Cowboy Games for Children

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 games you can play that will tie into the overall party idea and keep the party guests happy and talking about your child's party for years to come. Even if you aren't planning a party, these games are perfect for just about any occasion that involves a group of children.

"Tin Can" Shoot-Out

What You'll Need

  • Empty 12-ounce soda cans
  • Large water gun
  • Can of white chalk
  • Watch or timer

This game works best when using a large, blaster-style water gun, such as Nerf Super Soaker or the Sizzlin' Cool X2O Aqualizer Water Blaster. These guns are powerful enough to knock the cans over when aimed at them. One of the extremely small and cheap guns simply won't work well with this game.

boy with water blaster gun

Set Up the Game

  1. You will need a flat, elevated surface to set up the cans. A fence top or the edge of a picnic table works well.
  2. Walk about 10 steps away from where the cans are lined up and mark a white line in the grass with chalk parallel to the row of cans.
  3. You can either line the cans up straight across or make them into a pyramid by placing three cans on the bottom, two on top of that base and then one at the top.

The Rules

Using water guns, children attempt to shoot down empty soda cans sitting on a fence or other surface. Ask each child to stand just behind the white line. One child at a time will shoot the water gun.

Explain that when you shout go, each child has one minute to shoot as many cans off the fence as possible. Keep track of the time and when a minute is up yell stop and count the cans the child knocked off.

After each child has a chance to shoot at the cans, figure out who knocked the most cans off. This person is the winner. Give them a small badge, which is available at any party supply store or have another door prize to give to the winner. You may even just want to let the winner take the the water gun blaster as the prize.

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
  • Clear zip ties
  • Items for obstacle course, such as straw bales

Set Up the Game

  1. Each person's course will look a little different, but you want to create lanes for the children to race in. Unless you have straw bales on hand, that could get costly, so you may want to just place poles and use twine to create lanes. If you choose to use the twine instead of straw bales, purchase cowboy themed banners or streamers and hand down from the twine to divide the lanes a bit more.
  2. Next, you'll want to create a few obstacles. These will vary, depending on the ages of the children playing the game. For very young children, you could place small items, like a plush toy animal or other small items. For older children, you can place fake snakes for a "snake pit" to jump over, for example.
  3. Finally, make sure that the start and finish lines are clearly marked. If you are setting up the course in your yard, you can use a can of walk chalk or even flour to mark the lines. You can also place a streamer across the finish line for the kids to run through.

The Rules

Explain to the children that when you give the signal, they should attempt to ride their horses through the course. The first one to cross the finish line is the winner. A great prize for the winner is a stuffed horse.

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.

What You'll Need

  • 50 brown, black and white (or any combination of those colors) non-helium balloons
  • Pen (more on this below)
  • Stick horses
  • Timer or watch
  • Notebook and pen

Set Up the Game

  1. First, you will need a pen where your cowboys can drive their "cattle". This can be as simple as having them drive the balloons from the living room to another room, or you can use a playpen turned on its side, a large box or other area that is walled off.
  2. Gather a team of helpers together and blow up 50 balloons, tying them off. If someone in the group is artistic, that person can use a marker to draw cow faces onto the balloons.
  3. Throw all the balloons in the room where the game will occur. Set up the pen either at the end of a large room or in another room. You can also play this game outdoors. However, keep the pen within about 100 feet of the game area or the balloons will be very hard to wrangle into place.

The Rules

Explain that the balloons are cattle. The children should be instructed to "drive" the balloons into the specified location (pen or room) using their stick horses. They must ride their horses at all times but can use their feet only to push the balloons where they want them to go.

Each child gets two minutes to drive as many cattle as possible into the pen. When the child's time is up, the balloons should be counted by an adult and the number recorded in the notebook. Then, the balloons should be returned to the open area with the other cattle and the next child given a chance to see how many cows they can drive into the pen.

The child who gets the most cattle into the pen is the winner.

Cowboys and Indians

This can be played just like Red Rover, but one team can be called the Indians and the other the Cowboys. Whichever side has the most players at the end of the game wins.

What You'll Need

  • Kids Playing Red Rover
    A group of children, the larger the better

It really is as simple as just having children present, so this is a game that can be played on the fly without any preparation at all.

