Cowboy Games for Children

Michele Meleen
Contributor: Lori Soard
kid playing cowboy

If you're looking for a fun party theme for your child, a cowboy or cowgirl themed party offers a lot of options for decorations. The best part of a cowboy party is the wide variety of wild west games for kids you can tie into the overall party idea and keep the party guests happy. Even if you aren't planning a party, these cowboy party games are perfect for just about any occasion that involves a group of children.

Cowboy Code

In the Old West real cowboys lived by a code that involved being kind and considerate of others. In this simple party game for older kids, guests collect "badges" by catching others disobeying the code. Since the game involves all the party guests, it works great for Western-themed family picnics and school carnivals.

What You'll Need

  • Fake Sheriff badge pins or clothespins (one per guest)
  • Large bowl
  • Paper and markers

How to Set Up

  1. Make a sign to put where guests will arrive that explains the rules:
    1. Each person must wear a pin on the front of their shirt.
    2. When greeting others at the party, you should say "Howdy" instead of "Hi" or "Hello."
    3. Instead of waving at people you should nod.
  2. Place the pins in a bowl next to the sign.

How to Play

  1. Throughout the party, if you hear someone say anything other than "Howdy" as a greeting or wave instead of nodding, they have to give you their pin.
  2. When you take a pin, attach it to your shirt. If you get caught, the person who catches you gets all your pins.
  3. The person with the most pins at the end of the party wins.

Horse, Hat, or Cowboy Duel

This take on "Rock, Paper, Scissors" is easy to play with small or large groups and young or older children. You can make up hand motions for the horse, the hat, and the cowboy or use real items as described.

What You'll Need

Boys playing with animals in a tent

How to Set Up

  1. Place one of each item/toy on each bench/chair at opposite sides of the table.

How to Play

  1. One player sits at each bench/chair so they are facing each other.
  2. Players shout "One, Two, Three, Shoot!" then must immediately place one of their items/toys on the table.
    1. Horse beats Hat because the horse tramples the hat
    2. Hat beats Cowboy because it goes on his head
    3. Cowboy beats Horse because he rides the horse
  3. The player whose item/toy beats out his opponent's item/toy is the winner of the round.
  4. You can play best two out of three rounds. For larger groups, split guests into two teams and have each team line up behind the current player. Each round is played by the next person in line. If they win, they go back to the end of their team's line. If they lose, they sit out of the rest of the game and cheer on their team.

Capture the Outlaw

It's law enforcement versus outlaws in this "Capture the Flag" style game ideal for large groups of kids ages ten and up.

What You'll Need

  • Two dowel rods or large sticks
  • Two sets of bandanas in two different colors (one bandana per child and an extra one for each team)
  • Wooded area

How to Set Up

  1. Tie one bandana of the first color to one rod or stick. Do the same with the other color and stick.
  2. Divide the children into two even teams, the Sheriff/Deputies and the Outlaws.
  3. Give one team one color of bandanas and the other color of bandana to the second team. Kids must tuck their bandana into a pants pocket or waistband so part of it is hanging out. It can't be tied on.
  4. Each team hides their rod/stick with attached bandana somewhere inside the playing area. This is their "headquarters."

How to Play

  1. On "Go!" teams work to protect their own flag and find the flag of their opponents.
  2. If you remove a flag from an opponent's pocket, they must sit in your prison near your headquarters and cannot try to steal any flags.
  3. The team who captures their opponent's stick bandana and brings it back to their own headquarters first is the winner.

Lasso Challenge

Challenge kids' lasso skills with a fun game that gets harder as you go. If you have enough supplies, you could even set up several of the same game and run it as a relay race with teams.

What You'll Need

boy throw lasso in rodeo
  • One medium-length rope, two jump ropes tied together can also work
  • Two different sized hula hoops
  • One large adult boot or cone
  • Something to mark a starting line

How to Set Up

  1. Mark a starting line.
  2. Set the boot/cone four feet away from the starting line and directly in line with it. You can make this distance further for older kids and adults.
  3. Tie one end of the rope into a lasso shape
  4. Leave the lasso rope and both hula hoops behind the starting line.

