TECHNOLOGY WORKERS ARE TURNING TO HANDS-ON OCCUPATIONS THAT GET THEM BACK IN TOUCH WITH THE MATERIAL WORLD - AND THE PEOPLE IN IT.
Gypsy Rose tosses her head against the May breeze. Her forelock is a stylish mix of blonde and auburn locks, as befits a registered palomino. Beyond a series of fenced paddocks, waves of green grass undulate in the sunshine. It's a lazy afternoon here at Solo Acres, a boarding stable in Sebastopol, California, where Gypsy and Jessica, her owner of 16 years, stand by a hitching post watching as Bob Freeman readies his tools. ¶ He lays out a hoof nipper, driving and rounding hammers, a shoe puller, and hoof knives. Nearby, on a metal table that pulls out from the back of his pickup truck, are a grinder, a 100-pound anvil, a chop saw with a metal cutting blade, and a small propane forge. ¶ Dressed in work boots, jeans, and a leather apron, Freeman lifts one of Gypsy's rear legs, cradles it in the crook of his knee, and begins to shave the hoof with a file. ¶ Dust, sun, calloused hands on warm horseflesh. This work couldn't be more different from Freeman's previous job as a project engineer for an electronics start-up. But in 2003, when Freeman, now 45, was laid off from his second job in three years, he decided it was time for something different.

"I didn't have confidence in wage work," says Freeman, who is married with three children. Friends with supposedly steady jobs were chronically insecure about losing them, while recruiters told him they'd be hard pressed to find him another position at the same pay. He was ready to make his own way.

A methodical and serious guy, Freeman spent three months researching careers. Most of the occupations he looked at were hands-on: hairdressing, auto mechanics, insurance sales. Then, a neighbor suggested he look into becoming a farrier. Something clicked.