Review: Rio Rondo Small Scale Hardware

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In 2017, a group of hobbyists who specialize in mini scales (for hobby purposes, this is usually defined as anything smaller than a Classic/1:12 scale) rallied together and petitioned Rio Rondo for new hardware. It came to fruition, and Rio Rondo now offers a really nice selection of photo-etched hardware for minis in two sizes - Bijoux (approximately 1:18; Paddock Pals, Collecta, etc) and Bitty Bijoux (approximately 1:30; Stablemate, ish). I finally placed an order - which arrived at the speed of light - and am thrilled to review it.

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First Impressions

The buckles and bits that I tried out are fabulous. I am very happy with the fit and they feel like a wonderful value. The english hackamore pieces and halter rings were a disappointment; skip the halter rings, in my opinion, but the english hackamore parts will be okay on the right mold.

Fine Print

For Reasons that will be explained in a later blog post, I only ordered a handful of things and completely skipped stirrups and decorative saddle plates. The Bijoux pieces have been photographed on Morgen Kilbourn’s Mini Hazel. The Bitty Bijoux pieces have been photographed on a variety of models - the G1 Stock Horse, G2 Thoroughbred, G3 Thoroughbred, Dungaree, Django, Sarah Rose’s Working Girl, and the Stone Chip Stock Horse.

Halter Rings

These were the disappointment in the lot. I ordered both the Bijoux and Bitty Bijoux hoping they’d work for Mini Hazel and Stablemates. To be fair, they are supposed to be roughly 1:18 and Mini Hazel is supposed to be roughly 1:30. Mini Hazel is definitely bigger than that and the hardware might run a little smaller, but it just didn’t pan out. The Bitty Bijoux rings were much too large on the Stablemates and looked okay on Mini Hazel, but the lace that the slots will accept is narrower than I’d prefer for something her size. Check out the photos below for comparison.

Click here to go to halter rings on Rio Rondo’s website.

Western Bits

These - these I was excited about and in my opinion, they did not disappoint. I bought the Salinas (plain shank) and Stella in both Bijoux and Bitty Bijoux, and the Reno bit in Bijoux. I felt that the bits I purchased worked well (or well enough) on all of the horses I tried them out on and I won’t hesitate to use them. The detail is fabulous and while the holes for leather might be a bit restrictive, that can be worked around. In some photos I’ve seen, the larger/more ornate bits didn’t look quite as in-scale but I cannot make a definitive call on those. They’re not my cuppa so unless requested by a client will likely not show up in the studio.
(Apparently I didn’t take photos of the Salinas shank on the Stablemates; the Bijoux Salinas shanks arrived damaged and I’m waiting on a replacement at the time of posting)

Click here to go to bits on Rio Rondo’s website.

Western Buckles

These were also something I was SUPER excited for. Short of learning silversmithing skills, I wasn’t going to be able to replicate something like this in the studio (Don’t get me wrong, I’d LOVE to learn how to work on silver but who’s got the time?!). I ordered the Bijoux Reno buckles and the Bitty Atwood buckles. Again, I was VERY impressed with the detail. The heel bars on these buckles might prove tricky to put tongues on, but if you don’t need a freely-moving tongue you can figure it out. I’m experimenting with both 32 and 28 gauge wire, though I suspect that for the best combination of body and thinness 30 might be the ticket. In my opinion, the Bitty buckles work well for Stablemate tack and have applications for the larger scales, too. I’m happy with the Bijoux buckles on Mini Hazel but they could be a hair smaller and still be great.

Click here to go to decorative buckles on Rio Rondo’s website.

English Hackamore

This was another piece that I was very excited about - it’s almost impossible to replicate this with wire in miniature. English hackamores are not something that I know very much about, but after chatting with some hobbyists who have real-horse experience with them, I’ve determined that the Bijoux size is (sadly) too large for Mini Hazel. The Bitty hackamore is okay for Stablemates but definitely best on larger heads (so likely no G1 or G2s will get them from me).

Click here to go to bits on Rio Rondo’s website.

Summary

Overall, I am highly impressed with the buckles and hardware. They’re thin, detailed, and pretty easy to remove from the sheets with a set of good clippers. And hey - they’re CHEAP. When this stuff was being proposed, I was concerned about what it would cost me to stay on top of things but at the current prices I likely won’t feel it. I do think the scale is iffy on a few things, but hey - “Stablemate” scale is more of a spectrum, anyway. I was hoping that some of the Bijoux items would work for Mini Hazel, who is technically smaller than the intended scale, and had unsurprisingly (but still disappointing) mixed results. Hopefully this post will help anyone interested in placing an order decide what hardware is best for their project.

For the record, all opinions are mine and I have been in no way compensated for this review. A handful of people in the Facebook tack groups asked my opinion and wanted to see the hardware on horses, so I’m obliging.

Here’s what I ordered and the prices, as of 11/6/2018:
JX979s – 2 pr. – BJ – Bijoux Bit - "Stella" – Etched, Silver Color – $1.30
JX971s – 2 pr. – BJ – Bijoux Bit - "Salinas" – Etched, Silver Color – $1.15
JX961s – 2 pr. – BB – Bitty Bijoux Bit - "Salinas" – Etched, Silver Color – $1.10
JX969s – 2 pr. – BB – Bitty Bijoux Bit - "Stella" – Etched, Silver Color – $1.20
JX916s – 2 pr. – BB – Bitty Bijoux - Weymouth Combo – Etched, Silver Color – $1.20
JX918s – 2 pr. – BB – Bitty Bijoux - Eng. Hackamore – Etched, Silver Color – $1.25
JX946s – 2 pr. – BJ – Bijoux Bit - Hackamore – Etched, Silver Color – $1.30
DB945s – Set/8 – BJ – Bijoux Buckles - Reno – Etched, Silver Color .05 I.D. – $1.15
DB953s – Set/8 – BB – Bitty Buckles - Atwood – Etched, Silver Color .032 I.D. – $1.00
HD32s – Pk/10 – BJ – Bijoux Lg. 3-Slot Rings – Etched, Silver Color – $1.25
HD33s – Pk/10 – BB – Bijoux Sm. 3-Slot Rings – Etched, Silver Color – $1.25
JX765s – 2 pr. – BB – Bitty Bijoux - Stirrup – "Reno", Etched, Silver Color – $1.25

JX765s is actually a bit, despite coming up as a stirrup when the form auto-filled. The cost listed is the total cost for that line; JX979s is two pairs for $1.30, so each bit ends up being $0.65.