Traditionally, Guides start and end their meetings by gathering in a horseshoe formation, as an opening and a closing ceremony which 'tops and tails' their meetings. At the start of the meeting they would often be given any instructions for the evening, at the end of the meeting they would be given any notes to take home or instructions for the following week, and would then often have a closing reading or prayer, then sing Taps, or another closing song, before going home.
Various reasons are given for using the horseshoe formation. These include it being a formation where each Patrol has their place, but comes together as a unit. It is a shape which allows everyone to see and hear what is being said easily. Having an open end implies there is a space and a welcome to all. Whatever reason each unit favours, most units still gather in a horseshoe at the beginning of their meetings, the end, or both. And most still choose to march formally into horseshoe. There are various ways of doing this, but a popular option is below, along with an alternative.
Before starting to learn how to form a horseshoe, the Guides should be familiar with the basic drill moves, Stand at Ease, Stand at Attention, Mark Time, Halt, Quick March and About Turn. Instructions for these are available on the drill page. In marching into horseshoe formally, smart crisp clear instructions are needed from the Leader, and smart obedience from the Guides.
I will apologise in advance for my sketches - I am no artist - but hope they will help to illustrate the instructions.
To begin, the Unit Leaders (the triangles) stand at the short end of the hall, facing down it's length. The Guides will form up in ranks, with the Patrol Leaders at the end nearest the Unit Leaders, and the Patrol Second at the far end of each line, with the other Patrol members between them. In this illustration the first Patrol is indicated as circles, the second as squares and the third as diamonds. If there were a freestanding flagpole, it would be positioned a short distance in front of the Unit Leaders, and the Guides would march between the Unit Leaders and the flagpole. If there were a colour party, they would form up behind the Patrols (no matter where the flagpole were located).
As the Guides fall into their places in line, they should stand at Ease, then when everyone is in position, the Unit Leader would say "Company, stand to, Attention". The Unit Leader then says 'Company, by the right, mark TIME'. Once the pace is even, she says 'Company, right TURN'. Then 'Company forward MARCH'. Led by the front Patrol Leader, each Patrol in turn marches forward, round to the right down the length of the hall, across the bottom, and up the far side. (How far down she should go depends on the size of the hall and the numbers marching - she does not have to down the full length of the hall if it is long and the numbers are few).
Once the Patrol Leader is back at the top of the hall she turns right and then marches down the middle of the room, until she reaches almost to the bottom again where the tail of the formation are marching. By this time all the Guides should be on the move. Care should be taken to ensure the Guides keep their eyes front and aren't distracted by others, swinging arms excessively, or stamping. Pride in doing the marching well is valuable to cultivate.
The first Patrol Leader then marches her Patrol up to the left, towards the Unit Leader, and when she reaches that position she will 'mark time'. Meantime the second Patrol Leader has turned up to the right, and likewise marks time, subsequent Patrols turn to the left and right alternately. If there are an odd number of Patrols with no colour party, then the last Patrol should split in half, with the first few marching round to the left and the remainder to the right.
As soon as the last Guide almost reaches her place, the Unit Leader instructs 'Company HALT', then 'Company Inward FACE' and 'Company Stand At EASE'. (Guides should always be permitted to stand at ease as soon as possible, and should never be kept standing at attention for more than a few minutes). If the next item is not formal, she may then advise 'Company Stand EASY'.
At the end of horseshoe, the Unit Leader will instruct the Guides to stand to attention if they are not already doing so, and then instruct 'Company Fall OUT'. The Guides should take one step forward, then two back, and are then free to leave.
An alternative, simpler option used by some units is a 'form threes' horseshoe. In this case, three Guides stand in line where the bottom of the horseshoe will be (this could be the colour party if you are using one). The remaining Guides form queues behind the left and right members of the trio. The Unit Leader stands at the top of the room as before, opposite the trio. The command is given 'Company - atten-SHUN', then 'Company Form Horse-SHOE'. The first two Guides in each queue take one step to the side, as do the queues behind them, then take one step forward. The next in each line follow suit, and this continues, with each Guide in turn moving to the side then stepping forward to create the curved shape, until all of the Guides in each line have taken their places. A difficulty can be in judging how far down the hall the trio should stand, to avoid either large gaps at the top of the horseshoe, or having to shuffle messily to make room for everyone.