Set Up the Game

  1. Separate the children into two teams. One team will be the cowboys and the other team the Indians.
  2. Line the first team up side by side with hands clasped.
  3. Take the second team about thirty feet away (just count off around 30 steps as an estimate) and have them line up side by side facing the first team. Their hands should also be clasped.

The Rules

Red Rover is a simple childhood game where two teams face one another with hands clasped tightly. The first team says, "Red Rover, Red Rover, send (name of a player on the other team) right over." The child who is called runs as fast as she can toward the other team and tries to break through a set of clasped hands. If she breaks the chain, she chooses one of the two players from the broken link. If she does not, she joins the team she ran at.

The game continues until only one large chain remains. Instead of having the children call "Red Rover, Red Rover...", for the purposes of Cowboys and Indians, they should call either "Cowboys are a blast, send (name of player) over fast" or "Indians are fun, send Susie at a run."

You may also want to remind the children that while it is important to clasp hands tightly and to run fast, that it is just a game and they need to not be so rough that they hurt another child. This is usually not a problem, but if you explain ahead of time, they are more likely not to go overboard and get too physical.

Pin the Badge on the Sheriff

little sheriff

Played just like Pin the Tail on the Donkey, this can be played as Pin the Tail on the Horse, Pin the Badge on the Sheriff, Put the Hat on the Cowboy or any other combination you think of.

What You'll Need

  • Printed image of a sheriff, such as this one found at Dreamstime
  • Large poster board
  • School glue
  • Toy sheriff badges (available at party supply stores, toy stores or in bulk from Oriental Trading)
  • Plastic Tape
  • Bandanna

Set Up the Game

  1. Glue the printed sheriff image to the poster board. Allow to dry completely.
  2. Tape the poster to a wall without any obstructions in front of it. If you want to play this game outside, you may need to tack the board to a tree.
  3. Tear off two-inch strips of tape and fold so that they form an oval. Place on the back of the badges. You should have a sticky side facing out.

The Rules

The children go one at a time and try to pin the badge on the sheriff. Start by having the child face the poster board and ask him to notice where the sheriff's badge should go.

Blindfold the child with the bandanna and spin him around three times so he isn't 100 percent sure where the badge is located. Place the badge in his hand with the sticky side facing out and tell him to go forward and pin the badge.

The child who gets his badge closest to where the real badge is located wins.

I've Got a Snake in My Boot!

One of the most popular cowboys of all time is animated 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. The child getting the most snakes in the boot is the winner.

What You'll Need

  • Five rubber snakes
  • Old boot or a bucket
  • Two-inch wide masking tape

Set Up the Game

  1. Place the old boot or bucket 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.

The Rules

Instruct each child that he should throw the snakes, one snake at a time into the boot. 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. The child with the most points wins.

"Needle" in the Haystack

This is a simple game where you can keep children busy for a while, but also provide them with some goodies to take home.

What You'll Need

  • Kids playing in hay
    Stack of hay or straw
  • Small items to bury in the hay
  • Plastic zip top bags in both sandwich and gallon size to place the items in so they don't get messy

If you are hosting the party in the fall, you could also rake up a big pile of leaves and use that as your "haystack."

You may be wondering what items to purchase for this game. Any type of cowboy themed toy works. Think of toys that are farm related or Wild West related, too. For example, you could purchase a small stuff horse or a sheriff badge. You could even use real coins or wrapped candy.

Set Up the Game

Put toys, small horse figurines and other cowboy-like items you've gathered into the plastic bags and zip closed. Hide the items in a pile of hay. It is easiest to lay a few items on the bottom and cover with hay, add a few more items and cover with hay and continue until you have a pile.

The Rules

To prevent one child from going home with 20 toys while another child gets none, set up some ground rules. Start by lining the kids up about 20 feet away from the hay pile. Explain that when you say go, they are to search through the pile as fast as they can.

Let each child take one toy. Once that toy is found, the child must go back to where he started and sit down. This will prevent a scenario where one child takes 20 toys home.

Sheriff Says

The sheriff in this game is a bossy feller. However, the town's citizens are obedient. When he tells them to do something, they obey. If they don't, they are thrown into the local "jail" until the game is over.

