Cowboy Hoedown

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Rumor has it that in Texas a man is measured by the size of his hat, the strength of his herd and the success of his birthday bash. Reader Carrie Melson of Austin, who put together this amazing party for her friend's son, Brandon, clearly knows how to rope 'em in.


Watch out--in cowboy country, you can't turn your horse in a circle without running across a rattlesnake. In Sidewinder Jump--a game the kids all loved--guests have to avoid the "bite" of a deadly rattler. Make your snake out of an 8-foot length of rope. At one end, glue a piece of thick cardboard cut and painted to resemble a rattlesnake's diamond-patterned head. On the other end, create a rattle by filling a few film canisters with a teaspoon of dried beans or rice. Punch a hole in the top of each canister and poke a pipe cleaner through, balling up the end beneath the cap to keep it from slipping out. Glue or tape the canister shut. To play, have adults or kids hold each end of the rattlesnake rope and whisk it back and forth along the ground. Children try to jump over the wriggling snake without touching it. For older kids, try raising the rope a few inches off the ground.


No self-respecting cowpoke is gonna come within a mile of fancy crepe paper, so instead Carrie decorated with ropes, bandannas and pictures of guests made into "Wanted" posters.


•Dude 'em up. As guests arrive, present each one with a plastic cowboy hat, a bandanna and a grocery-bag vest. To make one, cut up the center front of the bag, then round out the neck hole and cut circles for armholes. Kids can tear a fringe along the bottom, glue on a foil sheriff's badge or add other decorations.

•Go hunt in the hay. In a small pile of hay, hide pennies or little toys, which kids must feel around for with their eyes shut.

•Lasso practice. Using a hula hoop and a child's wooden rocking horse, have cowboys try to "rope" the mustang's neck.

•Shoot-out at the Better-than-OK Corral. Spread small, inexpensive plastic bugs on the sidewalk and have kids shoot at the varmints with squirt guns. Anyone who moves a bug with the stream of water gets to keep it. Or, cut out silhouettes of animals from tissue paper, affix them to the side of the house and let each kid shoot one. The first kid to put a hole through her target wins.


In addition to the cowboy hat, squirt gun and bandanna, each cowpoke can take home a toy harmonica or bag of trail mix.


The chow wagon can serve up pie tins filled with franks and (jelly) beans, and glasses of sarsaparilla--root beer--to wash down the trail dust. For a special cake, try one shaped like a cowboy's best friend: his horse.


Create this clever horse cake to wow the ranch hands!

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