Aug 13, 2014

A Horse Party with Cowgirls and Cowboys

My philosophy on parties is pretty simple. I don't want to spend much on decorations and other things that will just be thrown away after the party is over. Rather than drop money on that sort of thing, I'd rather put more creativity and time into the party. So when my daughter told me she'd like to have a horses, cowgirls, and cowboys theme for her birthday, I knew I wasn't going to hire pony rides or pay a bakery for a fancy cake. I knew I'd do the work myself - with my daughter's enthusiastic help.
(c) Bryan Valencia Photography

Invitations
Our birthday parties are casual, family affairs, so I always send electronic invitations. I scoured the web looking at horse-related invitations, and chose elements from 3 - 4 invites to create my daughter's invitation in a photo editing software program that came with my computer. (If you don't have a photo editing program, you can use a free online service, like PicMonkey.) I found a photo of my daughter's favorite type of horse (Appaloosa) and with it, paired an Old West type font: "Cowboys and Cowgirls are WANTED to giddy up to the [last name]'s for a galloping good time celebrating [first name]'s birthday! [First name] is turning [age]!" I saved the invite as a .JPG and send it as an attachment in emails to our family.

The Cake
(c) Bryan Valencia Photography.

When I'm planning a birthday party, I always decide upon the cake first. In this case, I looked at images online - always hoping for cakes that look do-able for me, a mom without any training in baking. My daughter fell in love with this cake, which I found on Pinterest, and wanted an almost exact replica. Initially, I was nervous about all those piped roses, but looking at YouTube videos, I realized it was do-able with the right piping tip. It's a VERY easy technique. (Trust me; if I can do it, you can, too! I especially recommend watcing this video by Lori's Bakery and this one by Kitchen Adventures for how-tos.)

<>\/P> I made the cake in four 8 inch round layers, using a cake cardboard in between the second and third layers. (For more tips on assembling a layered cake, click here.) I made my own buttercream frosting; regular store bought frosting won't work.

Just before serving the cake, I added my daughter's favorite toy horse and a free printable pennant banner I found online. (To add letters to the pennant, I opened the .PDF and took a screen shot of the pennants, saving it as a .JPG. Then, using free image editing software, I added one letter to each pennant. I printed this, cut out the pennants, and folded them in half along the indicated fold lines. I used bamboo skewers and some silky string I had laying around to create the "holder" for the banner. To secure the pennants, I placed them over the string and glued the pointed ends of the paper together.

Other Food and Decorations
We normally keep our party food pretty simple: hamburgers and hot dogs, coleslaw, potato salad, and the like. This year, my husband did some pretty impressive barbecue. Whatever the case, I rarely find that trying to pair the food to the theme works; we have too many picky eaters!

This year, I also really kept the decorations to a minimum. We put up quite a few balloons (multi-color), and I bought plastic tablecloths (and matching plates and napkins) at the Dollar Tree, but otherwise, I stuck to using what we already had, including toy horses, a basket of apples (later used in a game), and generic happy birthday banners we use year after year. I also had all the games out and ready to use before the guests arrived, which added interest.

The Games
This is what the children played:
Pin the Tail on the Horse.
(c) Bryan Valencia Photography.
Pin the Tail on the Horse: My daughter loves this game, so we do some variation on it most years. I couldn't find a printable (or purchasable) pin the tail on the horse game that I liked, so I made one. Now, I'm not much of an artist, and a horse is way out of my artistic league, so instead of drawing a horse freehand, I found an online drawing of a horse and used BlockPoster's free website in order to print it out and enlarge it. I taped the pages together and traced the lines with a Sharpie pen to make them bolder and thicker. Then my daughter colored the horse and tails

Apple toss game.
Apple Toss: I found this idea on Pinterest - with a photo, but no working link. It's a bean bag toss, but instead of bags, we used some wild crabapples (which we later fed the chickens). First, I prepared the box; you'll find easy instructions here. Then I turned the Pinterest photo into a black and white image, using free photo editing software. And once again, I used BlockPoster's free service to enlarge the image. This time, I taped together the pages, taped them to a window, then taped a piece of poster board over the enlarged image. Using a pencil, I traced the horse's face onto the posterboard, then went over this with a Sharpie. My daughter colored the horse face to her liking. When she was done, I taped the poster board to the box and used an Exacto knife to cut out the horse's mouth.
Water Gun Target Practice Game. (c) Bryan Valencia Photography.
Water Gun Target Practice: I'd seen lots of ideas on how to add "target practice" to a cowboy/girl party online, but all of them were more complicated than I liked. My daughter came up with a simple solution: Draw targets on the fence using sidewalk chalk. I identified each target with a child's initials and gave each kid each a water gun. They could easily see if they were hitting the target and had fun trying to be the first one to wash it away with their squirt guns.

Feed Sack Race: Otherwise known as a potato sack race. I still had the gunny sacks left over from last year's Little House on the Prairie party, so I just called them "feed sacks" for the purposes of our horse party. This simple game always generates lots of laughter.
Lasso the Horse Game. (c) Bryan Valencia Photography.
Lasso the Horse: Again, I'd seen this game on Pinterest, but I wanted to simplify it so I wasn't buying a bunch of one-time-use things. I used my children's spring horse (but you could use a stick horse secured in a bale of straw, or a rocking horse) and a hoola hoop as the lasso. It was tougher than it looked!

Horseshoe Toss: We actually had to skip this game, but I do think it's a fun addition. I don't think plastic horseshoes would work very well (they don't have enough weight), and that was all I could find online for under $30. But a local store had a real metal set on sale for summer, so we lucked out. I've also seen people sew bean bags shaped like horseshoes, which makes the game more appropriate for younger kids.

Horse Pinata: My kids love pinatas, but I had a hard time finding anything but teeny horse pinatas. I ended up buying this small - but quite adequate - horse online. It held plenty of candy for 6 kids.

For more horse or cowboy/cowgirl party ideas, visit my Pinterest Horse Party Board.

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