Four donkeys and four ponies maintained in climate rooms, were provided with meadow hay or barley straw supplemented with minerals and vitamins ad libitum. Both diets were given to all animals for periods of 21 days. Measurements were made during the last seven days following single doses of two non-absorbable markers (Crfibre and Co-EDTA). After six weeks the donkeys repeated the trial, walking 14 km and ascending 260 m five days per week. At rest ponies ate more than donkeys, however the donkeys showed a higher digestibility of dry matter (DM), organic matter (OM) and acid detergent fibre (ADF) than the ponies. Both species lost weight, ate less and had a lower digestibility of DM, OM and energy on the straw than on the hay ration. Fibre digestibility (neutral detergent fibre [NDF] and ADF) was higher on the straw than the hay diet. Gastrointestinal transit time was slower in the donkeys than in the ponies on both diets. Both species showed a higher mean retention time of digesta on straw than on hay. Exercise had no significant effect on food intake and liveweight changes in the donkeys. Although digestibility coefficients were higher in exercised animals, the effect was not significant. We conclude that, although it is generally considered that donkeys can thrive better on poor feeds than ponies, when the animals are allowed ad libitum access to hay and straw better intakes by ponies may compensate for any differences in digestibility seen in donkeys. Intake of barley straw by both species was not sufficient to meet maintenance requirements.