalayan Netherland Dwarf. It is show in the variety Himalayan and in the group AOV.

It is important to call the varieties in order, since there are so many to get through and it helps to stay organized.  It’s also important to know when to pause for the judge to select the group winners.  Filling up the judging coops just as the judge needs to pull out his varieties winners can cause a problem.


As the judge finishes the four classes for each variety, he or she will keep back the Best and Best Opposite of Variety.  These awards should be recorded and the control sheets and/or comment cards for those rabbits should be reserved.


The judge will go through all four classes of blacks, then blues, chocolates, lilacs, BEWs, and then REWs.  Then there is a pause to select the Best of Group and Best Opposite of Group for the self varieties.  So, for the first group, the judge will have 12 rabbits to choose from, narrowing it to two that will be able to compete for Best and Best Opposite of Breed.


So here’s the pattern:

  1. Judge blacks, pick BOV and BOSV

  2. Judge blues, pick BOV and BOSV

  3. Judge chocolates, pick BOV and BOSV

  4. Judge lilacs, pick BOV and BOSV

  5. Judge BEWs, pick BOV and BOSV

  6. Judge REWs, pick BOV and BOSV

Stop and pick the Best of Group (BOG) and Best Opposite Sex of Group (BOSG) for selfs.

  1. Judge sable points, pick BOV and BOSV

  2. Judge Siamese sables, pick BOV and BOSV

  3. Judge Siamese smoke pearl, pick BOV and BOSV

  4. Judge tortoise shell, pick BOV and BOSV

Stop and pick the Best of Group (BOG) and Best Opposite Sex of Group (BOSG) for shadeds.

  1. Judge chestnut, pick BOV and BOSV

  2. Judge chinchilla, pick BOV and BOSV

  3. Judge lynx, pick BOV and BOSV

  4. Judge opal, pick BOV and BOSV

  5. Judge squirrel, pick BOV and BOSV

Stop and pick the Best of Group (BOG) and Best Opposite Sex of Group (BOSG) for agoutis.

  1. Judge otters (black, blue, chocolate, lilac – it’s only of those mini-groups), pick BOV and BOSV

  2. Judge sable marten, pick BOV and BOSV

  3. Judge silver marten (black, blue, chocolate, lilac), pick BOV and BOSV

  4. Judge smoke pearl marten, pick BOV and BOSV

  5. Judge tans (black, blue, chocolate, lilac), pick BOV and BOSV

Stop and pick the Best of Group (BOG) and Best Opposite Sex of Group (BOSG) for tan pattern.

  1. Judge fawns, pick BOV and BOSV

  2. Judge Himalayans, pick BOV and BOSV

  3. Judge oranges, pick BOV and BOSV

  4. Judge steels, pick BOV and BOSV

Stop and pick the Best of Group (BOG) and Best Opposite Sex of Group (BOSG) for AOV.

It looks like a lot – and it can be.  But often there are not entries for some varieties.  You may find that only a few varieties have more than two rabbits in any one class at smaller shows. 

At the end, the judge will have five BOG rabbits and five BOSG rabbits.  The judge may select the Best of Breed rabbit from any BOG rabbit.  The Best Opposite Sex of Breed rabbit may be any BOG or BOSG rabbit, as long as it is of the opposite sex of the Best of Breed rabbit.

Next article: assisting the judge

 Next Article: Being Helpful to the Judge

Photo credit on this page – Netherland Dwarf FS Chernobyl by  FS Rabbitry.