The loss of power and prestige may also be hard to handle, for tradespeople and entrepreneurs alike. “For so many years, your identity is tied into your status at work,” Gisonni says. “I felt so naked when I left.”

Moreover, the same things that impelled these people toward hands-on work can create their own kinds of stress. People — and horses — can be grumpy. While you can fix a bug in a software program, when you botch a job in the material world, you often have to throw out the mess and start over. “When you crash your computer,” Freeman says, “you figure it out or, at worst, just buy a new one. But these horses are people’s babies.”

Still, the payoff can be priceless. As she goes to bed each night, part of Gisonni’s ritual is reminding herself what she’s thankful for. “Every night,” she says, “what makes the list is being able to do what I wanted to do.”
is a former house painter who now writes about technology and business for a variety of publications, including internetnews.com.