We determined the effect of pulmonary vagal (hilar nerve) denervation (HND) and diaphragm deafferentation (DD) on inspiratory load compensation. We studied awake intact (I; n = 10), DD (n = 5), HND (n = 4), and DD+HND (n = 7) ponies at rest and during mild (1.8 mph, 5% grade) and moderate (1.8 mph, 15% grade) treadmill exercise before, during, and after resistance of the inspiratory circuit was increased from approximately 1.5 to approximately 20 cmH2O.l-1.s. During the first loaded breath in I ponies at rest, inspiratory time (TI) increased, expiratory time decreased, and inspiratory drive increased. There were minimal changes after the first breath, and inspiratory minute ventilation (VI) and arterial PCO2 did not change (P > 0.10) from control values. On the first loaded breath during exercise, TI increased but inspiratory drive either did not change or decreased from control values. TI and drive increased after the first breath, but the increases were insufficient to maintain VI and arterial PCO2 at control levels. First-breath load compensation remained after DD, HND, and DD+HND, but after DD+HND tidal volume and VI were compensated 5-10% less (P < 0.05) than in I ponies. In all groups inspiratory drive, tidal volume, and VI were markedly augmented on the first breath after loading was terminated with a gradual return toward control. We conclude that diaphragm and pulmonary afferents contribute to but are not essential for inspiratory load compensation in awake ponies.