|Hoof Prints and Wheel Track|
I often hear instructions given to drivers who are learning to drive cones: "Get straight before you go through." That strategy will indeed position you to drive your horse through the middle of the cones gate if you have a straight approach to begin with. The problem is most approaches to cones gates in competition begin on turns, not straightaways. The downside to that strategy is that it often will require you to drive a route that is much longer than actually necessary.
Since your time on course is a not only a measure of how fast you are traveling through space (speed) but how much time it takes to travel the distance around the course, increasing the distance travelled will increase your time on course. TIME = SPEED X DISTANCE
Like the jockey, Calvin Borel, who says his secret to winning races is to "Take the shortest route around the track.", if you can remove strides between gates, your time on course will be faster. Slower horses can often beat faster horses simply by taking a more efficient path thru the cones. Remove one stride between each of 20 gates (that's 20 strides!) and your time on course will be several seconds faster....often enough to beat the competition. One of my mottos is: "It's all about the route."
Study this photo. The green dots show the horse's hoof prints as he travels a turning route to approach the gate. (He is travelling away from the viewer) Look where his feet are as he approaches this gate. Imagine where the horse's head must be when his front feet get to the cones gate. Aim your horse for the middle here and you will nail the inside cone every time.