Ilona Hannich: A Vaulting Odyssey of Passion, Perseverance, and Personal Triumph

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Ilona Hannich, an accomplished vaulter, has firmly established herself as a standout figure in the world of equestrian sports. In the most recent European Championships held in 2023, Ilona showcased her exceptional talent and determination by securing an impressive four medals. Her outstanding performance in various categories, including Team, Individual, and Pas-de-Deux, attests to her versatility and mastery in the discipline of vaulting.

Notably, Ilona Hannich’s career has been highlighted by her participation in the prestigious World Equestrian Games in Tryon 2018. This global platform serves as a testament to her dedication and skill, as she competes at the highest level of equestrian excellence. Ilona’s achievements underscore her status as a prominent athlete, making her a formidable force in the world of vaulting.

In the mesmerizing world where athleticism converges with grace, Ilona Hannich, the accomplished equestrian vaulter from Switzerland, weaves a tale of unwavering passion, tenacious perseverance, and profound personal growth. Her journey, initiated at the tender age of eight, unfolds as a narrative rich in dedication, triumphs, and unexpected tribulations.

A Horse Magazine Revelation

Ilona’s introduction to vaulting was akin to discovering a destiny written in the pages of a horse magazine. “I read about vaulting in a horse magazine, and I immediately knew that this was it,” she recalls, harking back to the moment when her equine passion found its artistic expression. Her love for horses, a foundation predating her vaulting pursuits, laid the groundwork for a journey that seamlessly blended athleticism and equestrian finesse.

“I was really fascinated by horses as a child, so I always wanted to ride,” she shares, elucidating the early origins of her profound connection with these majestic animals. The magnetic pull of vaulting became evident as Ilona transitioned from a spectator to an active participant, setting the stage for a journey that would span various equestrian disciplines.

As with many athletes, Ilona’s trajectory to the summit of vaulting wasn’t an instantaneous ascent but rather a gradual climb marked by dedication and discipline. “I think I just made step-by-step progress, and I was always really disciplined and worked a lot,” she reflects, underscoring the incremental nature of her rise in the vaulting world. Her journey saw pivotal moments, including joining the national team at the age of 15 and participating in the World Equestrian Games in Tryon in 2018.

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Ilona Hannich: A Vaulting Odyssey of Passion, Perseverance, and Personal Triumph 6

Beyond Training: The Human-Horse Connection

Amidst the adrenaline-pumping routines and glittering achievements, Ilona emphasizes the profound connection she forms with her equine partners. “For me, the connection doesn’t only start or end with the training; that’s kind of a smaller part,” she shares. Her training methods extend beyond the conventional, delving into the intricate world of groundwork, where she engages in basic exercises to enhance the horse’s balance, muscle utilization, and overall well-being.

“It’s really important for me to form the connection and also to really trust the horses. And this just takes time, also to learn to get to know the personality and to know how a horse reacts,” Ilona elaborates. This commitment to understanding the nuances of each horse’s temperament and physicality speaks volumes about her dedication to the holistic partnership between athlete and equine companion.

Team Unity in Lütisburg

“At the core of my journey are my team members from Lütisburg,” Ilona affirms, shedding light on the camaraderie that fuels her pursuit of excellence. The squad, a collective of talented individuals, shares the joys and challenges of vaulting, creating an environment where training transcends routine and becomes a shared passion. “We have really good vibes, so it’s also so fun to train with them,” she adds, emphasizing the importance of a positive and supportive training environment.

Li – The Pas de Deux Partner

Integral to Ilona’s success is her partner in the pas de deux, Li. “Li is really important for me, not only in pas de deux but also just for being there, also for me in individuals and so on. She’s a close friend of mine, so we understand each other really well, and she’s a big emotional support also,” Ilona shares, highlighting the significance of the bond beyond the competitive arena.

Coaching Symbiosis in Bern and Beyond

Coaches, Alana and Barbara, from Bern play a pivotal role in shaping Ilona’s skills and providing valuable feedback. “My coaches in Bern, Alana and Barbara, have known me since I was so young and are really good friends also. So, I think we are quite close, and they are important for me to give me feedback but also being there for me in the competition ring,” Ilona acknowledges, showcasing the symbiotic relationship that exists between athlete and coach.

The team expands to Lütisburg  where Moni and Lisa serve as coaches, offering guidance and expertise. “Moni and Lisa, our coaches from Lütisburg  are really great. I profit a lot from their input, and I also think they really believe in me, and this is so important for me—that people see something big in me,” she expresses, underscoring the impact of having a supportive coaching staff.

Ilona’s journey extends beyond national borders, drawing inspiration and learning from coaches abroad. “Then, of course, I have a lot of coaches also from abroad. They get to us, for example, for the national team trainings, and they have been a great support along the way also and a big inspiration as well,” she notes, recognizing the global network that contributes to her growth as an athlete.

In the audience, cheering and supporting from behind the scenes, stands her family. 

“Then, of course, I have my family, especially my mom, my sister, and also my best friend. They have always been there. They come along for competitions. They are by my side,” Ilona affirms. 

Their presence transcends the applause after a routine, constituting a pillar of unconditional love and encouragement.

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Ilona Hannich: A Vaulting Odyssey of Passion, Perseverance, and Personal Triumph 9

Triumphs Amidst Challenges

However, triumphs in the sporting arena were accompanied by the ordinary challenges that befall athletes. “I had a few of those years that were hard in the sports kind of way. That you just have to deal with difficult circumstances or injuries,” Ilona recounts, acknowledging the inherent struggles that come with competitive sports. Yet, her resilience was truly tested when confronted with personal tragedies, notably the divorce of her parents and the heart breaking loss of her father to suicide in 2017.

“In 2017, my dad died. He took his own life, and that was, of course, really devastating and traumatic,” she shares, unveiling a deeply personal and poignant chapter of her life. The grief, emotional turmoil, and the weight of maintaining her sporting commitments could have overwhelmed her. However, vaulting became not only a sport but a lifeline during this tumultuous period.

“Vaulting really gave me a home during this time. It kind of also saved me, gave me structure, goals. It was all the same. Life went on, and I had my second family there,” Ilona reflects, illustrating the profound impact that the sport had on her during a period of profound personal loss. The discipline, structure, and the support of her vaulting community provided a sanctuary where she could channel her emotions and find solace.

Beyond Medals

While the medals and accolades adorned her journey, Ilona emphasizes the significance of the time spent in the sport. “Winning a medal is amazing, and no one can take this feeling from you. But all the time spent in vaulting and all the training time, this is what I enjoy so much,” she asserts, underlining the intrinsic value of the journey itself.

The grand finale 

In what could be her final year of vaulting, Ilona wishes to culminate the World Championships in her hometown of Bern, Switzerland, Ilona’s reflections embody not just an athlete with a list of accomplishments but a resilient and inspiring individual shaped by passion, perseverance, and personal growth. As she eloquently puts it, “Now, actually, I slowly get to the end of my career. Probably next year is the last year of my vaulting career.” The upcoming World Championships stand as both a finale and a magnificent award winning moment that has shaped  an extraordinary journey. 

Beyond the medals, her story resonates with the universal theme of resilience in the face of adversity, proving that sometimes, the journey itself is the most precious reward. As Ilona prepares to turn the page on this chapter of her life, the legacy she leaves behind is not merely in gold and silver but in the indomitable spirit that carries her into a new, uncharted chapter, where the echoes of her vaulting odyssey will undoubtedly reverberate for years to come.

V. Sozzi

Photo provided by Ilona Hannich 

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