How to Play

  1. On a turn, one child steps up to the starting line and picks up the largest hoop. She gets three tries to toss the hoop so it encircles the boot/cone.
  2. If she gets the first hoop on the first boot/cone, she then picks up the smaller hoop and gets three tries to toss it over the boot/cone.
  3. If she gets the second hoop on, she picks up the lasso rope and gets three tries to toss the end of the lasso around the boot/cone.
  4. Any child who completes all three lasso tasks wins the challenge.

I've Got a Snake in My Boot!

One popular cowboy character is Woody from the movie Toy Story. One of the things Woody says when his string is pulled is, "There's a snake in my boot!" With this Woody-themed game, children are given four or five rubber snakes to try to toss into an old boot.

What You'll Need

  • Five rubber snakes
  • One adult boot - large men's sizes work best
  • Two-inch wide masking tape

How to Set Up

  1. Place the boot in an open space.
  2. Walk about 20 feet away from the boot and place a 12-inch long strip of masking tape on the ground to mark the spot where the child should stand.
  3. Place the rubber snakes by the piece of tape.

How to Play

  1. On a turn, a child stands behind the tape line and throws the snakes, one snake at a time, into the boot. Each child gets 5 tosses per turn.
  2. Each snake that goes all the way in is worth two points. If the snake is hanging only halfway in the boot, it is worth one point.
  3. Give out small prizes for a score of 1 to 4 points and large prizes for 5to 10 points

Tin Can Shoot-Out

Using water guns, children attempt to shoot down empty soda cans sitting on a flat surface in the distance just like you see in old Western movies.

What You'll Need

Colored Cans Pyramid
  • 6 or 10 Empty 12-ounce tin cans
  • Large water gun - blaster-style water guns work best
  • White chalk or spray paint
  • Watch or timer
  • Flat, elevated surface to set up the cans like a picnic table or box

How to Set Up

  1. Set the cans up in a pyramid tower on top of your flat surface or in a straight horizontal line across the table. For younger kids, use 6 cans and use 10 cans for older kids.
  2. Walk about 10 steps away from where the cans are stacked and mark a white line on the ground that is parallel to the can set up. This will be where players stand to shoot.

How to Play

  1. Ask each child to stand just behind the white line. One child at a time will shoot the water gun.
  2. When you shout "Go!," each child has one minute to tip over as many cans as possible. When time is up, count how many cans the child knocked down.
  3. After each child has a chance to shoot at the cans, figure out who knocked the most cans off. This person is the winner.

The Cattle Drive

Obviously, you aren't going to transport a herd of cattle into your yard to play this game or shove them into your living room. Instead, balloons are used to represent the cattle in this active game.

What You'll Need

  • 50 brown, black, and white non-helium balloons, other color combinations work too
  • "Cattle pen" made from a large play yard gate or cardboard boxes
  • Stick horses, brooms or mops work too
  • Timer or watch
  • Notebook and pen

How to Set Up

  1. Create a pen for the cattle on one side of the room or yard. This needs to be some kind of fence that will hold the balloons in.
  2. Blow up all the balloons and tie them.
  3. Scatter the balloons around the room, but not too close to or inside the pen.

How to Play

  1. Start one child at the end of your space furthest from the pen. She should have a stick horse to ride.
  2. On "Go!" the child tries to "drive" the balloons into the pen. They must ride their horse at all times and can only use their feet and legs to push the balloons toward the pen.
  3. Each child gets two minutes to drive as many cattle as possible into the pen. When the child's time is up, count the balloons and write the score in the notebook.
  4. Reset the play area for the next child.
  5. The child who gets the most cattle into the pen is the winner.
  6. Make this a fun group game for a picnic or carnival by adding more balloons, using a bigger area, and letting all the kids drive the cattle at the same time.