What You'll Need

  • Group of children
  • Toy sheriff's badge and cowboy hat
  • Row of chairs to serve as the "jail"

If you have a family member who is really creative, you can also take a several large cardboard boxes, such as the size a refrigerator comes in, cut out slats to create, bars, spray paint them and stencil the word "jail" across the top. Just make sure that the prisoners can see the game so they aren't excluded.

Set Up the Game

  1. Choose a sheriff by thinking of a number between 1 and 20 and having each child choose a number. The child closest to the correct number is the sheriff.
  2. Line the children up in a straight line shoulder to shoulder. Have the sheriff walk about 100 feet in front of them and face the line of children.
  3. Place a row of chairs to the side to represent the chair, or place the box jail there if you created one.

The Rules

The Sheriff tells the group of children different things to do by giving instructions that start with, "The Sheriff says to..." However, if the Sheriff gives instructions to do something without saying, "The Sheriff says to...," whichever children follow the instructions are out of the game and must go to the jail. Just like Simon Says.

For example, the sheriff might say: "The Sheriff says to jump over a rattlesnake." Each child should jump. However, if the sheriff says simply, "Jump over a rattlesnake," the children who jump go to jail until the game is over. The game ends when only one child is left.

Chuck Wagon Race

When it's chow time, cowboys know to look for the chuck wagon. This is a game that is fun to play just before it's time to eat or cut the cake. It is a game that is best for children under 10 years of age, because the wagons are meant for smaller children.

What You'll Need

  • Two toy wagons
  • Can of chalk to mark a start a finish line

Set Up the Game

  1. Use the chalk to draw a horizontal line for the start line of the race.
  2. Now, go about 200 yards out into your yard and draw a finish line. Cross over the finish line, but keep your back to the start.
  3. Place two wagons, side by side, at the start line.

The Rules

Children can either push themselves in the wagon or can be pulled by others. The object of the game is to race to the finish. The team there first wins!

Capture the Outlaw

This would be a fun game to play with a group of older children ages 10 and up. As everyone knows, cowboys often become deputies and help the sheriff when he has to catch an outlaw.

What You'll Need

  • Two dowel rods (you can purchase this in your local hobby store, often with the cake or art supplies)
  • Two sets of bandanas in two different colors (you will need enough bandanas so that each child has one and an additional one for each color - so, if 20 children will attend, you would need 11 bandanas in each color)
  • Wooded area (works best)

Set Up the Game

  1. Take two bandannas, one of each color, and tie them to the dowel rods.
  2. Divide the children into two even teams.
  3. Give one team one color of bandanas and the other color of bandana to the second team, and tell them they must put the bandana where it can be easily seen such as into a front pocket or the waistband. Also, it must be tucked in and not tied.

The Rules

Explain to the children that one team is the sheriff and his deputies and the other team is the outlaw and his friends. The goal of both teams is to grab the bandanna on the rod of the opposing team and get it back to the "headquarters" of their own team.

Each team decides where their headquarters are and must leave the flag in that location. They cannot keep moving it around.

Now, explain to the children that they can leave a couple of people to "guard" the bandana flag or send everyone out to locate the other team's flag.

If the other team grabs someone's bandana, that person must join their team and work as a spy to help capture the bandana, but they can no longer wear their bandana. Those who are observant will realize that person is a spy and can tag them and bring them back onto their own team.

They obviously cannot get physical with one another. No pushing, hitting, tripping, etc. Older children will come up with interesting places to hide the flag and will try to infiltrate the other team. This quickly turns into a game of strategy.

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.

  • Horse Run Game: This digital game is an app download. There isn't an age listed, but even children as young as four or five should be able to play this simple game. A horse named Brown has a goal. He wants to stay away from the cowboy and eat apples. You play as the horse. You must stay away from the cowboy. If the horse touches the cowboy, he loses a life. He only has four lives and then the game ends.
  • Rodeo-Opoly: Set up like Monopoly, but with a rodeo instead of a boardwalk. The game pieces include objects like a cowboy hat, boot, steer skull, horseshoe and tiny cowboy. As you play the game, learn fun tidbits about the rodeo. Play with four to six players and is for ages eight and up. You'll pay things like an "entry fee", land on "cowboy up!" instead of community chest, and will buy the "arena" instead of the "boardwalk". The player with the most money at the end of the game wins.

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 costuming. 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