Stick Horse Race

What's a cowboy without his horse? Kids will use stick horses to maneuver an obstacle course.

What You'll Need

  • Stick Horse Racing
    Stick horses or ponies, brooms and mops work too
  • String, chalk or spray paint to create lane lines
  • Items for obstacle course
    • Straw bales to jump/climb over or go around
    • Wooden beams on the ground to balance across
    • Piles of stuffed animals or leaves to jump over or wade through
    • Hoola hoops on the ground to hop into and out of

How to Set Up

  1. Create a number of lanes for the children to race in with string, chalk, or spray paint. Lanes should be about 3 or 4 feet wide and have a clear starting line and finish line.
  2. In each lane, set up an obstacle course. Each lane should include the same obstacles but can have them in the same order or different orders.

How to Play

  1. Assign each child a lane and a heat if you have more children than lanes.
  2. Each child starts with their stick horse between their legs as if riding it.
  3. On "Go!" each child holds onto their stick horse, keeps it between their legs, and rides through the obstacle course.
  4. The first kid to cross the finish line wins. If you have multiple heats, you'll need to time each child so the one with the fastest time wins.

Common Games With a Cowboy Twist

You can take almost any classic kids game and add cowboy themed elements to make it fit your cowboy birthday party, Wild West lesson plan, or Western-themed carnival.

  • Sheriff Says: Turn a standard game of "Simon Says" into a sheriffs and outlaws game when kids who don't follow the Sheriff's directions are sent to a cardboard jail.
  • Chuck Wagon Race: Set up a standard race with a starting line and finish line. Each child takes a turn sitting in the wagon and pushing himself to the finish line. The kid with the fastest time wins.
  • Needle in the Haystack: Gather a pile of hay or leaves and hide Western or cowboy themed toys in the pile for kids to find like they would with a traditional sawdust pile.
  • Pin the ______ on the ______: Just like in the classic game "Pin the Tail on the Donkey" you can use stock online images to create a game such as "Pin the Badge on the Sheriff," "Pin the Hat on the Cowboy," or "Pin the Horseshoe on the Horse."
  • Cowboys and Indians: Played like "Red Rover," this version has the cowboy team calling "Cowboys are a blast, send (name of player) over fast" and the Indian team calling "Indians are fun, send Susie at a run."
  • Cow, Cow, Bull: Turn a standard game of "Duck, Duck, Goose" into a running with the bulls experience by having the person who is "it" say "Cow" as he touches each person's head and "Bull" when he picks the person who has to chase him.

Cowboy Video Games and Board Games

If you don't have time to spend on setting up games, you may want to check out a few board games and video games. Also, if you are working with a very small group of children, these games may be better suited than if you have a larger group to entertain.

  • Quick Draw: If you've got a Nintendo Switch, party guests can take turns playing Quick Draw, one of the mini-games in the 1 -2 Switch party game. Two players each hold one of the Joy-Con controllers and the game prompts them to "draw." The first person to "shoot" their opponent wins.
  • Rodeo-Opoly: Four to six players age eight and up can play this Monopoly game that features a rodeo instead of a boardwalk. Game pieces include objects like a cowboy hat, boot, and tiny cowboy and gameplay teaches fun tidbits about cowboy life.
  • Round 'Em Up Cowboy: Younger kids ages four and up can play this simple board game where the objective is to gather all your cowboy gear from the town and get it back to your ranch before anyone else.

Make Up Some Cowboy Games

Most games can be turned into cowboy games for children with just a little creativity, a little atmosphere and some fun costumes. Just supplying kids with cowboy hats and red bandanas may be enough for them to come up with their own games. Many traditional games such as Tag, Tug of War, or any kind of race game can become western with just a bit of variation. While the games mentioned are great ones with which to start, your own little cowpoke may have some games he's thought up himself. Ask him for his ideas.

Cowboy Games for Children